As you all know, I recently returned from my first trip to Type A Conference in the beautiful city of Atlanta! I wrote about my first trip to a conference when I shared tips on surviving a blog conference when you are an introvert but this was my first multi-day conference and it was a lot larger than my previous experience. Type A is bigger than Bloggy Bootcamp (my first conference experience) but still significantly smaller than BlogHer. This experience definitely proved my little introverted self would absolutely NEVER make it at BlogHer. I think the last BH conference surpassed 3000 attendees! Yikes! I only had to hide in the bathroom and cry once at Type A 🙂
While the trip definitely exhausted me and it took me nearly a week to recover, I still think that the trip was very worthwhile and I don’t think having a chronic illness can keep you from having a blast. You just need to modify your plans to accommodate your needs. Here are some things that I recommend paying attention to when you consider attending a blog conference (or any time of conference really):
1- Travel. I lucked out that Type A was only 3 hours away from home. There were conference attendants from all over the country who had a much heftier travel agenda than I had so for that I am thankful! If you are going to be traveling from a significant distance, be sure to add some buffer time in your schedule. Consider traveling in a day early and/or staying an extra day to allow yourself time to rest before the festivities.Type A kicked off Friday morning but I arrived in Atlanta around dinner time on Thursday so I was able to catch a quick dinner and spend the evening resting so I would be ready to go the next morning.Not only does driving wear me out but driving in Atlanta drives me absolutely batty which makes me more anxious which makes me stress which makes me more likely to flare. Because I knew this, I hooked up with some bloggers from the area to carpool down. I was glad to help pay gas and parking if it meant I didn’t have to drive! By the time time Sunday rolled around, I was so tired that I was twice as glad that I was not the one driving. Had I been driving, I would have definitely added in a rest day before traveling for safety.
2- Its ok to miss sessions and events. I know you want to soak in as much knowledge, networking, and good times as possible when you attend a conference but it is ok to take breaks. Your body needs breaks. Conference rooms chairs are not the most comfortable and walking back and forth for sessions and around the expo area can take a toll on your body and the last thing you want to do is push yourself too far and land in a strange ER. Conferences typically publish the schedule well in advance so pick out the sessions and events that are the most important to you and build your personal schedule around that. Allow yourself to be flexible and most importantly, don’t feel bad about making your health a priority. Would I have loved to been more involved in the night events and late night parties? Absolutely but I would rather leave early to get some rest in order to be able to fully enjoy the sessions and events I did go to. It is really important to listen to your body and go with the flow.
3- Dress comfortably. These days I am hardly out of yoga pants so I was really looking forward to wearing some real clothes and feeling cute and put together but I still had to take into consideration what I would also feel comfortable in. I have two large incisions that can make sitting for extended periods uncomfortable with certain waistbands so I had to take that into consideration when picking out my outfits. There would also be some walking around the expo area and between sessions that make comfortable shoes a must. Thankfully everything for Type A was in the same general area within the hotel but I know some conferences are more spread out. My go-to outfits for this conference where dark wash jeans, blazers, and fun accessories. I have decided that blazers are my secret weapon for feeling confident and put together!
4- Make sure you have the medications you need. While most hotels have a gift shop or convenience area where you can purchase Pepto and Tylenol, I am a strong believer in being a spoonie girl scout and being prepared. I also recommend traveling with your prescription medications in their original bottles. Heaven forbid something should happen but in case of an emergency, a doctor or responder would be able to know the medications you are taking versus having a pill case with a bigger variety than a bag of Skittles. You don’t necessarily need to bring a full bottle but I would bring enough for the days of your trip plus one as a spare. If you require prescription pain medications, I recommend traveling with a mini pill safe or keeping them on you just as a precaution. I also travel with a variety of OTC medicines as well as a precaution. I felt like a walking pharmacy as I had everything from Excedrin to Dramamine. I would also recommend wearing a medical alert (if needed) and installing an ICE app on your phone with your pertinent medical information in case of emergency (especially if you are not traveling with someone who knows your history).
5- Be yourself and HAVE FUN! I always worry about being known as the “sick blogger.” Many within the Type A community know my story, especially when I had to back out of last year’s conference at the last minute because of my bowel obstruction surgery. I was met with “How are you feeling?” on several occassions (versus the traditional “How are you?”) and at first I felt a little self-concious because I didn’t want to be known as that girl but I can to the realization that 1- while I am not defined by my illness, it is a part of who I am and shaped me into the strong woman that I am and given me the purpose for why I attend blogging events, and 2- these people are completely genuine, care about me as a person, and Type A really is a family of bloggers. Hopefully by knowing me and my story, they will be more aware of chronic illnesses and will be able to better support a friend or loved one who may be impacted by illness. I have to admit that I also loved being the blogger with purple hair! A tip if you have purple hair (or another unnatural hair color) – bring your own pillowcase to avoid color rub on the hotel sheets! I would hate to know what the Westin would have charged me for a pillowcase considering a bottle of water was $3!
Hopefully these tips will help if you decide to attend a blog conference (or any kind of conference) someday! If you have attended a similar event with chronic illness, what tips would you add to the list?
p.s. – if you notice over there on the sidebar, I have opened up A New Kind of Normal store on Zazzle! I am a very visual person and love having visual reminders to stay strong and keep up the hope especially when I am having a hard day! Let me know what you think!
2 comments on “Tips For Attending A Conference When You Have A Chronic Illness”
Great blog Jamee! I am in Australia, so attending many of the blogging conferences I’d like to means I’d have to travel to the US, but I’m still not ruling it out down the track. This blog is a great guide and support for those who want to continue to live their lives, while also responsibly managing their chronic illness. I recently attended a special event that (in my mind) I just couldn’t miss, despite being extremely unwell. I planned things out, I allowed some parts of the experience to pass me by, and I learned to experience the event in a different way to how I would have done if I was feeling well. It was a risk & could have potentially put my health back a great deal, but I was willing to take that risk and LIVE. That’s what you’re doing going to blog conferences – plus learning lots, I’m sure! I wrote a blog about my Big Event. As I’m not writing as regularly it’s actually the last one I wrote if you check out my website – getupandgoguru.com. It’s not something I recommend to everyone to push beyond their limits like I did on this occasion, but after 21 years of CFS, sometimes I just decide to go for it & deal with the consequences later.
Anyway, thanks for this great article. I’ve tweeted it & will also put it on my facebook page.
Thank you for sharing the post! I agree with everything you said! When you live with chronic illness, it is important to know your boundaries in order to take care of yourself but there are some events that are worth a little bit of risk especially when you are able to plan ahead so that you can be able to enjoy the event while catering to your health needs!