5 things i’ve learnt from travelling with a chronic disease

Disclaimer: There are many chronic diseases that affect people differently. This is just my experience with my disease, which will be different from others managing the same disease.

Here I am, two and a half years after diagnosis, and over three years since I can remember showing symptoms. What seemed like a terrifying lifelong struggle of medications, doctors, needles and overbearing (from loving perspective) motherly advice; has become one small part of an incredible adventure.

To give some history, I’m going to take you back to September 2015. This was a huge month for me which included many life changing moments and decisions. I was completing the final internship for my teaching degree, figuring out where I wanted to begin my new career, planning how to survive the summer on no income… and also coming to grips with my new diagnosis of Hashimotos thyroiditis. However, the idea of having to manage a progressively worsening disease for the rest of my life was daunting, and at times completely consuming.

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Fast forward to March 2018. I’ve been living in London, teaching, whilst travelling at every opportunity I could get since November 2016. Since then I have travelled to 49 cities in 21 countries. It has been by far the best decision I’ve made and has also, strangely, helped me see how little this disease defines what I can achieve.

Here are some things I have learnt about managing my disease:

  1. Clear timetable for check-ups and prescription refills

Teaching is the UK is incredibly tough, however a perk attached is a 1-2-week holiday roughly every 6-7 weeks plus a long summer holiday. After a few ‘half-terms’ it was easy to get a schedule going for preparing for trips. I needed to make sure I had all my check-ups and refilled prescriptions before leaving and I soon learnt that I would need at least a weekend to recover from my trips before returning to work.

  1. Spreading awareness

The thyroid is a gland that impacts pretty much every cell in the body. Yet it’s not widely known by many and is still misunderstood, even by some GPs. ‘Luckily’ I had a family history of nasty thyroids so I knew what to look for and my disease was caught early. By travelling around, having to openly manage my disease with medications, particular foods and the odd days off recovering, I’ve managed to start some conversations with other travellers about how the thyroid can impact others. If you’re reading this, spend 2 minutes googling what the thyroid does for your body; that information could be life changing for someone you know!

  1. What’s better: making memories & updating the gram from Amsterdam or feeling sorry for yourself in bed liking everyone else’s pictures?

Would I have ticked off many bucket list activities and sights if I decided to let my disease run my life? No. The fun thing about an autoimmune disease is that for many of us, it can mean your body’s ability to fight bugs is weakened. But I didn’t work my behind off to save for the move of a lifetime to have FOMO looking at other peoples travels.

I had a very quick-to-quit attitude and for the briefest moment didn’t like what my future back home was looking like. Moving overseas and travelling every chance I got was the best thing I could do to shake up these feelings. Don’t do something directly to put yourself in harms way, but don’t let your disease run your life.

  1. It’s okay to not be at 100% all the time

Having said that, disease is tiring. Travelling is tiring. I’ve had times where I went 110% for a week straight. But then I followed it up with an afternoon at a park or a night in whilst my friends went out. If you are dealing with something that causes fatigue, try a more easy-going style of travelling. Prioritise what you really want to see, spend longer in one destination or do and keep an open agenda.

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  1. To prove to myself how capable I am at things I never thought possible.

Last year I accidentally translated a conversation between a girl I was travelling with and a little old Italian lady on the train in Rome. Firstly, I didn’t even realise I knew that much Italian. Secondly, there was no one there to prove me wrong.

My point is; the challenge of navigating new languages, sometimes tricky situations alone, with a new friend, a group or boyfriend was all new. But most of those challenges were either completed successfully or became really great travel stories to annoy friends and family with for decades to come. Work hard and enjoy the benefits!

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