Fear of Flying

West JetTravel, airplanes, airports…..my feelings towards these things have changed a lot over the years! Travel has always been an important part of my life. My family went on wonderful vacations and I loved exploring new places in the world! Airplanes and airports were just part of the experience. I don’t think I ever loved that part of travelling but I was okay with it. Then a had a few bad flights – an extremely turbulent landing, a woman throwing up close to me, an upset stomach that kept me in the tiny airport bathroom for most of the long flight back from Europe. None of these were horrific experiences that I couldn’t handle and I’m sure lots of people have had way worse experiences with flying but these experiences were enough to bring up a serious anxiety around flying for me. It didn’t help that all of this happened at the time when I was figuring out my celiac diagnosis and had a very unpredictable GI tract. My fear of flying has never been that fear that the plane is going to fall out of the sky, I feel comfortable with the fact that planes are fairly safe. My fear of flying is the fear of being trapped in the plane when either myself or someone around me is really sick. Fear of flying is extremely common and everybody has their own reasons that they are afraid. And for a lot of people it can be a crippling fear that keeps them from visiting friends and family and experiencing the world. I could see myself going down this path as my anxiety got worse and worse with each flight and I really didn’t want to let that happen. I decided it was time to ask for help. This is the hardest thing to do but it has helped me immensely.

When we feel anxious about something, the common reaction is to become hypervigilant. I check the weather obsessively to see if it will be windy or stormy, I panic at the smallest bumps, I pack pepto bismol, immodium, gravol, homeopathics, etc. in case of any possible illness, I think through every possible scenario that could happen on the plane, I watch everyone around me obsessively to see if anybody looks the least bit ill, I always choose an aisle seat for quick getaways, and I wear headphones the entire flight with music as loud as I can tolerate so I can’t hear anything going on around me. I do all these things to try and avoid the worst-case scenarios. But really it just feeds my anxiety because I can always find things that prove that the worst-case scenarios are possible and that all flights are scary and anxiety provoking.

As I sit at the airport today on my way to Alberta for one of my best friend’s weddings, I realize how much has changed! Don’t get me wrong, I still checked the weather this morning, packed lots of medical supplies, chose an aisle seat, and will likely wear noise-cancelling headphones for most of the flight. BUT I can sit here and focus on writing this blog post instead of eyeing up the other passengers waiting for my flight, I didn’t have a loose bowel movement caused by extreme anxiety this morning, I’m looking forward to studying/relaxing on the plane, and I’m not letting my anxiety cloud my excitement about this trip!!

It has taken me a lot of hard work to get to this point. I’ve been seeing a therapist and doing cognitive behavioural therapy with her. Some of it hasn’t been pleasant at all (i.e. listening to vomiting sounds over and over again until I know I can handle it – called exposure therapy) and sometimes I haven’t been sure if I can ever really get over my fear of flying. But today, I realize it was all worth it. Today, I’m still nervous and I realize I will always have some anxiety about flying but I’ve learned how to deal with it, how to notice it and understand it so that I can label it as anxiety and not get wrapped up in it. Today, I am paying attention to my breath to remind my body it is okay to feel relaxed about flying and there is no need to tense up. Today, I am just so excited about my trip!!!!! And if you have a fear of flying or another fear that is keeping you from doing fun things in your life, I really hope this post gives you some courage to ask for help and know it doesn’t have to be a crippling fear forever!

Our Honeymoon to Paris – and how to travel gluten free!

IMG_0123I’m now a married woman! My wedding was everything I had dreamed it would be and I couldn’t be happier! But this post is about our honeymoon! Our honeymoon was the beginning of a new chapter in my life, in more ways than one. Not only was it a celebration of our new married life, but also of all the hard work I have put into working through my anxiety over the past year and a half. Trips have always been very anxiety provoking for me because I don’t like flying, I don’t like being out of my normal routines, and I don’t like eating food that I haven’t prepared myself. I have never been one of those people who feels more relaxed and healthy on a vacation than when I’m at home…..until NOW! This trip was a huge turning point for me and I’m so excited to share that with all of you!

