Rushing for life experiences when chronic illness fuels your fears

I’ve had the great fortune to travel regularly throughout my life.

I enjoyed those pivotal vacation experiences of a happy middle class childhood: a couple of trips to Disneyland and bragging rights about having flown on airplanes and crossed a national border or two, if only to near neighbors Mexico and Canada.

I attended college in a different region from Home. I flew cross country at least four times a year because of this one fact. I built my desire to see the world into my educational plans, and it worked out well for me.

I didn’t even mind long distance romances in my youth, because what could offer better motivation for frequent trips? I love having a journey coming up in my calendar.

Later, working as a software engineer, I had the privilege of visiting subcontractor sites in Denmark and Spain on my employer’s dime. At the same time, I was a single, adequately employed young adult during the roaring 1990’s before the dot.com bubble burst.

For as long as I’ve had the option, I’ve traveled regularly, and I’ve enjoyed most of it. I dream of “seeing the world.” I’ll be grateful for every corner that I reach.

Yet, in spite of all this to-ing and fro-ing, there has been a certain rhythm to my rambling. At my youthful peak, I was not a high energy traveler. As a middle aged mother with a couple of kids in tow, my pace is typically sedate, and I prioritize comfort and convenience over the heights of adventure.

Looking back over our family travels, a pattern emerges. Every few years, we’ve had a “grand adventure.” How grand is Grand has changed with our finances and family status, but it’s always been a cycle of plan, anticipate, then go.

Maybe Go! with a capital and an exclamation mark expresses it better.

“But lately something’s changed, it ain’t hard to define…”* Or, rather, it isn’t hard to unearth the cause of the shift. I’m scrambling. I’m rushing. I’m tumbling from one trip to another without enough time to fully digest each experience.

Some of my trips bump up hard enough against the next that I feel more overwhelmed than anticipatory.

I know why I’m doing it, too. I’m afraid.

I’ve been saying yes to one trip after another because I’m afraid it will be my last chance to travel before I’m sidelined by infirmity and pain..

I don’t like to admit to operating out of fear. It’s a habit I’ve consciously avoided in my life. If fear is my motivation, I’ve always sought another option. But, this time? I’m less certain of the greater evil.

It’s absolutely true that I’ve suffered from periods of major limitation to my activities within the past few years. I went from “as fit and healthy as I’ve ever been”** to asking myself, “am I functionally disabled?” within a matter of weeks if not days, though accepting it as a permanent transition took many months longer.***

Then again, I’ve reached a new stage of life where opportunities to travel are more abundant. We have more discretionary income to spend than we did just starting out; our kids aren’t as needy as they were when they just started out.

My in-laws live with us and offer us free and unlimited childcare while my own parents have retired and seem to enjoy hosting our kids. It’s reasonable to find myself with more hits than misses for joining DH as he’s invited to speak around the world.First class travel champagne

I think it is a fair statement that I’ve always suffered a bit of anxiety before big trips. That’s my M.O., after all, and one of my notable personality traits. I like to hash out probabilities, and I get tripped up by life’s unlimited possibilities. Some of them are negative!

More time between adventures offers a wider cushion for delightful anticipation before fearmongering dread takes hold.

But there is a real change that’s occurred, too. I have taken flights since my health deteriorated where every minute was somewhere between discomfort and torture. Pain is my newest travel companion, and she’s a bitch. The trouble is, I don’t always know when she’ll opt to tag along.

So I’ve been saying yes to trips I would’ve refused a few years ago. Because my kids are older now? Because I’m afraid there aren’t many good trips left? Because I really want to go and I continue to preferentially choose my mind over my body and optimism over pessimism?

Probably, yes, to all three.

I feel like I’m giving in to fear, but also fighting it. I know, that evaluation is a bit of a cop out.

I have tried to make a habit of living a life where fears are something to be faced down. Taking action should be better than doing nothing.

I liken it to the Jewish notion of positive commandments outweighing the negative. This was an idea that resonated with me from the moment I heard it.

If commandments in the Bible are contradictory, we defer to the positive one. So, though we are prohibited to work on the Sabbath, we are also commanded to save a life when one is endangered. A life in peril on the Sabbath demands that, a doctor, say, encountering a sufferer puts aside the prohibition against work and do the work to save the life.

My forays into the wide world hardly compare to life saving heroics, but they are one of my responses to living with chronic illness. On the scale from terror induced inaction to fecklessness, I think they rate near the sensible middle ground.

As my health ebbs and flows, I’ll have to keep finding that balance. Just add “frequently facing fears” to my list of symptoms.

*Quoting Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl,” which I’ve always felt sure should be a lesbian anthem, but I suppose that’s a discussion for another day.

**Definition: working out with a trainer 2-3 times every week and meeting the government guidelines for physical activity. This isn’t the point of the story, but sometimes people wonder how someone else might define “healthy.” Also, please do know that most of the time I can life a mostly normal life. I’m not permanently disabled. What does appear to be permanent is the constant flux of autoimmune disease symptoms that can be very limiting.

***And remains, in fact, an open question. My autoimmune condition is a “working diagnosis” as I don’t exactly fit any full set of diagnostic criteria at this time.

5 thoughts on “Rushing for life experiences when chronic illness fuels your fears

  1. Reacting to fear and kicking it in the teeth, as opposed to giving in to it would be my take. As would be meeting triumph and disaster, and treating those two impostors just the same. Sounds entirely admirable to me. You don’t need, or want I dare say, any sympathy from me or anyone else, but you do have my warmest wishes for the future, my care and concern, and what little support a keyboard can offer.

    <Jessie's Girl–so, an anthem for other human beings who have been generally victimized for loving who–some might say–would be the wrong person. I’d play that one loud & proud.

    All the best, and much love to you and your family from a complete stranger.

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