Update of the past 2 years at the bottom!
Alright guys, this post is going to be a bit heavier than our other ones so strap yourselves in.
By now, some of you probably know that I have good ol’ Crohn’s disease. If you’re not exactly sure what that entails, in short, it’s an autoimmune disease that triggers the gut and causes a lot of gut discomfort/pain, frequent and urgent bathroom breaks (my favorite), exhaustion, weak immune system, and other symptoms. Sounds pretty awesome, right?
A lot of people suffer from Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative Colitis (very similar symptoms), and in today’s world, more and more people are coming down with similar symptoms that doctors diagnose as Crohn’s or UC.
Don’t worry, this post isn’t all about the dirty details of Crohn’s. I wanted to write this because a lot of people have health conditions or personal ailments that may hold them back from some things they want to do or pursue in life. And of course, some conditions are more hindering than others, but I believe we can all find ways (big or small) to overcome some aspects of our current situations.
Here’s a brief overview of my situation:
Prior to our travels in Southeast Asia, I had some extensive gut issues which almost postponed and potentially canceled our trip altogether. A last effort of an alternative medical procedure (fecal transplant, anyone?), worked magic on my gut and within days I felt almost back to normal. Throughout the 10 months spent in foreign countries, I never had any stomach issues, something that still remains a mystery to doctors. I thought the Gut Gods had cured me from whatever problems I was having. And then boom, four or five months after returning home it hit me again, but this time it was a lot worse.
I was in denial that my gut problems were back so I kept on my daily life for two or three months and didn’t tell anyone of my symptoms…smart, right? Nope. Apologies for the dirty details, but at this point I was going to the bathroom (numero dos), around 30 times a day, had pain in my gut that felt like a knife constantly stabbing me, and I couldn’t sleep more than 30 minutes at night without getting up to sprint to the bathroom.
My body finally began to shut down and I ended up in the Emergency Room. I was admitted for 7 days while my body started to regain strength from the medication I was receiving. Some consults later, it was determined I had Crohn’s disease and I was put on steroids. Fast forward a few months, the steroids weren’t working and I started Remicade infusions; a dose of medication given through an IV every 8 weeks near my hometown, Madison, WI.
Taylor and I have always talked and dreamed about traveling and working in different countries after graduating college. Our hearts were set on getting a work visa for New Zealand and spending a few years working and traveling in the beautiful country. This is when it hit me. Graduation was only a few months away and I had just started my routine Remicade infusions, which held me to a specific location.
This is the point where I started feeling like this disease was going to keep me from living the life I had always envisioned and dreamed of. And much worse than that, I felt like I was holding Taylor back from the life we had been excited about and planning. It took a while for us to give up the fact that this type of lifestyle wasn’t in our immediate future. I spent a month or two feeling down and pessimistic at the thought that I might always be confined and held back by my health conditions. A long story short, we proactively started thinking of ways we could still pursue a lifestyle of travel that could coexist with my Crohn’s treatment. Drumroll…this is exactly when we became obsessed with the Vanlife lifestyle and community!
Disclaimer: I am VERY, VERY, VERY grateful that we live in a time and place where we can seek medical professionals who have the knowledge and medicine to manage diseases and treat symptoms.
This is where I have to talk about my unconditional love, mad respect, and gratitude towards Taylor. Throughout all of this, she was always optimistic, maintained a positive perspective, and never had any uncertainty that our lives would be any less adventurous than we had always talked about. To this day, she is still 100% supportive. She is understanding and patient when my symptoms come back, when I have frequent hospital visits, and what my disease means for our traveling lifestyle. I’ll put it simply, I'm so damn lucky to be with this beautiful and loving girl.
Can traveling with Crohn’s be uncomfortable and tough? Absolutely! At the time this was written, I had 3 sinus infections in the past 45 days because my immune system can’t fight infections as well as a healthy immune system can. I have to be back in Madison, WI every 8 weeks until another Crohn’s treatment is discovered. And let’s be honest, having to urgently “go” when driving down the highway isn’t the most glamorous feeling.
But the thing is, it would be just as uncomfortable and tough living any other lifestyle. I’ve made a decision not to let my health condition take control of the way I live my life. Of course, I’ll follow my treatment plans, live as healthy as possible, keep an eye on my symptoms, and find medical attention when I need it. But in my eyes, our quality of life stems from many different conscious decisions we make on our journey, and this is one I’ve decided to make.
I wanted to write this blog post to shed positive light on the things that seem to hold us all back in life. Each individual situation is different, some more hindering than others, but it’s about taking each situation and twisting it to still live a life that excites us. It can be easy to let these conditions take a hold of our lives and control the way we live; I almost let my Crohn’s disease do that to me. But before writing things off in life, I believe we should look at it from a different perspective and challenge the standard or "easy" option.
I’m not advocating or saying that people should live any certain way. I’m just saying, try not to let your situation take complete control of your life.
What are the things that you feel hold you back in life?
Update from 2017 to 2019
I’m relieved to say that I’m still healthy and loving life! I still receive Infliximab infusions every 8 weeks in Madison, WI but I haven’t had any severe symptoms since 2017. It’s been tough having to either drive or fly to Wisconsin every 8 weeks because we’re typically cruising the West Coast but that’s what we signed up for when we decided to live this way. The old proverb is so damn true - “Health is Wealth”.
And to those who are curious, I’ve been doing a lot of research the past few years and am very motivated to deal with this in a natural way. I’ve done everything I can do to make an educated decision to stop my routine infusions - I’ve had multiple colonoscopies in the past two years to see if the inflammation in my colon has decreased, I’ve changed my diet drastically (gluten free for over a year while primarily eating “whole” foods), and have explored many other alternative methods. I’m extremely proactive when it comes to my health and I’m confident that once more light is shed on Crohn’s Disease I’ll be able to change my treatment to something more natural.
If you’re asking yourself, why don’t you just stop medication for a while and try a natural path? That’s my dream! But the harsh reality is once you stop this medication, there is an extremely small chance that it will work if you reintroduce it back into your body later. If I were to go off this medication and suffer severe symptoms, I would be left having to use less successful and more dangerous medications for the rest of my life. And if these medications proved not to work, I would be in some gnarly trouble - think colostomy bag, surgical procedures removing parts of my colon, etc.
Okay, enough of the dirty details! I’m optimistic and excited to see what the next few years of life bring. If you have Crohn’s or any other ailment that hinders you, I’d love to hear your story in the comments below!
Thank you all for your support. It means the world to us!