We decided to plan our honeymoon to the most romantic city in the world – Paris!! We had 10 days between our wedding and the beginning of a new school year to fit in as much as we possibly could and this seemed like the perfect place to go. We mostly stayed in Paris, but we spent a few days in Switzerland! We took a train from Paris to Geneva so that we would be able to explore CERN (the location of the large hadron collider – not my area of expertise but visiting it was a dream come true for my husband and definitely very cool for me too!). After a day in Geneva, we headed to Lausanne for a night. Lausanne was breathtaking! It was about a 40-minute train ride outside of Geneva, located on Lake Geneva and surrounded by mountains. When we got there and went for a walk by the water, we were literally in awe at its beauty. After a few days in Switzerland, we headed back to Paris for the rest of the trip and continued to explore the city! IMG_0472

Overall, it was an absolutely fabulous vacation! And I was able to enjoy it to this extent because I didn’t get sick at all! In fact, I felt amazing! This trip made me so excited to continue being able to travel and explore the world in the future, thanks to all the things I have learned about gluten free traveling over the years. Here are some of the things I have learned and how I navigated Paris without getting sick at all! (and even feeling better than I have in a long time!)

Plan for the Airplane. When you buy tickets for a flight that includes a meal, they now have options for a variety of different special dietary needs. When you buy your ticket, make sure to choose the gluten free meal! On a 7-8 hour flight it is really nice to have a warm meal! It is still airplane food, and not the most amazing meal you will ever eat, but I still found it reasonably satisfying. Also, they brought it out to me before the rest of the food and everything was labeled really well, so I felt very confident that it was actually gluten free. You can obviously pack your own food for the plane (as long as you don’t pack any liquids!) but make sure you have a few different options if you decide to do this. On a previous vacation, they told us at the beginning of the flight that there was somebody with a severe nut allergy on board and, therefore, they requested that nobody eat any nut products. Of course, the only snacks I had brought had nuts in them. So packing your own snacks isn’t always foolproof either!

Be Prepared. Research the places you are visiting to see if there is anything that stands out about the local cuisine. Do any restaurants with gluten free menus pop up? Are there any blog posts about other people’s experiences? Can you find the local Celiac association and get any information from them? Do you know anybody else who has ever traveled to your destination?

When I researched Paris, my searches were not coming up with a ton of information and I realized that Celiac disease is not as well known in Paris as it is in other countries, such as Ireland. There were not many restaurants with gluten free menus popping up and I found a couple blog posts discussing the difficulties of eating gluten free in Paris. This was a bit stressful but at least I was prepared!

I also researched Geneva and Lausanne, since we visited these places as well. Again, it didn’t seem like it was going to be Celiac heaven but I figured I would be able to manage. I did find one pretty disappointing piece of information in my research – a common local spice, called Aromat, is used in a lot of cooking in Switzerland and is not gluten free. This was good to know so that I would be prepared to ask for my meal without spices if it came to that (although it didn’t turn out to be an issue).

The most exciting piece of information I gathered from all my research was the popularity of crepes de sarrasin (sarrasin = buckwheat = gluten free!). This was all thanks to my good friend Caroline who grew up in Switzerland and was giving me advice about what to do in Lausanne when she mentioned these crepes. Without this information, I never would have thought to eat lunch at a creperie but it turned out to be quite common to find a creperie that served crepes de sarrasin and they were delicious!! My two memorable crepes:

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  • At a café in the Tuileries Garden after a long day of exploring the Louvre. I was starving and it was an amazing surprise to find a gluten free meal in the Tuileries. It was called La Terrasse De Pomone and I would highly recommend it!
  • La Creperie d’Ouchy in Lausanne. It is in a beautiful location, right on the water. Their crepes were delicious and it was the perfect lunch to fill me up before our train back to Paris.

Pack Food. Find your favourite nutrient dense, delicious, filling, and easily packable snacks and never go anywhere without them! These are my staples:

Breakfast: If you plan to be eating breakfast at your hotel, always talk to your hotel ahead of time and ask if they are able to have gluten free bread for you. Most hotels are able to do this these days and it can be so helpful! Most breakfast buffets have yogurt, fresh fruit, and eggs, which paired with gluten free bread (or in my case, my favourite instant oatmeal) makes a perfect breakfast to get you ready for a day of exploring.

