Why Vacations Can Be Exhausting for People With Chronic Illnesses


Something misunderstood by people free from a chronic illness, such as fibromyalgia, is that going away on holiday can be exhausting. My husband loves traveling and doing all the tourist things, and when I developed my condition, our daughter was only 12 years old. As a result, I was determined to keep up our pattern of family vacations. Fortunately, my family understands the effort I have made to do this and what it has cost me in health terms, but others do not, and think I can’t be all that unwell if I can go away on holiday. They roll their eyes when I return and say how tired I am. The following is what I would like them to know.

First of all, there is everything to organize before we go. I heave a sigh of relief once we’re in the car, train or airport departure lounge. I’m too tired to help with driving if that’s what we’re doing. I need rest but am too wired with thinking about things to sleep on the journey. When we arrive, I do find that excitement and adrenaline kicks in, which helps me at first. I’m eager to embrace my new surroundings and explore, but how long that continues will depend on the conditions. I have dragged myself, exhausted and in pain, across several European cities. In general, to someone unused to city life, the noise, smells, crowds and over-stimulation are too much. My family have had to leave me sitting in cafes or on benches all over the place, while they carried on exploring. I have been forced to return to the hotel for rest.

Temperatures can be another issue. I am Scottish, so am not used to great heat! I used to love Mediterranean summer vacations for the sunshine and warmth, but no longer. On holiday in Spain, I wasn’t fit for any sightseeing. I spent the days seeking shade or air conditioning. One dip in the pool was enough — I thought it would help, but the contrast of going from extreme heat to freezing water brought on a flare and instant, agonizing pain. Strangely enough, though, two autumn breaks in Iceland suited me well – the cold has a different quality to our damp Scottish climate, and I found it energizing.

In general, however, especially now that our daughter has left home, we are admitting that we need to take things easier and choose quieter destinations. Last month, on what was probably our last holiday as a family, we visited the beautiful city of York. I couldn’t sleep due to the noise of traffic. We had plans which had to be abandoned because I simply wasn’t up to going out. Several days, we ventured out and I had to return to the holiday rental to rest. I’m relieved we had rented a house rather than staying in a hotel, because it meant I could remain in bed in the mornings and return to rest at any time. In the past, I’ve often gone back to hotels to find the room being cleaned.

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that I need a holiday after a vacation! Unfortunately, it’s one of those aspects of chronic illness that people don’t understand. We may be accused of whinging – I’ve certainly been met with sarcastic comments. I know we are fortunate if we have the finances and are fit enough in any degree to travel. The change of scene can be refreshing, and it’s a temporary release from work, housework and all those jobs piling up which keep nagging. However, even a healthy person finds difficulty in returning to daily life and demands after a vacation, so it can often be much worse for someone with chronic illness. We may well return from holiday feeling even more fatigued than before we went.

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