Sunday, April 13, 2008

more fear of flying

I'm sick - again! Another stomach bug, this one bringing trips to the can and waves of abdominal pain so intense I just squirmed around in bed hoping somehow I could escape my skin. The last time I had that feeling of wanting to escape my treacherous skin I was in labour and virtually strapped to the bed if not literally. It was only when I decided to try to breathe through these waves of pain that I finally got some sleep early Saturday morning. Yesterday I still felt exhausted and weak and laid on the couch all day long, still in pain but not quite as bad as the night before. This morningI'm still in pain but much better: I've eaten two pieces of toast and I've spent more time upright than horizontal. Progress!

I was so sick, I've been thinking about cancelling our trip to Cuba, for which we're supposed to depart in less than a week. I tell you this not to win sympathy but to lead into the real issue: anxiety. People who have been reading me for a long time might remember that years ago I suffered debilitating panic and anxiety, which was mostly triggered by both acute and chronic gastrointestinal illness. To cope, I restricted my life to work and home. Even travelling out of town by car was too much for me to handle. I was terrified of getting sick to my stomach away from home.

Over the last few years, I thought I was pretty much past all that. I travelled to South Africa and mostly managed my fear of flying. I did have times when my stomach felt grumbly but I never let it panic me because I had years of it feeling grumbly from time to time without catastrophic consequences (i.e. vomiting).

But now my confidence is shaken. The only times I've felt slightly grumbly in the last few weeks have both led to nasty illness. The first time wasn't so bad because it'd been about four years since the last time I threw up, so I figured I had at least another year. I figured my dues were paid. But to get sick again in two weeks makes me think my system is weakened or fundamentally broken. Granted, I've been sicker (with an episode that was probably the real root of my panic), but what if I get sick again when I'm in Cuba? What if I'm gribbed by that intense abdominal pain when I'm on a plane or a bus? What if I have to vomit in a Cuban toilet? (I suspect the street would be more sanitary.) How will my system react to Cuba food?

I'm torn. On the one hand, if I'm constantly scared that every rumble or twinge means I'm about to be felled by illness, there's no way I'll enjoy Cuba the way I want to or make the images I want to. I know myself well enough to recognize that I could end up too scared to go to Havana and spend all our time on a sheltered resort. I'd feel very disappointed to come home without going to Havana, since that's really why we want to go to Cuba.

On the other hand, maybe this represents a great opportunity to really face my fears. Maybe it's easy to live without anxiety when you mostly feel ok, but quite another to keep exploring when you feel crappy.

Years and years ago, I fancied myself an intrepid world traveller who just hadn't had the chance to actually travel. After a year or two of not travelling, I realized that that's just not who I am. I like having a home and playing it safe, and that's ok. The last few months I've been looking at amazing photos from all corners of the world, thinking I want to do that, I want to make images like that. I've been imagining myself at a street photography workshop in Istanbul or portraiture workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Maybe I was that intrepid world traveller after all and it had just taken me a while to discover it. I wouldn't want to be away from Swee'pea a lot and I wouldn't want to make him tag along everywhere, but maybe a couple trips a year would be nice.

Now, though, I'm back to the homebody. I guess I'll wait and see how I feel in a few days. We'll probably go. I'm guessing fear isn't covered by the trip insurance I bought anyways.

(And deep in the back of my mind is this article about judging the World Press Photo Awards.

"Flicking through the 81,000 images originally submitted a sense of deja vu is inevitable. Again and again similar images are repeated, with only the actors and settings changing. Grieving mothers, charred human remains, sun sets, women giving birth, children playing with toy guns, cock fights, bull fights, Havana street scenes, reflections in puddles, reflections in windows, football posts in unlikely locations, swaddled babies, portraits taken through mosquito nets, needles in junkies’ arms, derelict toilets, Palestinian boys throwing stones, contorted Chinese gymnasts, Karl Lagerfeld, models preparing for fashion shows backstage, painted faces, bodies covered in mud, monks smoking cigarettes, pigeons silhouetted against the sky, Indian Sardus, children leaping into rivers, pigs being slaughtered."

See that? Havana street scenes are already a cliché, and here I am dying to get in on the clichéd action. It's only a little niggle really, because by the end of the article, the winners are all of clichéd subject matter. But still...)

I think some of my readers have travelled quite a bit. So I ask you, how do you handle the risk/fear of illness when travelling?


Janet said...

