Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you.
“It’s not fair,” my brother complained half-jokingly one night on our trip to Italy. “You’ll always spend less money than us!” He wasn’t talking about my budgeting skills, though: He continued, “You only eat one meal a day!”
Life with Irritable Bowel Syndrome can be crappy (pun intended). For example, last Monday I finally went to take the language test you need to pass in order to apply for French citizenship. As the big day approached, I was nervous about the test, but a million times more nervous about being in a situation where I couldn’t just get up and head to the bathroom if I had to go. Sitting through the half-hour of preparation was torture – the psychological part of IBS was doing its horrible number on me. Luckily, I was able to focus during the test questions. As often happens with IBS, once the whole thing was over, I felt fine. I got up and strolled out as if I’d never had any problems at all.
It’s hard to live this way, with unpredictable physical symptoms and anxiety about so many seemingly mundane situations. But my brother did have a point: IBS makes me a great budget traveler. When I’m on a trip where I’m out all day seeing the sights, I don’t want to worry about randomly having stomach trouble, so I usually only eat when I get back to the place I’m staying. That gives me hours near a bathroom and plenty of time to recover and be ready by the next morning. It’s not very healthy to go without eating or drinking all day, I know, but at least it’s only temporary, and at least I don’t usually feel extremely hungry or thirsty. And it also means I usually only spend 5-10 dollars or euros a day to feed myself. That’s at least half of what “normal” travelers would spend, even if money’s tight. Not to mention the fact that I’m one of the few people I know who regularly loses weight on vacation….
It’s so strange how a disorder that in many ways makes it hard to travel, can also make it a lot easier. In addition to spending less money, I don’t have to worry about whether or not my hotel offers a free breakfast, or how to fit in lunch between two museums. It makes you think. Silver linings and all that.
Every day of my normal life, I live with my body. I try to listen to it – sometimes uselessly, since one of the symptoms of IBS is a sort of blown circuit between your brain and your small intestine. I try to do whatever I can to be healthy. I arrange my days based on when I usually have to go to the bathroom (a recommendation given to all IBS patients trying to reduce their condition-related anxiety).
But when I travel, I’m sort of free. I do still worry sometimes, and sometimes, despite everything, there are unpleasant surprises and stressful, bathroom-less situations. (Thank goodness for Indiaral, an anti-diarrheal medicine they have here that seems to be perfectly dosed for my body – it works only for a day or two, not longer, unlike Immodium. Huzzah!) Most of the time, though, when I’m traveling, I can leave my body and go do things. Toilet breaks are like a text message, nothing more. I explore and discover for hours, and meet up with my physical self only when I come back to my hotel room at night.
What about you? Do you have a disorder, disability, or personality trait that’s generally not a good thing, but that can be a major advantage in special circumstances?