Traveling while going through Topical Steroid Withdrawal can seem impossible. With the constant flaking, inflamed red, purple and sometimes gray skin (why…why would you be gray?!?), incessant itching, and chronic insomnia, why would anyone want to leave the house? Not to mention looking in the mirror and not recognizing yourself! It’s already a struggle to leave the house in your home state, but to go to another state or country and meet new people? That’s a lot to ask of a TSW sufferer. So why combat all these obstacles just to travel? If you’ve been following my blog for a while you know that I struggle with being still. Sometimes I do need to just sat down and stay put, but I also gain a lot from traveling, experiencing new cultures, and visiting friends.
During my first bout with TSW, I travelled to New York to volunteer for The American Black Film Festival, Chicago, New Orleans and Atlanta to visit close friends, and Washington, DC to do a show. During three of these trips I had no idea I was going through TSW, but I had moved home, because I was dealing with inexplicable health issues and needed the support of my family and the cushion of not paying rent to make it through. However, I continued to work as a brand ambassador to pay for my health expenses. With the burden of rent lifted from my shoulders, I realized I could finally go on all of the trips I had only dreamed of before. The urge to travel was also amplified by my hermit status in Seattle. Moving back home from Washington, DC, where I had built my adult life and made some of my closest friends, was a rough transition. In Seattle, most of my childhood friends had moved away, and most of my adulthood friends were in DC or NY. I only left the house to go to doctor appointments and work. I felt so alone and isolated from the life I had built in DC.
Feeling pretty aimless in Seattle, I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer for ABFF again. This gave me a sense of purpose, connected me with like-minded individuals, and I was able to reunite with many of my college friends who lived in New York. From New York it would be cheaper than flying from Seattle to Chicago and then New Orleans, so the month of June became my birthday travel extravaganza. Did I flare? Absolutely! Did I have a great time? Without a doubt! This month long trip was important for my mental and emotional health. I needed to reconnect with the people who knew me best, and it helped me feel normal again. My skin was far from perfect, but I was able to have fun and not let my health be the center of attention for a month.
When I traveled to Atlanta I had finally learned about TSW and was committed to the GAPS diet for healing. If you’re unfamiliar with the GAPS diet check out this blog post: Leaky Gut, The GAPS Diet, And Nutrition Response Testing. I stayed with my close friend and her family and spoke to her ahead of time about my dietary restrictions and need to cook in bulk. They were all super understanding and allowed me to basically take over the kitchen for a week. We meal prepped, went on hikes, and explored the city together. While she was at work I found myself thrifting and exploring the city by foot on my own. I felt so welcomed and cared for while staying with her and her family.
Traveling to DC to do A Christmas Carol was my first full length production since starting TSW exactly one year before, during the same production at Ford’s Theatre. I stayed with my cousin, and she was also understanding, accommodating, and helpful with my needs. I attempted to stick fully to The GAPS diet, but with the hectic show schedule I started eating out more and more. I was still very mindful and picked restaurants that catered to my needs for the most part, but I couldn’t keep up with preparing every meal and doing nine to eleven shows a week.
Fast forward to TSW take two. I travelled to DC again for a memorial service for one of my beloved professors and friends, to Atlanta for Summit 21, an amazing conference catered to black women influencers and creators, Eastern Washington to shoot a movie!!! (that’s still crazy to say to me) and last, but certainly not least, Ghana. If you watched my last update you know how challenging the trip to Ghana was, but we’ll get into that later.
DC was a trip for my soul. I connected with my Fine Arts family from Howard University and was reminded of the amazing bond we shared in undergrad. My spirit DEFINITELY needed that trip. It felt like coming home. Having lived in DC for seven years, finding places to eat and things to do was a no brainer. Atlanta was my birthday present to myself and lifted my spirits immensely. I was so inspired by all the black girl magic, entrepreneurship, drive and overall dope-ness of every woman that participated in that conference. I stayed in an Airbnb and researched vegan restaurants to check out before I got there. The first day I made a trip to Whole Foods to purchase everything I needed, and even found a juice bar walking distance from the conference center so I could get my morning celery juice. While shooting my first feature film in Eastern Washington I was put up in a hotel and fed by craft services. I let them know my dietary restrictions ahead of time, and there was food I could eat! But I also took a trip to PCC, the natural food co-op by my house, before driving out to shoot. I’ve learned that it’s always safer to be prepared than sorry when they start serving a five course meal you can’t eat. The cook was also very kind and made a special breakfast for me when I couldn’t eat the spread that was prepared. Did my skin flare? Yes! And I was super bummed about it, because I had to be on camera. However, the makeup artist was so kind and looked out for me the entire process. She made sure I felt and looked good, and I’m so grateful she was on that set.
