A camping trip reminds me of my life with AS

One important life strategy is focusing on the good

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by Janneke Phung |

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Do you like camping? I do. However, my love for camping (read: my attitude) was tested this spring.

We had just backed our minivan — which was packed to the rafters with kids and gear — into our campsite for the weekend. We started unloading it but soon realized that while the campsite was stunning, it wasn’t level. After a failed attempt to even out our tent trailer, we decided that sleeping with our heads uphill was probably better than downhill. We would make the most of it.

As we stopped to assess our setup, we noticed a lot of buzzing around our heads. The kids were already whining about the mosquitoes, which led to the realization that our bug repellent was still on the kitchen counter back home. Oh well, roll with the punches, right?

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Next, we connected our tent trailer to the power post but quickly learned that the electricity wasn’t working. A friendly neighbor at the site next to ours brought her toaster to help us troubleshoot. When plugged directly into the power outlet, the toaster worked fine, meaning that our tent trailer had failed us. Another minor setback.

The forecast for the next two nights was -2 C (28 F), so our furnace would have been nice. Thankfully, we brought toques and many blankets. (The fact that I am writing this proves we survived.)

Another surprise was that the water supply for the campsites hadn’t been turned on yet for the season — which apparently was common knowledge to other campers here in Alberta, Canada. As such, we drove 10 minutes to the camp station a few times during the weekend to fill up our water container. You better believe we conserved water like nobody’s business.

Had I focused on all the obstacles, it would’ve been miserable, and I would’ve missed so much beauty. The cheerful chirping of birds. The gentle breeze in the trees. The fresh, new strands of green grass after a long, cold winter. My three boys delighting in one another’s company as they played hide-and-seek behind trees that were skinnier than they are.

I’m eager for our children to grow up enjoying camping and being outdoors as much as I do. We were not off to the best start, but I didn’t let my kids on to that. With one disappointment after another, it would’ve been easy to be overwhelmed, but I was determined to focus on the good.

All of this reminded me of my journey with ankylosing spondylitis (AS).

Acknowledging progress

I have seen much improvement in my condition over the last few years. Four years ago, I was in rough shape. As a 34-year-old, I couldn’t imagine my body lasting much longer. With all the pain I was experiencing, life felt too long. It would’ve been easy to focus on all the setbacks and things I could no longer do. But my kids were young and needed me, so I was determined to focus on the positives.

Depression is prevalent among those with AS, and it needs addressing. For most, grieving the diagnosis of an incurable disease is necessary. Through it all, I’ve found that a determined effort to be intentionally grateful for the beauty in life has helped me get through discouraging and disappointing seasons. I haven’t always been successful in maintaining a good attitude, but in my experience, when my outlook is optimistic, the darkness can’t swallow me.

It is so beautiful when others walk alongside us and help us on this journey. During our camping trip, our friendly neighbor returned to our site to lend us her toaster. She thoughtfully dropped off some bug repellent, too. I like to think her kindness drove her to do this and that it wasn’t my moaning kids that inspired the generosity. Bless her heart. We’re not alone on this journey.

This column was inspired by my auntie. For decades, she has suffered similar health issues as me. Modern technology (in the form of social media) helped me find relief from pain and disease progression, which is something she didn’t have the privilege of experiencing. Still, she lives her life with a focus on others and intentionally practices gratitude and positivity. I’ve found her to be admirable and inspiring!

Thanks for reading! You can learn more about my story, browse starch-free recipes, or peruse on my website the stories of others who successfully manage their AS with diet and lifestyle modifications. Join me on Instagram and Facebook for the latest updates and recipes.

Note: Ankylosing Spondylitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Ankylosing Spondylitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to ankylosing spondylitis.


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