Did you know that some of the first people to take vacations were chronically ill people? Doctors started recommending travel for those with chronic physical and mental illnesses in the 19th century. Doctors today still recommend doing things that reduce stress; getting away from it all.
Most of them likely don’t realize that travel itself can cause stress for people with chronic health conditions. For me, vacation – particularly to a destination on the ocean, is both restorative and exhausting simultaneously. Let me try to explain.
Last week, my husband and I joined my Dad and other members of my family at a beach house in Cape San Blas, FL. It is a beautiful area of Florida where the beaches are still natural, the towns still small, and the buildings (no larger than two stories) are built in harmony with the dunes.
It is about as low key as vacation gets. Still, it was hard on me. First of all, we drove 14 hours to reach this little corner of paradise. A car drive like that stiffens my body and amplifies the intractable migraine I live with. Even with muscle relaxers on board and enough lidocaine to numb an elephant, it’s not easy.
Then there is the beach itself. Heat, bright light, and exposure to sun are all triggers for migraine and dysautonomia. A few hours on the beach leaves me feeling dizzy, weak, nauseous, and exhausted.
Why bother then? There are a few reasons I consciously chose to take this trip. First, it was an opportunity to spend time with family members that I don’t often get to see. I will do a lot for family, but this was also for me. I try not to let my illness stop me from enjoying the things I love and having rich life experiences. The ocean falls solidly among my favorite things in the world. It is in the sea that I feel most connected to this earth, and all of its inhabitants. It reminds me that while I am small, my potential is infinite. So while a beach vacation leaves me physically exhausted, mentally it leaves me refreshed.
I needed that. Although I’m still exhausted from the trip home I don’t regret it for a second. I spent Father’s Day with my Dad, celebrated my anniversary in style, hunted for shells, stood in the surf, and splashed with my nephews. On the way home I spent time with my grandmother in Georgia – the woman who I consider my spirit animal. Even if it was just a week, and even if I slept A LOT, I was truly LIVING last week rather than just existing. Sometimes, it’s worth the price we pay to really live.