Now Ghana was a whole new ballpark for me. I had never traveled out of the country while going through TSW, and I honestly didn’t know what to expect, what would be available to me, and how I was going to survive; I just knew I wasn’t about to miss a trip to Ghana with two of my best friends! Like every other trip, I communicated my needs to the host ahead of time. I learned there would be a kitchen in our room and planned a trip to the local market the first day we arrived. What I wasn’t prepared for was the massive flare I got the day I left Seattle that seemed to last the entire trip! I was in the midst of a candida cleanse, and it was not going well. In the future I won’t start a cleanse right before traveling, but I had no idea the die-off symptoms would be so unpleasant. Not only was I flaring, I quickly realized that I had much less control over this trip than I’m used to having. I normally travel by myself, but this time I was with two other people and a host with a travel itinerary for the entire trip. I was so uncomfortable the first few days that I was literally thinking of looking up early flights back to the states. This trip was a huge lesson in letting go for me. I had to let go of the idea of having the perfect diet on vacation, I had to let go of the idea of having perfect skin, and I had to let go of the idea of being in control.
While I did go food shopping at the start of the trip, the market didn’t have a lot of what I needed so I had to improvise. We were also out and about so much that I was too tired to cook. Most of the time we ended up eating out after being on the go all day, so I quickly let go of the idea of sticking to my diet and allowed myself to enjoy the traditional food of Ghana without feeling guilty. As soon as I made that decision, the trip became much more enjoyable and less stressful for me. I also learned to be at peace with however my skin decided to act. Does this mean I never thought about it or agonized in the mirror? No. But I did it a lot less after I decided that it was out of my control, and all I could do was make the best of my circumstances. A big turning point for me was watching the documentary, Heal, on Netflix and exercising mindfulness. There were many days that if I were home in Seattle, I would’ve avoided leaving the house, but I refused to let flake-age stop me from experiencing Ghana. Some of our long car rides left me in agony trying not to scratch my skin off. Being idle is the enemy of TSW, because there’s nothing to take your mind off the endless itching. After watching Heal and countless YouTube videos on the mind-body connection to healing, I started chanting mantras in my mind in the car. “I love you. I hear you. I want you to heal.” I said this over and over to my body, and it calmed my nerves and the itching. I also prayed over every meal and thought, “this is healing food for my body.” Changing my mindset allowed me to enjoy the trip despite my discomfort. I also looked up some vegan restaurants and natural shops to check out the last week of the trip. My favorite find was Green Eats, which was walking distance from the hotel. Owned by a New York native, they served smoothies, chia pudding, salads, wraps and avocado toast. We ate breakfast there the last three days of the trip.
Even though I suffered from a horrendous flare traveling back from Ghana, I don’t regret going. I needed to be around friends to feel like myself again! We had also been wanting to travel to Africa for years, and we finally made it happen! It was absolutely beautiful, and I plan to go back. Not only that, but the trip energized me to come home and put my healing first. Before leaving I was so down about having to drop my next show, and I struggled getting out of bed everyday. The trip was like a reset button for my emotions. I left Ghana knowing that I had to come home and reframe my approach to healing. Changing my diet and taking supplements wasn’t enough anymore. I needed to get out in the sun, do yoga, workout, read, write, pray, meditate and speak healing and life over myself everyday, because I deserve to be healthy and the best version of myself. That’s what I’m working on now.
I know that travel is completely out of the question for some people during the early stages of TSW, but if you’re well enough, I urge you to not let TSW stop you from living your life. Of course, use discernment when it comes to your health and take all factors into account before booking a trip, but don’t be afraid to travel! I don’t regret any of my excursions, but I definitely plan on staying put for a while. The trips I took this year lifted my spirits when I needed it most, and now I’m able to be productive at home and take care of myself with a positive, healing mindset. If you do plan on traveling during TSW, use these tips to stay healthy and sane.
