Living Abroad with a Chronic Illness – Resource Page (Updated June 2020)
If you have landed on this page, you are probably here because you’ve either read about my travels or life abroad as an expat or you’re interested in learning how I live my life abroad with chronic illness and immense health challenges.
Either way, I’m glad you’re here, and I hope I can answer questions about life with chronic illness.
A chronic illness is a health condition or disease that is long-lasting or persistent. A patient is deemed to have a chronic illness when the condition or disease lasts more than three months.
I’ve been chronically ill ‘officially’ since 2009. I’m a Canadian expat living in Taiwan with Ankylosing Spondylitis, Fibromyalgia, and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, among other health issues.
I’ve been blogging about my health journey as a Canadian expat in Taiwan for many years. I am an active patient leader and chronic illness advocate and my posts have, thankfully, reached millions of other chronically ill expats and travelers over 11 years of posting here. My Several Worlds has been listed as a Best Blog for Fibromyalgia in 2018, 2019, and 2020.
My Several Worlds – Chronic Illness Mission Statement
I’ve been sick for as long as I can remember. I was the kid in school with the never-ending ear and throat infections. If someone had a cold, I always caught it.
Plus I was allergic to everything! Dust, pollen, feathers, grass, nickel, you name it, I reacted to it. I remember endless childhood visits to Dr. White’s office for allergy shots, ear infections, and everything else that came my way. Believe it or not, the ear infections have never left. I found out at age 38 that my ear infections are related to AS.
Despite having a weak immune system, I excelled at sports in high school, and my love for yoga, running, weightlifting and dancing didn’t end until I was 36.
I stopped doing all of those things at age 40 because I was not longer capable of doing them. Today, I can’t lift anything heavier than my cat because of the damage in my spine. It’s impossible to be on my feet for longer than 22 minutes a day.
Giving up my love for athletics is one of my biggest losses from being chronically ill. I knew in 2015 that there would be days I’d have to use a wheelchair, but I never dreamed I’d end up owning my own wheelchair.
I’m 45 now and mostly housebound.
My doctors in Canada never took my complaints about pain seriously. They always wrote it off to overexerting myself at the gym. They weren’t concerned about recurring infections and rashes or the back pain I had been experiencing since my 20s.
When I was 27, I moved to Asia. The aches and pains continued to come and go in China in 2003 and then when I moved to Taiwan in 2006.
In China, I had days when I couldn’t lift my left arm. On some days, I’d lose strength in my arms and legs and it often felt like I’d dislocated something. (I know what this feels like having dislocated both shoulders and one knee.)
During my time in China and Taiwan, my pain was bad enough that I sought assistance with non-traditional methods of pain relief, including reiki, massage, acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, cupping, acupressure, bloodletting, and scraping. None of it helped, although I had some success with reiki and I believe this is because of the person who helped me. I also had success with acupressure and again, because of the person delivering the treatment. I’ve written about these experiences and linked to them.
Starting in 2007 in Taiwan, I was in and out of the hospital all the time. No one had answers for me.
A few weeks before my wedding in 2008, I had a week-long flare. I couldn’t put any weight on my left foot. It felt like shards of glass were embedded in my foot. Thankfully, our wedding day was perfect and I felt good that day.
Two months later, we were back in the hospital in Taiwan. This time both my knees swelled up and filled with fluid. I couldn’t stand or walk. My legs felt like they were going to snap in half.
At this point, doctors agreed that something was very wrong. And that’s where my journey began with life abroad as a chronically ill expat.
Since getting sick, one question I’m asked constantly is, ‘Why don’t you go home?‘
My response is simple. Taiwan IS my home. We became permanent residents of Taiwan in 2012. We own a business here and hire locally. I have access to healthcare here and can see a specialist within a week.
Additionally, I have lived in Asia for 17 years. My Ontario health insurance expired before I got my diagnosis.
Research and confirming with other chronically ill friends in Canada has revealed that it will take three months to reinstate my health insurance. Then I have to find a general practitioner, a difficult thing to do in Canada. Then wait for that practitioner to refer me to a specialist. The average waiting time to see a specialist in Canada is two years.
Considering that I’m in the hospital or ER at least twice a month, Canada is not an option. I have no words for the US.
So that’s the short version of my story, and I’ve compiled the rest in helpful links in this directory to navigate the past 12 years of being chronically ill in Asia.
So that’s the short version of my story. I’ve compiled the rest in helpful links in this directory to navigate the past 12 years of being chronically ill in Asia.
How I Manage My Chronic Pain
Finding Health and Wellness in Taiwan
Alternative Treatments in Taipei
A series of blog posts about the different types of alternative therapies I’ve tried since 2009.
2007 – Cupping
2007 – Scraping
This was not my first time seeking out help from a TCM doctor. I was treated in China in 2003. I gave up on TCM completely in 2014 after throwing up for eight months straight on herbal teas and powdered TCM. Guess what happened next? All that throwing up ramped up my stomach issues.
This article was written in response to yet another woman reaching out to tell me a certain diet would cure me. I have no time for people who make health suggestions to me when they can’t even pronounce what I have. Yes, I’m frustrated in this article and you can tell from the tone. My short answer to alternatives for the ones I’ve tried is that they don’t work and should be used in conjunction with Western medicine, but this might help readers understand how much I’ve tried before giving up. I do believe that some of these alternatives harmed my health.
Everyone is different! What works for you might not work for me. I am understanding of this, but I am not understanding or patient with people who tell me to try another fad diet or supplement.
Here are some of my favorite chronic illness bloggers. These folks are people who have helped me and been generous with their time throughout the years.
Patients supporting patients!
A Chronic Voice – Articulating lifelong illness through various perspectives – Sheryl is very well known in the chronic illness community and she is the biggest online cheerleader I know. Not only is she super helpful on her own site, covering a wide array of topics, but she is generous with her time online by taking the time to answer questions. She also features other bloggers regularly and creates special meet-ups online for everyone to participate in. She is also the ONLY chronic illness blogger I’ve met in Asia, so I hold a special place in my heart for this remarkable woman.
Thriving While Disabled – Mindset management and practical advice on managing your medical care and navigating the US social welfare system.
If you’d like to read my story on Cookie’s site, go to AS Face number 1649.