As I sit here in the hospital, after having just received some discerning news regarding the results of the in-patient monitoring EEG tests I stayed up all night, forcing myself to have a seizure for, I felt this was the proper moment to reflect back on one of the most major accomplishments I have achieved in my life, not only as a person with epilepsy but in my life as a whole, and that moment was when I fulfilled a lifelong dream of backpacking across Europe (epilepsy and all).
Backpacking was always something I over romanticized growing up. I thought somehow, someway I would hop on a plane completely alone with little money to my name and navigate my way through a foreign place, perhaps falling in love along the way and seeing where that journey led me. Now, reality is 99.9 times out of 100 never quite the romanticized world we hoped it would be and this trip was just that. It was not perfect but it was still a wonderful adventure, filled with exciting, eye-opening and peaceful moments of growth and self discovery. It was just the way in which it came about and unfolded along the way that differed from the story I had written in my head but I am happy it came about at all because, once you hear that Epilepsy diagnosis it’s easy to feel like life is over and the dreams you had before hearing it are done.
Back to how the trip differed from the romanticized version in my head. Let’s look at the traveling alone part. I would not recommend as someone with Epilepsy that you venture on a journey like this completely alone. A travel companion is highly recommended, not only to help and provide comfort if you have an episode but to share in the beauty, the excitement and the journey with you. Luckily the right partner-in-adventure is out there for us all and I found mine in my partner Andy (click here to read more about Andy’s awesomeness if you would like). When I told him my plans to backpack across Europe, to stay in hostels and work on organic farms, he was ready and raring to go, helping to scout farms and hostels, and securing train tickets to guide us through breathtaking views of the Alps on our way to Italy. His energy fueled mine and I found myself happier in the planning process than I ever could have imagined I would be.
Also, traveling with no money is never a good idea, no matter if you are an epileptic explorer, or are healthy as a horse. It is always a good idea to have some cushion money. So, rather than pick up and leave on a whim, Andy and I spent months saving up for the trip. We did keep one element of romantic adventure in play by quitting our jobs prior to departure but we were sure to have saved up enough to survive for a period of time once we returned. We did this in order to be fully present as we fulfilled this lifelong dream, and it worked. We had some eye-opening, life changing moments that helped us grow as individuals and brought us even closer together as a couple. I would not change anything about our adventure for the world (yes even the epilepsy part).
All set and ready to go on our two month adventure, we patiently awaited our plane from Boston’s Logan Airport excited and anticipatory of what was to come. Two months of life experiences includes too many stories to give justice to in just one blog post. See this write up as an overview of what is possible (epilepsy and all) but keep any eye out for further posts about individual adventures we experienced at various legs of our journey.
After a long journey with a travel mishap or two, we finally landed in our first destination, Ireland, where we planned to work on remote farms, visit a dear old friend in Dublin, and take in the beautiful sites and rich history of a culture very close to me. As someone from a long line of large, Irish families. I always knew I wanted to visit the country to learn more about my roots.
While in the lush, green and grey countryside we were fortunate to stay with some incredibly warm, welcoming and giving people on their farms through the WWOOF program (shout out to WWOOF for allowing volunteers with disabilities to be a part of your fantastic organization). We took in trad music, kissed the Blarney stone, saw where Guinness was made and became certified Guinness pourers (keep an eye out for a future post titled People With Epilepsy Can Become Certified Guinness Pourers for more on that one), visited the Dublin Zoo, and took in a rendition of Priscilla Queen of The Dessert that was just SO fabulous it drove me to have a simple complex partial seizure, which Andy helped me through. Our WWOOF hosts were also incredibly supportive of my condition, one even went so far to ask for details about it in regards to my menstrual cycle so he could see if it linked with the lunar cycle as well (fun fact… it does). The experience taught me a lot and I urge you; don’t be afraid to be open with people about your condition. At the root most people want to help and will do whatever they can to show support, including opening your eyes to ideas for triggers and treatments that you may never have thought of before.
Across The Pond
From Ireland we took a fairy to England, where we spent two days in London, seeing Buckingham Palace, The London Eye and Pickadilly Circus. The highlight for both of us was of course The Harry Potter Studio Tour. Harry Potter fans can feel the excitement on this one by reading my People With Epilepsy Can Go To Hogwarts post (coming soon.) London is a really lovely place and two days is certainly too little to see it all. Hopefully I will get back there one day but visiting London alone was not what this trip was about. This was about the backpacking and proving that Epilepsy and all, I still had what it takes to backpack from England to Italy, so Andy and I packed up our things and did just that. We took a sleeper train through the Alps. One thing to note about sleeper trains. They are not exactly the greatest for sleeping. It probably didn’t help that my body was covered in bedbug bites from one of the many hostels we had stayed in prior to boarding the train and that somehow I had popped a blood vessel in my eye but whatever the cause may be, by the time we landed in our final location of Venice, I needed to spend the first romantic night cooped up in our (much nicer) hostel room with a stomach bug most likely caused by dehydration and lack of sleep. Miraculously no seizures though! Fortunately I was recovered in just one day and was ready and able to take Italy by storm. Keep an eye out for a future post about all the amazing things people with Epilepsy can do (and eat) in Italia but for now I’ll preview with the list below.
Looking forward to sharing more about this life changing experience with all of you explorers out there and how it affected me both as a person AND as a person with epilepsy in future posts because it seriously affected both in ways I could have never imagined prior to doing it.
What is one thing you have always wanted to do but maybe have been holding back from? Don’t let your epilepsy get in the way of achieving your dreams. You are a warrior. Strong and capable. You can do anything you set your heart and mind to!
Keep feeding the wanderlust!
The Epileptic Explorer