Traveling with Health Issues

By Stacie Prada

My definition of travel has changed as my Multiple Sclerosis symptoms have progressed. Travel used to be trips that included overnight travel, and even one night away from home might not have qualified as “real” travel. Now travel includes going places for periods that disrupt my daily routines, and that means day trips solidly allow. Travel includes going anywhere outside of my normal routine. It demands having health issues considered and accommodated to ensure I have fun, meet my body’s needs, and don’t stress too much.

Two adages help me plan for travel:

“If anything can go wrong, it will (and at the worst possible moment).”

~Murphy’s First Law

and

“Wherever you go, there you are.”

~Oliver’s Law of Location

I see Murphy’s law as a comical yet accurate warning, not pessimism. Things rarely go exactly as planned.  It takes foresight, preparation, and backup plans to help navigate glitches with less stress. I see Oliver’s Law of Location as a fact with corresponding guidance to bring what I need. If I don’t plan ahead, the routines and things that keep me well in daily life might not be wherever I am.

Historically, I’ve prepared for trips by detailing a fairly straightforward packing list of clothing, toiletries, documents, electronics, and medications. I’d consider how many articles of clothing and footwear to bring, match apparel to the weather and planned activities, and bring travel-sized grooming products.

What would get missed were the things I use off and on to manage MS symptoms.  Traveling always causes one or more of my MS symptoms to exacerbate, and I wasn’t always prepared with food, products, and equipment I have throughout my home that helps me keep symptoms in check. 

It’s easier at home to accommodate my needs and preferences. It flows because I’ve spent a lot of time creating routines that work for me. At home, I have bananas in the kitchen, muscle tonic in the fridge, a yoga mat in the living room, supplements and medication in the medicine cabinet, magnesium sprays, CBD lotions, and body washes in the bathroom. Everything is where I need it.

Planning trips and leaving a normal routine takes effort, and it takes even more preparation and organization with health issues to address. What really helps me prepare for travel is looking at what makes me anxious or unsettled and addressing them one by one. 

Questions: What do I worry about, and what stresses me out?

Answer: I worry that I won’t have what I need to do in impromptu activities. I worry about being able to keep up with others and the itinerary. I worry about not having the freedom to deviate from the schedule or get rest when I need it. I worry about symptoms getting out of check and not having the products I have at home to address them. 

My worries stem from my common and persistent MS symptoms of spasticity, constipation, and fatigue. Recognizing this and planning ahead helps reduce my anxiety about managing them away from home.

Spasticity is the term for when the nervous system misfires signals to limbs causing spasms, tightness, achiness, and cramping. Spasticity causes pain, and I combine a lot of methods in daily life to keep it in check. Spasticity makes flying and driving long distances endurance events.  While these activities are not technically endurance sports, I contend MS makes them qualify. I’m pushing myself to stay in confined spaces and positions that cause pain and muscle spasms.

It requires diligence with supplements, lotions, stretching, and hydration. I’ll increase my medication dosage for the day and stretch at every opportunity. I’ll do full-body stretches at rest stops and in airport terminals. Stretching in a car or airplane seat is more difficult but not impossible. In confined spaces, I can massage my calves and forearms, point and flex my toes to stretch my calves and do wrist and hand stretches to relieve pain in my forearms. I don’t like drawing attention to myself, and I try to be discreet.  That said, I think it helps remind others to tend to their own bodies.  I’ve noticed others in airport terminals waiting for a flight notice me, get up from their seats, and do their own stretches.

Constipation is deemed to be embarrassing and a personal issue.  Let’s remember it’s a human issue, and lots of people with or without health issues experience it at one time or another. The more informed we are, the better able we are to treat it. When MS damages the central nervous system, it can cause bowel and bladder issues.  Stress, dehydration, and changes in diet and routine can all contribute to constipation. Travel often includes all of these things.

Anticipating, monitoring, and treating constipation early can really make a difference. Fruits and vegetables (with high marks for bananas and pears), magnesium supplements, stretching (torso twist is great), and staying hydrated help me a lot. 

Fatigue is a common MS symptom, and it challenges me in the best of circumstances. Travel typically increases exertion, engagement, decisions to make, and overall stress level. Building in rest breaks, hydrating, keeping up on medications and supplements, and including fitness activities help manage it as best as possible. 

I wish I was low maintenance, and I strive to keep vanity in check, but MS has made me high maintenance. I console myself by saying that at least I’m doing the maintenance and not pushing it on other people. I get exhausted thinking about everything I do to address my MS and general health, and I don’t even do all I feel I should. Periodically, I remember that even if I can do it all, I don’t need to do it all alone. I can ask for things that will make my life easier.  People are highly receptive and willing to help. They’ll stock bananas so they’re ready for me. They’ll go for walks with me or make sure the schedule allows time for movement.  They don’t make me uncomfortable or act judgmental. They’ll ask if I need anything, help me, and provide gentle reminders to tend to my needs.

I enjoy travel immensely, and I endure what it takes to make it happen. Travel will cause MS symptoms to rear up, and it is hard on my body. I’m able to travel, I enjoy it, and I know it makes my life better. I do what I can to minimize the challenges and accept the hassle because I still can and it’s still worth it. *Stacie Prada was diagnosed with RRMS in 2008 and has been writing her blog since 2013. “Keep Doing What You’re Doing” is a compilation of inspiration, exploration, and practical tips for living with Multiple Sclerosis while living a full, productive, and healthy life with a positive perspective. It includes musings on things that help her adapt, cope and rejoice in this adventure on earth. Please visit her at http://stacieprada.blogspot.com/

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The Multiple Sclerosis Association of America (MSAA) is a national nonprofit organization and leading resource for the entire MS community, improving lives today through vital services and support. MSAA provides free programs and services, such as: a Helpline with trained specialists; award-winning publications, including, The Motivator; MSAA’s nationally recognized website, featuring educational videos, webinars, and research updates; a mobile phone app, My MS Manager™; safety and mobility equipment products; cooling accessories for heat-sensitive individuals; MRI funding; My MSAA Community, a peer-to-peer online support forum; MS Conversations blog; a clinical trial search tool; podcasts; and more. For additional information, please visit www.mymsaa.org or call (800) 532-7667.

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