1. Plan Ahead
I can’t stress this enough! Do you need access to a bathtub? A full kitchen? A washer and dryer? Plan your trip so you’ll be comfortable and be able to stay as close to your normal routine as possible. I usually stay with friends and use Airbnb so I can cook and do laundry with my all natural detergent. I make sure I have access to a kitchen and/or a health food store. If I’m not preparing all my meals, I find restaurants nearby that cater to my needs. I also stock my suitcase full of skin remedies in case of a flare. I even take things I don’t use daily, because I never know how my skin is going to respond to traveling and a new environment.
2. Have Realistic Expectations
For some reason I always have this idea that I’ll be the best version of myself when I travel. For instance, I’ll pack tons of cute outfits and plan to be picture perfect everyday, but end up wearing the same outfit I always wear at home five days in a row. Much like your wardrobe, the same TSW issues you have at home, you’ll have on vacation, so plan accordingly; pack comfortable clothes, make sure you have down time to rest and don’t be surprised if your skin flares. Expect to have a good time, but also expect there to be challenges that didn’t exist before TSW. Challenges don’t mean you can’t have fun. They’ll just require you to adjust your mindset, which leads us to the next tip…
3. Stay Positive
I know it’s easier said than done, but there’s nothing worse for a TSW flare than constant stress and negativity. Do what you have to do to keep your spirits up: pack a journal to work through your thoughts, start each day with meditation and prayer, watch a funny movie, dance in the mirror, or enjoy your friends. Whatever you have to do, do it! Take care of your mental health, and be kind to yourself.
4. Be Flexible
No matter how much you plan, things can go wrong: the kitchen might be infested with ants, the natural co-op might not have the food you need, or your moisturizer might spill over all your clothes in your suitcase. Whatever it is, you may not be able to stick to your regimen 100 percent. If this happens, trouble-shoot and find a solution, or be content with the way things are. To reference number three, stressing is only going to make things worse. If you have to abandon your routine for a week, you’re not going to jeopardize your ultimate healing. Keep that in the forefront of your mind, and enjoy your vacation as much as you can despite the flakes, redness and itching.
5. Plan Activities Outdoors
Being outdoors is very healing for me. I usually communicate with whomever I’m visiting that I want to go for hikes, bike rides or walks. Every city I travel to, I explore on foot and via public transportation. It’s the best way to see the city and you get exercise, vitamin D, and fresh air.
6. Boost Your Immune System
If your a TSW sufferer, your immune system is weaker than normal. It just is what it is. Planes are breeding grounds for bacteria. If there’s anything I would’ve done differently while traveling to and from Ghana, it’s wearing a medical mask on the plane and taking immune boosting supplements. Traveling and losing sleep often leads to catching a cold for me, so I suggest taking preventative measures so you don’t end up like my sickly self.
Being quiet about your needs is not going to help. Communicate with the people you’re traveling with or staying with. In my experience, people have been so kind and helpful when I communicate my needs. However, when I don’t communicate my needs I end up frustrated and stressed out which leads to more skin inflammation. Trust that the people in your life who love you will show up to help. If they don’t, that’s a lesson learned and grounds to reevaluate the relationship. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life during TSW or otherwise.
Traveling during Topical Steroid Withdrawal IS possible. Sometimes the mental, emotional and spiritual healing of traveling, visiting with friends, and experiencing a new city is more important than sticking to your healing regimen 100 percent. If you do choose to travel I hope the tips I’ve shared are helpful. I’ve traveled a lot during TSW and lived to tell the tale. As I said before, please use discernment when deciding whether or not to travel. Sometimes it is best to stay home, but I wanted to share that it’s possible to take a vacation and enjoy yourself even when it feels like your face is falling off. TSW ain’t for the weak of heart, but there’s so much beauty in the strength you find while fighting for your health. Don’t let that fight keep you holed up in your house, afraid to enjoy life. Much love and until next time friends!
*Disclaimer: All of the information shared in this blog post and on this website is my personal opinion from my experience. It is not intended to treat or diagnose any illness. Please consult with a medical professional before taking any suggested supplements or traveling during Topical Steroid Withdrawal.
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I'm Lauren, aka Just Du Pree, and I want to thank you for reading. This is a space where I share my very personal journey healing from eczema and topical steroid withdrawal (among other things), life lessons I've learned along the way, and occasionally the thoughts of an awkward Black girl (no Issa Rae). I'm a performer and filmmaker, so if you feel so inclined, pop over here to see what goes on in my mind on the regular. If you like what you see, you can stay up to date with my work here. Much love, friends!