I recently discovered Anna Altman, an American author with chronic migraines. Altman perfectly highlights truths like this: ‘Our culture encourages us to think that, if we push ourselves hard enough, we can overcome whatever ails us.’
As she discovered when her migraines became debilitating, it’s simply not true. But we deeply want it to be true, which is why it’s such a pervasive idea. In an essay about living with chronic illness, Altman describes what felt like her ‘failure to bear up under average hardship’ when she could no longer work full time. Yes, I thought. Exactly.
After trying all kinds of doctors and treatments for years with little success, Altman says, ‘I ended up finding that giving in to my limitations and trying to find a meaningful, happy life within them helped a lot.’ Her mother counselled that in spite of what she had to give up, she could make a new life for herself.
Giving In To Limitations And Forging A New Life was definitely the theme of my recent trip to New Zealand. When I say ‘recent’ I mean two months ago, because this is yet one more way I’ve given into limitations.
Steve and I booked the flights early last year. I suppose we thought I might be significantly better after all those months. We were very optimistic, it turned out.
In the past, planning a trip to New Zealand would have involved researching all the best hiking trails, kayaking spots, and sunrise yoga on the beach. By November though, it was clear I wouldn’t be doing anything physical. We still refer to the mildest incline as my nemesis.
If I couldn’t hike or kayak or swim, if I had to give into those limitations, what could I fill that gap with? What could this new life as a chronically ill person still desperate to travel look like?
Te Ika-a-Maui, New Zealand’s North Island, had a perfect answer: HOT SPRINGS.
This photo from The Lost Spring looks incredibly relaxing, but what isn’t pictured is the chainsaw and wood chipper blasting away on the other side of that wall. It was actually intolerable, since one of my least fun symptoms is noise sensitivity.
But that was okay, because New Zealand has dozens of hot springs, and I’d planned to visit as many of them as possible. Hot springs are definitely within my limitations, as you can see here at Hell’s Gate mud spa, which was blissfully chainsaw free.
New Zealand is full of options. When you’re done slathering yourself in mud at Hell’s Gate, you can soak in this even smellier sulphur pool. It was super weird and I loved it.
At the right time of day, you can visit Hot Water Beach in Hahei and get your able-bodied husband to dig a sand pit that will fill up with geothermically heated water. It seeps out of the ground at 65 degrees Celsius, so dig the pit carefully to make sure some cool ocean water seeps in also.
Or just visit a traditional New Zealand cat cafe, where you can spend an hour sitting quietly, drinking a cup of tea, and feeding kibble to 17 cats.
I was able to see and do a lot while mostly sitting down and relaxing, which meant I felt especially good in New Zealand. I was still disappointed to miss out on sights like Cathedral Cove in Hahei, which was only accessible via a rather vertical one-hour hike or an expensive boat journey that would have been exhausting for me. I stayed in the shade on the beach and Steve hiked up on his own.
All that resting meant I was able to see some of the flatter sights, however. This was especially exciting in Rotorua, one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever seen. It’s an active geothermal area, which means all sorts of weirdness goes on. This is a park in the city, where there is a variety of steaming lakes and bubbling mud pits. This steam blows right onto one of the major streets.
I wasn’t kidding about the mud pits.
To see these sights, I had to walk around. This meant planning carefully and rationing my energy. It worked out. The highlight was Wai-O-Tapu. The website describes this ‘Thermal Wonderland’ as ‘a spectacular showcase of New Zealand’s most colourful and unique geothermal elements sculpted by thousands of years of volcanic activity’ and it is not wrong.
This is Champagne Pool, named for its bubbly constitution.
And this is Devil’s Bath, which Atlas Obscura describes as a ‘neon green pool of stagnant stink water’ and compares to ‘a cartoonish radioactive dump site’.
Trust me, I loved every minute of this. Even the minutes where my symptoms flared in the heat and I struggled to breath after battling a mild incline.
I’m very lucky to have been able to travel to New Zealand at all. Many people with chronic fatigue syndrome and other chronic illnesses wouldn’t be able to. Still, part of me insists that if I push myself hard enough, I can overcome my illness. Every time I try, I make myself worse.
So, welcome to 2019: The Year Of Giving In To Limitations And Forging A New Life … Again.
PS. In New Zealand, shopping carts are called TRUNDLERS. Really. Made my day.