Going Outside My Comfort Zone: Road Tripping With Crohn's Disease
I have lived with Crohn’s disease for over 15 years, and by now we have begrudgingly made peace with each other. I have learned to live with the unpredictability of a chronic illness, and try my hardest to not let it limit me. Up until this past year, there has been one thing I have avoided – extended travel. Besides trips with my family, who know all about Crohn’s, I have never really ventured far with friends or partners. This past summer I decided to put an end to this. I planned a two week road trip with one of my closest friends, and pushed myself out of my comfort zone.
Below are a few helpful tips that made my experience easier:
1. Be prepared. In any travel situation, or during a flare up, I always have my “Crohn’s kit” on hand. For me, this is an essential piece to lowering anxiety while being away from home. I keep a bag with me that has water, a couple of easily eaten/digested snacks (bananas/rice cakes/etc), spare leggings, toilet paper, a plastic bag, and hand sanitizer. I like to run with the motto that if I am prepared for the worst, it probably wont happen. If it does, well, at least I’m prepared!
2. Have an honest discussion with your travel partner. This is something I have become very familiar with. It comes in handy in all sorts of situations. Let people know about your disease in however much detail you are comfortable with. For me it goes something like this, “I just want to let you know, sometimes my Crohn’s acts up and I feel sick really suddenly. We may have to pull over, stop, or leave. So if I ask, can we please do so as soon as possible?”
3. Let go of your embarrassment. Crohn’s flare ups mean different things for different people. For me, I may only have five to 10 minutes (hopefully) before I need to use a washroom. I have come to the conclusion that I can’t always make it to one, especially when driving. It’s embarrassing, it’s awkward, but I can’t control it. There were two emergency highway stops in the middle of nowhere, and with California being in a drought, there was not a lot of privacy. I made do with the help of clever towel/car door placement. It was uncomfortable and could’ve ruined the day, but I decided at the beginning of my trip that sometimes shit happens (literally) and you just have to move on from it.
4. Fuel your body properly. Unfortunately, one of my old go-to strategies used to be avoiding eating until I was somewhere with a washroom. I very quickly learned this doesn’t work, and leads to immense hanger and poor nutrition. When traveling, it can be hard to find foods that work for Crohn’s. My method has now become to get food at grocery stores, and prepare it myself. This is especially helpful when you are on a long road trip, and stops are often at gas stations with limited options. Get a cooler, stock up, and drive on!
5. Keep trying. It is so easy to stay in your comfort zone when you are sick or have anxiety around health issues. I never realized how much I was limiting myself until I decided to try something different. Taking myself out of my daily routine and feeling vulnerable was scary, but in the end incredibly rewarding. I let Crohn’s dictate so much of my teenage years and 20s that I now refuse to let it do so in my 30s.
Chronic illness can seem like such a life limiting diagnosis. It took me a few years, and lots of failed experiments before I found a way to cope that worked for me. Crohn’s does make travel more challenging, but being prepared, having coping strategies, and support can make it doable. Next on my list will be a solo travel mission, and Crohn’s had better get on board because I’m no longer letting it have a say!
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