How does the old saying adage go? What a difference a year makes. And, my recent experiences can really only substantiate this.
Regular readers to the blog will remember that last year, I experienced my very first cruise and that unfortunately it did not go that me and my parents had hoped. The symptoms associated with my neurological condition were constantly present and remarkably severe that it affected my enjoyment of the holiday and also left me unable to disembark the ship and see the beautiful places that I was so looking forward to visiting.
Fast forward a year (okay more like a year and a half) and I am back from yet another cruise! Why go on a cruise when the first cruise did not go well, I hear you ask. Well, the large part of the reason why I decided to go another cruise, is that I refuse to let the neurological condition that I live with have any more control over my life than it already has. I came across, a perfect quote that really sums this up brilliantly; this quote says “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” And it is true, if we only stayed within the confines of our comfort zones then we would never what we can be capable of, or what we can achieve when given the chance.
The symptoms that are as a result of the brain stem lesion that I was diagnosed with already makes life difficult, for example, visiting certain types of places such as those with high ceilings and fluorescent lighting is very difficult for me as they increase the severity of symptoms such as dizziness and vertigo. As a result, I do not wish for my condition to stop me from doing anything else that I want to do, including taking trips abroad. Flying and therefore requiring to spend hours waiting in an airport would not be compatible with my symptoms so therefore a cruise offers an alternative for me to still be able to travel. Furthermore, the rational side of me, also realises that although I found the first cruise particularly difficult it does not necessarily mean that I would have the same experience on future cruises.
Back last year, just a few months after arriving back from the Mediterranean, my parents and I booked a second cruise with Royal Caribbean on their brand new ship Anthem of the Seas travelling this time around the Canary Islands (as well as stops in Spain and Portugal). And I am so glad that I did!
This cruise went much better than the last one, and even managed to get off the ship twice, managing to spend a few hours perusing the streets of Tenerife and Madeira. The process of disembarking the ship and then having to find our way to wherever we wanted to visit was not easy especially giving the severity of the symptoms but I still managed to push through and achieve something I did not think I could do. To some, getting off at only two stops may not seem like much, but fellow spoonies would appreciate the enormity of this feat, especially when battling constant and unrelenting symptoms.
Anthem of the Seas is an amazing and beautiful ship, and Royal Caribbean has seriously gone hi-tech. Before embarking on the cruise we bought an internet package, and was impressed with the speed of the bandwidth, enabling me to stream movies and television programmes on my iPad occupying my time when fatigue set in (which was a lot!.
The WOW factor did not stop there, however; all over the ship there was amazing artwork to marvel at, often feeling like Alice landing in Wonderland. What I love about Royal Caribbean, is the thought that has gone into the design of their ships; all public areas are fully accessible and have automatic doors making it easy for those in wheelchairs to be able to navigate their way around the ship unaided.
The food was also amazing, and particularly loved having a wide variety of choice of where to have dinner. We sampled the delights of the majority of the complimentary restaurants onboard, but spent most nights dining in the American Icon Grill. One night however, we chose to spend extra and dined at Jamie’s Italian where the food was amazing and the staff attentive and friendly. The highlight of the cruise for me, being a fan of Queen was seeing We Will Rock You, which absolutely fantastic and rivalled any West End show. My Mum and I also paid extra to use the facilities in the spa, which included an aromatherapy steam room and sauna, as well as the use of hot beds which not only did I find incredibly relaxing but also really helped ease the often excruciating pain in my legs.
Strange though isn’t it? Last year, I was unable to get off the ship and generally found the whole cruise experience extremely difficult. A year on however, and despite my symptoms not improving in that time I found this holiday much easier, even managing to push the boundaries of my own comfort zone.
Why is this? Perhaps the reason is due to the fact that during the past since the first cruise I have managed to push myself further, expanding the perimeter of the small world that my neurological condition has forced me into. Examples include conquering going to the cinema, a pastime that I used to love but is now extremely difficult for me as a result of my severe and unrelenting symptoms and as a result started to avoid. By pushing myself to go to places and placing myself into situations that increase the severity of my symptoms, and achieving staying in them, reinforces the belief that I am stronger than my condition and am able to get through difficult situations.
Or perhaps I have reached a new, deeper stage of acceptance. Accepted the reality of the neurological condition that I have been diagnosed with – that is not to say that I have given up and surrendered to the condition but rather let myself go of the suffering that came from continuously fighting against the symptoms and the hold that they had over my life. I have accepted that I will always have difficulty with certain situations and the majority of things will not be easy for me, but what I can control is my reaction to them and by doing so I can learn to be in control of my symptoms instead of them controlling me.
In the end I had to accept the reality of the symptoms; accept the long-term presence of them in my life. And by doing so, I no longer fought the presence of the symptoms but acknowledged their present existence in that moment. I have freed myself from the prison that fighting the symptoms, and avoiding certain places and situations has placed me in.
By accepting the reality of life with a long-term condition surprisingly made it easier to cope with the symptoms and all of the ups and downs as a result of life with chronic illness. I was able to find little coping strategies that helped minimised the effect of the symptoms and help me stay in control of the symptoms rather than the symptoms controlling my life. Of course, there are days when it feels that the symptoms still has control over my life but by accepting the reality of life with chronic illness, getting through the bad days is actually easier than before.
Above all, going on holiday on the cruise of a lifetime has made me realise that being diagnosed with a chronic illness, or disability does not spell the end of our lives or even our dreams. Yes, perhaps the route to which we can reach our goals and dreams may have to change but we can still reach that final destination. Chronic illness should not mean the end our dreams, and we can still follow them if we took a leap of faith.
This is the realisation that I came to whilst on holiday – if I took the easy option and decided not to go on the cruise then I would never realise the strength and control that I can have over my neurological condition. And if it wasn’t for that, then I would never have the opportunity to visit a country that I have wanted to for so long – Norway!
Yes, we have booked yet another cruise for next year to the beautiful and amazing country that is Norway. And this trip I can look forward to with excitement and positivity instead of anxiety and trepidation.
So all of you reading this – don’t give up on your dreams, believe me you can still achieve them despite the challenges in your way.