By Tammie Allegro
Talk of summer vacation and traveling to exotic places is music to most people's ears. But, for some of us with a chronic illness, travel comes with a little dread. On the one hand, there is the excitement of going somewhere new and enjoying a break. On the other hand, there is fear and anxiety about the things I can't control while traveling. For instance, there are travel laws concerning medications, and there are germs. On top of these is my fear of small spaces. All of this adds up to a recipe for stress and anxiety.
My family is going on its first resort vacation. My husband and I took a honeymoon when we married, and we have done small trips here and there with our girls, but those typically involved a funeral or wedding. So, needless to say, I want to go big and do amazing things. I want to create memories and enjoy everything the resort has to offer. But, the first challenge is getting us there in one piece. I suffer from severe claustrophobia and anxiety. Not the run-of-the-mill case where you just don't like people in your personal space; I'm talking full-blown panic attacks in the airport in anticipation of the plane being too small. Some of my anxiety includes germs. So, I am planning ahead and bringing along a lot of distractions:
- Hand sanitizers and wipes. I carry wipes and sanitizer around with me everywhere. I know they don't replace proper hand washing, but when I am on a plane or waiting in an airport, I don't always have time or energy to walk all the way to the washroom to clean up. Wipes are great for cleaning the armrests and other surfaces I am unsure about.
- Books and movies. I'm bringing a tablet to download movies so I can watch them on the trip. We have an adapter that allows us to have multiple sets of headphones plugged into the device, and this will be great for my kids.
- Snacks. Eating something familiar often reduces my anxiety. I will be getting some of my favorite snacks just before we board the plane.
- Journaling. Writing is a great way for me to stay distracted and document my experiences. Later, I can share my journal with friends to show them how brave I was.
- Aisle seat. As much as I would love to watch the ocean as we fly over it, having an aisle seat helps me to not feel so "trapped."
- Medications. Bringing medications along requires some additional planning. I have done my research, and I know I have to declare my medications when checking in at the airport if they are in my carry-on bag. I also know that even though it is more convenient to put them in a pill dispenser, I have to keep my medications in their original prescription bottles for verification by airport security personnel.
Some challenges are more personal and require restraint and discernment. Fatigue is a challenge I face every day. The nice thing about a vacation is that I don't have to do anything I don't want to. I know I will have to push myself a little on the tough days, but I also know that I will be rewarded with times of relaxation. I have decided to only do one touristy thing a day. That way, if I need to just float in the pool or lay by the beach, I can. My kids are a little older, so they understand that mom needs breaks.
Sometimes, it's me who forgets to take the necessary breaks. I know that even on vacation, I can still overdo things. So, I'm giving myself permission to enjoy myself.
Are you traveling this summer? What do you do to get yourself prepared?