Travelling, Volunteering and Working with a Chronic Illness

As ever, I’ll start by telling you how busy I’ve been to excuse my lack of posts, but I think if you’re actually bothered about the amount I write, then you will have noticed that my posts have pretty much been a monthly thing. So instead of apologising at the start of every post, I will aim to continue this trend! SO, I have been up to quite a lot since finishing university, and I wanted to write a post about it all. I want to hopefully convey the message (to remind myself and others) that you should never let your illness hold you back. There have been many points over the last two years that I have felt the restrictions of my illness. There have been numerous times that I have felt isolated, different, and trapped in a painful rut whilst everybody else was doing exciting things and moving on with their lives. But I am currently in the process of learning that many barriers have been formed in my mind, and I am gradually becoming strong enough to show Crohn’s who is in control of my life.

I finally got the holiday that I had been dreaming of since I had to cancel the holiday I had planned last year due to a big flare up. However, as much as I was longing to get away on holiday, the prospect of it absolutely terrified me – which to many of you may sound completely ridiculous. But for many people with inflammatory bowel disease, travelling can be a very scary idea. There have been times over the past two years where I have been scared to leave the house to go to the shop, never mind to get on a flight to a foreign country. The thoughts of not knowing where the nearest toilet is, not knowing which of my ‘safe’ foods will be available, and being in a country with a language barrier are anxiety inducing. Even more so, the thoughts of being far away from my hospital, my nurse, the people who know my medical history, and my parents (I know I’m a complete baby) is really quite scary. But after many nervous toilet trips, 8 hours spent on planes with screaming children and oversized men spilling into my seat, I had 7 days in paradise with my best friend. I relaxed and laughed and nothing could have been better for both my physical and mental health. It wasn’t without problems – I burnt quite a bit thanks to mercaptopurine, and I developed a bloody shitty stupid skin abscess (a polite of phrasing it), which I responded to with crying and muttering ‘why me?’ to my other half for a few hours. The sea water definitely helped in its speedy healing – but my point here is that even in one of the situations that I had anxiously predicted, spent ages worrying about, and cried and cursed at when it happened – I coped. Overall I had an amazing time, and I want to say to those of you with such anxiety about travelling (even to the shop – which trust me – I get it!), as much as I hate to say that my CBT therapist was right in saying “DO IT, and prove your anxious predictions wrong”, she really was right. Even if those anxious predictions – the worst case scenarios do happen, you’re a chronic illness warrior, you’re used to coping and you will cope.


Another thing I’ve been worried about since my diagnosis whilst at uni, was working after I graduate. I know many people with IBD who are too sick to work, and many others who work like absolute troopers. The thought of being employed and letting down an employer if I had to have time off because of my health, or the struggles I’d face with the stress of work or my fatigue whilst trying to get through working days are all worries that I’m still in the process of consoling! But I have currently undertaken both a volunteering position and a work experience placement. My volunteering training weekend was something I was also terrified for, travelling down to St Albans, and partaking in 2 full days of training seemed daunting to me and my inability to stay awake all day. Fatigue is definitely a symptom that needs to be more widely recognised in Crohn’s and UC (and many other chronic illnesses), as it is both invisible but can be really debilitating. Luckily this volunteering was with Crohn’s and Colitis UK (a brilliant charity who have helped me a lot since diagnosis), and so I was surrounded by people who really understood how I was feeling. I had a brilliant weekend, and met some lovely people.


I have also been doing a work experience placement in a school this week which is helping me to decide whether or not I want to go into teaching as I am still in limbo. The work load and stress entirely puts me off but the rewards and environment are something I really enjoy. I plan on spending this year getting lots of experience in different places and different jobs to see what really interests me. I am also trying to get less caught up in the idea and pressures that I need to be in a perfect job straight away. I am still learning as a person, about what I enjoy, and what is suitable for me. I think it is really important, especially as somebody with a chronic illness, to think about your needs and how your working life is going to affect you. There maybe people who think that I have lost my ambition due to my illness. To some extent, in the beginning this was true. As my mental health was suffering, I thought that there was little point in doing anything I wanted because now I couldn’t do it anyway. I now realise that this really isn’t true, but I also realise that the pressures surrounding me really do not matter. And my health and happiness are at the forefront of my priorities, and I am aiming to keep it this way. Despite this – whilst engaging in my volunteering opportunity and work experience, I have realised that I am capable. Yes, I get tired easily, yes there are days when I feel like I cannot get out of bed, and yes there are days that I may need time off for unforeseeable circumstances. BUT, that doesn’t make me any less valuable or clever as a person or employee! I hope many of you realise this too, and don’t let anybody tell you that you are worth any less because you have been dealt with this illness in your life. You are still capable of great and wonderful things.

I hope that you are all as happy and healthy as you can be at the moment. (And if not, you’re strong and you can cope!!!!)








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