|a friend who had a double mastectomy found this necklace for herself and encouraged me to get one too.|
I used to be a traveler. Before my health plummeted in 1997, I'd ridden camels in Egypt, played field hockey in New Zealand, hiked mountains in Ecuador, swam with sea lions in the Galapagos, backpacked through more than a few European countries, and spent seven weeks driving cross-country. They were all amazing trips, but that cross-country trek stands out as one of the most contented times of my life. Then, not long after, I got sick. The kind of chronic sick that's stuck around for the last fourteen years.
Among my longer list of health issues, there are a few that make travel particularly daunting and unappetizing, including chronic fatigue, eustachian tube dysfunction that causes ear / dizziness discomfort on a daily basis, a propensity for gnarly motion sickness, and maybe the greatest challenge of all when it comes to travel: my significant chemical sensitivity. Finding scent-free lodging that doesn't make me feel more unwell is monumentally difficult.
To be honest, since I've dealt with so much physical discomfort for so long, I'm practically phobic of being in my body. So I've set up a home comfort zone, scared to stray too far. Since 1997 travel has pretty much been restricted to the bare minimum: unsexy, infrequent visits to see family. I'm really grateful that my tribe is supportive and accommodating, opening windows on cold days, postponing painting, removing scented stuff, etc. in preparation for a Kyle visit.
|Jeff and me on a family vacation in the Galapagos|
For so many years, I've been enveloped in shame about my poor health and special needs. I've HATED being that person with those strange requests. Year after year I just kept hoping and praying that this was the year my health turned around, falling into depression each time it wasn't, and wrestling with a maddening sense of powerlessness. And in the meantime, I stubbornly refused to consider the alternative: accepting my limitations once and for all, and building a new life around them. I guess I was scared that if I stopped fighting, and gave in, that I'd get swallowed whole.
Over the past year, I've been making some last-ditch extreme efforts to get healthy. I think there have been some baby step gains, but the results have been far from proportional to the effort. So I've decided IT'S TIME. Time to accept that I am someone with chronic health struggles, and that the myriad physical struggles may never go away. There's something profoundly liberating about playing with acceptance. It's giving me permission to stop fighting, grieve what I've lost, and finally start living my life again, within the limitations I've been rebelling against for so long. And first on the list, by some facing-the-crap-out-of-my-fears miracle, I've decided that I WILL TRAVEL again, no matter what it takes. If only I could convey how profoundly surprising, scary, and exciting this decision feels.
I've got over a decade of lost living to make up for. So I've set a radical new goal for myself: to leave the Boston winter behind for two months every year, traveling to the warmer parts of our big country. Winter is a miserable, interminable season for me. I HATE it and so does my body. In the last month I've been able to spend more time outside, and the difference in my state of mind is radical. Somehow, the warm sun is like intravenous medicine for me, bringing comfort to a body that's often uncomfortable and HOPE to a mind that seems to lose track of it every winter. Each time I've shared news of my winter departure with a friend, the response sounds like this: "Thank god. I've been telling you to do this for years. It's brilliant!" I guess my seasonal affective struggle is pretty see-through.
|Pre-bunjee jump in New Zealand!|
So, how is this chemically sensitive chick going to find comfy lodging all over the US in the winter? This is where I really take my power back. And think way outside the box. My brother Kevin is a talented, creative woodworker and problem solver. With his help, I aspire to build a tiny chemical-free travel trailer, hopefully of the delectable, efficient Teardrop Trailer variety. When Boston is drowning in snow, Arlo and I will be towing our retro-inspired sleeping quarters into Austin, Santa Fe, Sedona, San Diego, or wherever else the sun beckons us.
Next weekend, Kevin and I are heading to the Adirondacks (notice the travel!) for an annual East Coast gathering of Teardrop Tailer enthusiasts, to learn from those who've built their own mini trailers. Right now we're still in the research phase. It's not even clear yet if we'll be able to find lightweight alternative materials to create our chemical-free trailer. And if it's not feasible, then I'll hatch Plan B. I've already got some ideas brewing. Designing and building my trailer would also profoundly connect me and Kevin to our brother Jeff, but I'll explain why in a later post.
|On my last cross-country trip in 1996 Jeff joined me for part of the trip. He took this picture of me goofing around in the Grand Tetons.|
Recently I wrote about creating small experiences to look forward to. I had no idea that this huge winter-away brainchild was waiting on the other side of that post. Now, I'm delightfully consumed with planning for the relaunch of a new version of Cloud 9, my business (fall 2011), and figuring out how to set up my life financially and logistically to make this goal come to life. To make me come to life. The reawakening is already happening. Now that shame is moving out, problem-solving and creativity are exploding Some of the ideas that occupy my mind: building the adorable trailer; turning my annual journeys into a suicide-prevention fundraising project; building an online directory of home-based, chemical-free lodging for others like me; and writing a blog about building a green trailer - there's nearly nothing online about this topic.
Years of hard personal work are finally starting to unblock a brain that's been clogged with shame about all my special needs and limitations, and grief for the healthy, athletic, and playful person I used to be. So it only took fourteen years to let go of my former healthier self, but I'm finally ready to try accepting me "as is". When I was calling around, trying to find an unsmelly-sounding bed and breakfast for our trip to the Adirondacks, I noticed a little miracle taking place. When I explained my chemical sensitivity, I didn't feel apologetic or embarrassed. Just clear about what I needed and wanted. Wow.