I have had a life-long passion for off-the-beaten-path travelling. By the age of thirty-five I had travelled to eighteen countries and my list of future trips was lengthy and included a camping adventure in Kenya and Tanzania. In October 2008 little did I realize when I stepped off the plane from a trip to Europe that this would be my last trip overseas indefinitely. Four days later, my recurring back injury put me in a state of disability that lasts to this day.
Because I am now unable to sit for even the shortest amount of time, travelling overseas is an impossibility. Now even a 30-minute car ride to my mother’s is an ordeal requiring me to lay a custom mattress flat in the back seat of a car while someone drives me to visit her. Long gone are the dreams of exploring other countries. Now I just wish for the ability to sit for the car ride to a nearby town to watch one of my nephews hockey games or to simply to be able to drive myself to the grocery store only a ten-minute drive from home.
The sadness, anger and depression that come with the loss of the ability to travel can be overwhelming. Often these feelings are triggered when opportunities arise that I am unable to participate in. Like two weeks ago when one of my best friend’s decided she wants to celebrate her 40th birthday, with our fellow girlfriends, in Las Vegas. I now have to endure listening to every detail of the planning of the trip and then hear the stories of the adventure upon their return.
Not even a week later, I received a group from my aunt saying she was organizing a family reunion in London, England in 2015. Each of my family members responded to the group email sharing their availability while I of course did not even bother to reply. I understand she was including me to let me know that I was invited but in some ways I wish I never even knew about the plan.
At these times the sadness becomes overwhelming and like so many people dealing with chronic pain, illness or disability, I ask “why me?” over and over. I try to figure out the lesson I am supposed to learn from my situation but in the end I am unable to make any sense of it. I try to be gentle with myself and recognize that these feelings are only to be expected; after all, the losses I have experienced are great. Anyone would be sad and question why it happened to them. In other words I normalize the feelings.
For myself, or anyone else though, I know it is important to not get stuck in this place of questioning and sadness. I allow myself to ask “why me?” and feel the sadness but then I compel myself to try and let go, move forward and get in touch with the present moment. I do this by concentrating on what is happening right now and identifying what I am grateful for, no matter how small. For instance I focus intently on the joy I feel from petting my cat who is curled up beside me or I call my nephew and listen as he excitedly tells me about his latest hockey game.
I reflect on my adventurous travels, each trip planned with the help of travel guidebooks and I realize that I am on a journey now but without any guidebooks. I continue on this chronic pain voyage as if I have been dropped off in the middle of a jungle in an unknown country; unsure of what to do, where to go, wondering if I will be okay. In the jungle I know I would focus, stay positive, take one step at a time and, most importantly, I would take time to appreciate my surroundings no matter how scared or lost I was. So that is exactly what I will aim to do on this, my chronic pain journey.
Do you struggle with travelling due to chronic pain? What do you do to stay positive and move forward? I would love to hear from you.