Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Wincing My Way Down Masada: Chronic Illness in Israel

Day 2 of the 10 day trip: I got up in the morning, screwed around on my phone because the kibbutz we were staying on at that point had good internet, took a shower, taped my feet to protect the sores on the bottoms of them, went to breakfast, stood up, felt a sharp pain in my left hip, sat back down, took Advil and continued with my day. When someone asked me if I was okay, all I said was this: "That's just what decided to hurt today." I did Birthright Israel, a ten day trip for Jewish 18-25 year olds, and I did it with chronic pain.

I want to make a point of saying this: I didn't have any pain-free days on this trip, although some were certainly easier than others. And I haven't had any pain-free days at any point in the past (that I can remember at least). I am not saying this to ask for your pity; I am saying this because I want to make it clear that I am writing this blog post to be open about my own life with the hope that this might make someone who is considering not going on Birthright due to a chronic illness reconsider their decision. It was by no means easy, but it was absolutely worth it.

Chronic illness, especially while traveling with a large group of people, is complicated. You don't have much time to yourself, meaning that it's very hard to hide how you are feeling, and you get a lot of questions if you wear any of the signs of pain on the outside. Additionally, there is a constant struggle between the desire to take in every experience and push yourself to have as much fun as possible in the limited time that you have and the need to take care of yourself and not end up crying on a park bench due to pain, mental or physical. And I am by no means an expert at balancing these two things, although I am a little bit proud that I didn't actually sit out of anything substantial on this trip due to pain. In some ways, I was lucky that I only had to deal with chronic pain. I know how to deal with chronic pain (at least that's what I tell myself), but a large amount of my trip did get the flu and have to sit out of things. I think it comes down to this: the pain you can deal with is also the pain that you have gotten used to. I don't like having to deal with chronic pain, but it's a fact of my life, and I now know, that if I can make it down Masada, I can make it through anything with my beautiful, broken body.

End Note: Thank you thank you thank you to Tamar Brendzel and Cindy Spungin, the chaperones on my trip for bearing with me when the pain was too bad to walk, for asking how I was doing at periodic intervals and just making sure that I felt supported and okay with how I was feeling for the whole trip. I can't thank either of you enough.

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