Lunch: I always find this meal the trickiest when traveling, you’re usually out and about and it can be hard to stumble upon the perfect restaurant at the perfect time. This is why I always carry a protein bar with me. Most restaurants will have a salad or something small that you can order and then you can pair that with your protein bar and you should be good to go for the rest of the day. This can also be a time when it is helpful to have the rice crackers in your purse in case they have cheeses or dips that you want to try.

Snacks: mid-afternoon snack is when I whip out my Kilimanjaro mix and it gives me the boost of energy I need to make it through until dinner. Although in Paris, we got into the habit of a mid-afternoon cappuccino and I found this was able to fill me up pretty well 🙂

Dinner: This should be the easiest meal of the day for the Celiac traveler. You can do a little research ahead of time to find a good restaurant with options that will satisfy you. Also, don’t hesitate to ask the concierge at your hotel for advice!! I talked to the concierge at our hotel about my allergy and she found us some great restaurant options! It was nice for me not to have to do all the work.

IMG_20150907_162324Find Local Food Stores. What are the popular grocery store chains? What is the grocery store closest to your house? Are there any health food stores nearby? Make sure you look into where you can buy yourself gluten free food if you get tired of restaurant eating.

The health food store that I found in Paris (thanks to advice from my Granny, who also has Celiac and has traveled to Paris previously) is called Bio C’ Bon. There wasn’t one very close to where we were staying but we stumbled upon one when we were exploring Montmarte!! At this point in our trip, we were staying in an airbnb apartment with a kitchen so I stocked up on lots of treats! They even had a gluten free baguette, which we promptly bought, along with some delicious cheese to go with it. Bio C’ Bon definitely had a good selection of gluten free food (as well as lots of other healthy foods) and I would highly recommend checking it out if you’re looking for gluten free food in Paris.

Know the Local Language. Or at least know how to explain your allergy in the local language. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking it, you can always write it down! This is what I ended up doing on this trip and it was so helpful! Celiac UK had a great document that translated phrases explaining Celiac from English to French. I took these phrases and made my own cue cards that I carried around everywhere we went. Most of the restaurants seemed to really appreciate this and were able to adjust whatever I ordered to work for my allergy. This is what I wrote on my cue card:

Je souffre d’une maladie qui s’appelle la maladie coeliaque et je dois suivre un regime absolument sans gluten.

Je peux devenir gravement malade si je mange des aliments qui contiennent des farines ou des grains de ble, de seigle, d’orge ou d’avoine.

Pouvez-vous me dire si cette nourriture contient de la farine ou des grains de ble, de seigle, d’orge ou d’avoine?

Je peux manger de la nourriture qui contient du riz, du mais, des pommes de terre, des legumes et fruits de toutes sortes, des oeufs, du fromage, du lait, de la viande et du poisson, pourvu qu’ils n’aient pas ete cuits avec de la farine de ble, de la pate a frire, de la chapelure, ou une sauce contenant les ailments qui me sont interdits.

Merci beucoup pour votre aide!

In my past travel blogs, I have talked about specific restaurants that I went to but I didn’t feel like that made sense for this trip. Paris is a wonderful city filled with so many restaurants and you are likely to just walk around the area that your hotel is in to find a restaurant. We stayed in St-Germain-Des-Pres (the 6th arrondissement) and I would highly recommend this! I don’t know what other areas are like, but this area had TONS of cute restaurants and cafes, awesome stores, and was walking distance to a lot of the main attractions in Paris! It was also easy to navigate the Metro system from this location.

Overall, Paris was a wonderful trip, filled with lots of new experiences, and lots of things that should have made me incredibly anxious but that I handled very well! It was a huge accomplishment for me and I’m so proud that I’ve made it to this point. It just goes to show that anxiety doesn’t have to stop you from doing the things you love!IMG_0747

Do you have any other tips and tricks for traveling with an allergy? I’d love to hear them!