This past weekend, I went on vacation for the first time since I started working full time a year-and-a-half ago. I have used all of my paid time off for doctors’ appointments, which has been very frustrating, especially when I hear about all of the wonderful things that my similarly aged coworkers are using their time off for. It was a bit nerve-wracking having to take unpaid time to go out of town, but it was worth it. I needed to get away and recharge.
It wasn’t some big, grand getaway. I didn’t have to get on a plane to get there, which is good because traveling by plane usually is a very easy way for me to flare. We went only a three-hour car ride away. But even so, that got us to pristine beaches right off of Lake Michigan, cute lakeside towns, good food and, best of all, I got to see one of my best friends and meet her baby for the first time.
We went to a brewery, a winery, and a casino. We watched the sunset on the beach and went out on Lake Michigan on a boat. For a weekend that felt so relaxing, we managed to pack a lot in from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. And I’ll admit, by the time we got home, exhaustion hit me. I woke up with my hip hurting something fierce. It’s my body signaling that vacation is over and it’s time to get back to reality.
Being diagnosed with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis at 22, over the past nine years I’ve often envied my friends and acquaintances, and the fact that for most of them, illness does not figure into their plans. But for me, I know that I have to do things differently. And I know that because I’ve tried to play the system, and I have gotten burned. I’ve had to physically pay for my thrills for weeks — not because I had “too much” fun, but because my body has a threshold on how much it can handle in any given stretch of time.
So, how do you make a vacation worth your time and money, but not have the rest of your life suffer from it afterward? I think the keys are to relax and have fun. Those might seem like obvious goals for a vacation, but it can be hard to do when vacations come so seldom, at least for me. Most importantly, don’t do what you can’t do.
On this particular trip, we did a lot, but I didn’t run myself ragged. I really tried to enjoy and appreciate each activity we did, and since I wasn’t on a time crunch to catch a train or a plane, I wasn’t in such a rush. And we left ourselves plenty of time to get where we were going and then home. I didn’t end up in a massive flare at the end. Yes, I was tired and my hip hurt. But I didn’t have to miss more work because my vacation took that big of a toll. I did let my meal planning fall by the wayside, and I have to get back to that. But otherwise, I took my meds and followed everything else.
For me, not only was this vacation enjoyable, it also was symbolic. It was symbolic about how far I’ve come, and also of how far I have to go. It was symbolic because I didn’t just do it for myself. I did it for all of my chronic friends who currently are not in the position to get away and take a small break from reality.
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