Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Unstoppable Force and Traveling Abroad with Ulcerative Colitis

(At the Tower of London circa 2007)

I mentioned in a recent video that I will be traveling overseas to England very soon. Yes, this is true! I have been very fortunate to have traveled a lot. And guess what! I've done virtually all of my exploring with Ulcerative Colitis!

There are very few trips I have taken before I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. The one I remember best was the time I vacationed in Italy. This was a few years before the demise of my health. Back then I was not showing any symptoms, so I relaxed and ate whatever I wanted. I still remember the taste of chocolate gelatos and ham paninis! I was optimistic that this was the beginning of something great! Wanderlust creeped into the soles of my feet. I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to see the world. I would save money, and when I had enough I would spend it on adventures!

Then everything changed.

Two years after I went to Italy, I was starting to show signs that something was wrong. I kept quiet because I thought the symptoms would go away on its own. It escalated into my first major flare-up. After an official diagnosis, the future was bleak. How can I plan the future when I couldn't even plan my day? If a day is interrupted by urgent diarrhea 6-10 times daily... how can I fathom the idea of traveling abroad? In my case, I think it was a miracle, stubbornness, or maybe a little bit of both. My first trip abroad with Ulcerative Colitis was to Tokyo, Japan. And guess what, I was flying to a country where I didn't know the language or anyone there... all by myself! Crazy!

I somehow won a free trip to Japan. Back then, it was one of my biggest dreams to travel to Japan. I've taken a class on far Eastern civilization and also a short course in Japanese Language I. I know it wasn't enough to prepare me for a trip, but it was enough for me to know that my interest in Japan goes deeper than I originally thought. I'm fascinated by the culture and I love the rhythmic sound of the Japanese language. My dream was coming true and I didn't want to pass this opportunity! I know I would have regretted it! So you know what I did? I simply WILLED myself to get better. Its crazy, but that is the only explanation I have. Ok... maybe it was also the strong prescription medicine I had at the time. But I did it! When I think back to that time, I'm even shocked that I was able to plan everything by myself. I am invincible!

I believe that there is a lot of power in being stubborn. People will tell you to turn the other direction, but stubbornness will allow you to bust through walls. Then you can tell those nay-sayers, "HA! Well I showed you! Losers!"

A wise man once said, "With great power comes great responsibility". Ok that line was from Spiderman, but they are still wise words nonetheless. What I'm trying to say is that stubbornness has power, but it also allows for stupidity. Given the circumstances of my trip to Japan, there was so much that could have gone wrong and I wouldn't have been able to ask for help. I was lucky that everything went smoothly.

Let's fast forward to 2010. I am leaving for England very soon. My approach to traveling is different from my previous trips. Now that I have more experience, I don't allow myself to depend on stubbornness. I depend on meticulous planning and "feelings". I'll explain through a few examples and tips I learned:

1. If you are sick or have a "bad feeling" that you will get sick, than don't travel. There are no exceptions to this rule. I know I won't have a good time if I'm sick. Its not worth all the stress and the possibility of risking my life.

2. Don't get sick! A few weeks to even a month before my trip, I take extra care of myself. During this time I go on the introduction diet of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. I know that these foods are safe and the "results" are predictable. And when I mention "results" I'm referring to bowel movements. I know I'll be doing a lot of walking during my trips, so I have an exercise routine to build up my stamina. I try my best to sleep early because immunity is effected if you force yourself to stay awake past your bedtime. I know these things should be done every day, but we live busy lives and sometimes we neglect ourselves.

3. The first you should pack is your medication so you won't forget it. I always pack extra pills just in case. You never know what will happen. Actually, I might get stuck in England for a few days if the Icelandic Volcano continues to act up! Its one less thing to worry about if you know there is extra medicine on hand. Being on vacation means that your normal schedule gets disrupted, so its very important to also take them on time.

4. Bring your own food! At least in the beginning of your trip, you can control your food and have predictable "results". You never know what the food is going to be like in another country. If you can eat familiar foods at least in the beginning of the trip, than you'll less likely run into problems. The day before the trip I am going to be boiling eggs, steaming carrots, and grilling turkey burgers. I am also bringing packets of dried fruit. Kat, a fellow blogger, recently took a trip to China and had excellent tips on how she prepared for her trip. A lot of the things she did were similar to how I prepare. However, I picked up the tip about bringing the wax covered cheese. I really like that idea!

5. When you are at your destination, stock up on food that you know you can eat and carry it around. I have been to England before and I made frequent stops at markets, particularly a place called Tesco. I would often buy salads and fruit to snack on.

6. Just because you are traveling to another country, it doesn't mean that your disease will behave. An illness is a part of you and doesn't care if you change your location. It will act up if its triggered. As much as I would like to eat exotic things and foods that a place is famous for, I have to follow my diet. Traveling is a wonderful thing to do, so experience everything as a whole. Your vacation doesn't have to be centered around food. Don't cheat on your diet! You'll want to have happy memories when you visit a place, not "OMG! I had the worst flare up when I vacationed in _______". Go sight-seeing, take photos, and buy souvenirs instead!

7. If it can be helped, don't vacation too long. Being away from home makes it hard to control your food. I like to vacation between 4-8 days but no longer than that. I don't know about you, but even if I didn't have an illness, a two week vacation just seems too long to me. I would rather have shorter, frequent trips. That way, the year doesn't seem so exhausting while you're waiting for your "one big vacation". Shorter trips means you have more events to look forward to!

8. I believe that it was food that ruined my life, but it was food that also saved me. That said, there is one last tip that I have. When you get back home, go on the introduction version of the Specific Carbohydrate Diet again. I feel that this can "undo" any damage that the unfamiliar foods might have done.

With these steps, I traveled around the world and I didn't let my disease stop me. So if you're thinking about taking a vacation, I think you should! But do so only when your health is stable and after careful planning.
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