I certainly don't fall into the world traveller camp, but I went to Mexico a few times before we had Elyse and I always took lots and lots of meds for stomach upset, even antibiotics, just in case. I was completely paranoid that I would get sick and ruin my trip. It never happened but having the medication with me eased my anxiety.

I hope you mend quickly and enjoy the scenery. Can't wait to see the pictures when you return!

Anonymous said...


Are you staying at an inclusive resort in Cuba? If so, you will probably be okay for food as it is very basic and intended to appeal to tourists. Otherwise I recommend street vendors. They do a brisk business and the food doesn't sit for long so you can be reasonably confident it hasn't gone off. The only time we got sick in Mexico was at a 'fancy' restaurant, but never had a problem with the street carts.

But I'm hardly an intrepid traveller. Though I long to be. I threw up in every single bathroom in Vatican City. Well, not EVERY SINGLE bathroom. Just the one's for women, of which there are scant few in Vatican City. But still. I blame the egg soup I had the night before for ruining my viewing of the Sistine Chapel. Stooo-pid soup.

I hope you are feeling better. You deserve to have a fun getaway.

Bon said...

during the years when we travelled, i was mostly pretty lucky, except for that extended run (erm, pun intended?) of mild dysentry through SE Asia, which left me lighter than i'd been since seventh grade. since Asian public toilets don't have toilet paper and often little in the way of a flush system, i found myself feeling a bit exposed during that period, especially one awful time i found myself urgently in need and without anything to wipe with except my underwear. whilst wearing a short sarong. sigh.
i did develop a bit of a fear about being without toilet paper during that trip.

but Sin, i wouldn't take the experience back for the world. or rather, it was an experience of the world i wouldn't take back for anything.

bring all the meds you can, both of the stomach and anti-anxiety type, whatever works for you. but i vote go, if you think you can at all. yes, you will be taking photos of scenes others have photographed. but they will be the first through your eyes, your lens.

Mimi said...

Hmm ...

You know, the violent tummy bugs are felling everyone this year, and often more than once: so your streak is not unusual, nor does it indicate any particular susceptibility. It's been a bad year for everyone (Dude, I barfed in a snowbank on the side of Hwy 11. I'm totally not that person, but ...)

Cuba: I felt a little sick on my last day. Spent about an hour on the can. But then I felt way better. Bring the immodium or what have you, and you should be good.

Havana is totally worth it: it's a cliche, maybe, but there's a reason it's a UNESCO world heritage site, you know?

Mad said...

Stop thinking ahead. You'll be fine in the moment when the moment comes. Just keep thinking of all the pictures you'll get to take.

Jennifer said...

Oh, I hope you're better and the tummy is so much less grumbly by the time you read this...

Yes, I have traveled quite a bit and hope to travel quite a bit more. I just got back from a big trip and we're already thinking ahead to the next one. I've been sick when traveling, yes, I think it's just the way it goes, sometimes. New foods, different water, lack of sleep and the edgy feeling of not being at home. But, oh, it's been worth the travel, every single time. Every time. Not once have I thought, "I wish I hadn't done this..." Because everything is an experience. Some better than others, but everything is an experience.

Just try not to "What if" too much. I know that game well and it's a mind-bender. Prepare the best you can, visit your doctor and stock up on good tummy stuff -- and make the "What if"s stay out of your head.

jen said...

babe, all i've got is this:

i remember you seriously doubting your SA trip. and then you went and had the best time.

it's like that.

metro mama said...

Ever since we both had food poisoning during our honeymoon in Portugal, I pack lots of immodium.

nomotherearth said...

I hope this doesn't sound terribly cliché, but my favourite quote from one of my favourite movies is "A life lived in fear, is a life half-lived".

Go to Cuba. Even if you're sick all over the residents.

Aliki2006 said...

I don't have a fear of the risks of illness when traveling, but a full-blown fear of the actual traveling part--flying, namely. I do what others have sugegsted--I put it out of my mind--just push it way, way back so I can't think about it.

Cloud said...

I'm late to the party, but my travel tip is to take oral rehydration salts with you. You can get them at a camping store. They are small and cheap, and chances are you won't need them, but if you do.... they are wonderful. The only time we got sick on our four month jaunt around asia and the pacific was food poisoning in Thailand, and the ORS were godsends. It is best to let these things run their course if you can (it is your body's way of getting rid of the nasty bugs), but that will dehydrate you. The ORS will fix that and help you feel better faster.