Hey, my name is Marika and welcome to my travel blog Clumsy Girl Travels! You're probably here because you want to know my life story and all that good stuff. Well luckily for you, you're in the right spot.
I always find describing myself to be difficult but if I were to I would say, that I am an awkward ambivert book hoarder who loves cake or really anything sugary, can magically get humanfied with just a cup (or 5) of coffee, and is known to give any dog a pretty mean belly rub.
I’ve been traveling solo for over 8 years and I’ve crossed some pretty amazing adventures off my bucket list and have been doing it all while overcoming the difficulties of traveling with a hidden disability called Ataxia. It makes many things challenging for me, but I don’t let it stop me from living a fulfilling life because if I did my condition would win and I could never let that happen.
I started Clumsy Girl Travels to be a source of travel inspiration and information to show people that even those with limitations can travel. Here I’ll be sharing travel guides, itineraries, unique experiences, travel tips for those with and without limitations, and a few terrible jokes here and there. You get the point.
Anywho, you're probably ready to read all about my life and learn more about Ataxia and what the heck it is.
Ataxia? What the What
When I was 19, I was diagnosed with Episodic Ataxia Type 2. This was after I was misdiagnosed with epilepsy at 2 years old (The symptoms can be very similar).
Once I was finally diagnosed with Ataxia my entire life changed…
Before I blabber on too much I’ll explain what Ataxia is and how it affects me.
Ataxia is a degenerative neurological progressive condition that is caused from damage to the cerebellum. In my case, I was a mutation as the doctors call it. Episodic Ataxia is a dominant gene so either my mom or dad should have it but neither one does. I’m like a Mutant Ninja Turtle but way cooler.
My cerebellum is smaller than it should be so because of that. I have difficulty with my balance. It causes my fine motor skills to deteriorate, I have eye movement abnormalities, migraines, and tremors. Fun stuff! To a lot of people it can look like I am drunk. But because Ataxia isn’t a visible disability no one really knows I have it except me. I try and control my symptoms as much as I can.
As an example, I once was on a boat tour and as I was trying to get off the boat I fell and it was super embarrassing! The guide let me take his hand so I could finish getting off the boat and he asked me if I was drunk and I said, “No, the boats drunk.”
Having a sense of humor has helped me get through a lot of the daily struggles Ataxia causes and it’s not always so easy explaining to people who don’t understand Ataxia why I do certain things like trip constantly or swerve when I walk or why my head shakes when I read something (Tremors are great!)
I also have Aphasia to deal with which means that it’s difficult for me to find words to describe what I want to say. For instance, if I am having a conversation with someone about traveling to a destination I might have difficulty describing that destination because my brain can’t come up with the words I want to use to describe it. It’s like a wall is put up blocking the words from being used. It can be really frustrating and makes not just writing difficult but conversations as well.
I ALSO get migraines. These migraines are the one thing I get from my condition that has affected my life the most.
If I were to describe how one felt I would say it feels like I am being hit by a truck but not fully dead and then someone comes up and starts bashing my head with a hammer. Needless to say, it's quite painful and getting one…sucks!
My migraines usually last anywhere from 4 hours to 14 hours AND if I do get one I'm pretty much in bed, lights out, can't do anything mode. Because along with the pain of my migraines I also get dizzy and nauseous. I do take medication now that decreases the amount of migraines I have. My medication is also supposed to stop the progression, so fingers crossed! I do occasionally continue to get migraines especially if I get too hot, am stressed or I just don’t get enough sleep which are all triggers.
Excitement used to also be a trigger. I have had to give up certain activities as a kid. For instance, I always used to get a migraine on Christmas (what kid doesn’t get excited on Christmas.) I would go to bed right when it hit and then continue opening presents the next day. Basically I couldn’t do anything fun because I had to worry about migraines. Curse you migraines and all your triggers. Luckily, excitement is no longer a trigger. If it was, I would still be getting migraines all the time.
My migraines were definitely the worst thing I had to deal with growing up and continue to deal with occasionally but thanks to the medication I take I get them way less than I used to.
Okay, I have talked about Ataxia enough but if you find yourself wanting more you can get a lot more information here.
Life after Diagnosis
Me and my family always thought when I became an adult I wouldn’t be able to do much mostly because of my migraines. I mean, I couldn’t get a job and leave if I got one and I definitely couldn’t get one during class at university. What if I had a test or something.
From my perspective my future looked bleak and I was not excited. I thought I would be a low life living with my parents for the rest of my life. (I love my mom, but I craved independence).
Then one day my neurologist that I was seeing for epilepsy told me and my mom that he didn’t think I had epilepsy at all. What? We were shocked! I have tried every epilepsy medication in the book and your saying I don’t have it? He told us that our best bet to figure out what the heck I had was to go to Cleveland Clinic’s migraine center. It’s the best in the world!
That my friends is the place I was officially diagnosed with Ataxia. After my mom and I got home from Cleveland Clinic we started making plans to see an Ataxia specialist at UCLA, and that was officially the beginning of a new chapter in my life. She put me on medication that completely got rid of my migraines (I was migraine free for 8 years after my diagnosis, but they now come back occasionally.) And I could finally be excited about the future.
Since my official diagnosis I went to school and got a degree in travel and tourism. I lived in London for 2 years and went to school there for Web Development. I got hooked on travel after taking my first solo trip to Ireland at 22, I have traveled to 47 countries, many of them by myself. I finally had the life I always dreamed about but thought I would never have.
Although, I do have some limitations when it comes to travel I make the accommodations I need because traveling is something I can’t live without so I do what I can to make it work.
Ataxia and Travel
Ataxia in a lot of ways has affected how I travel. I’ll go ahead and tell some stories about some of the struggles I have had with Ataxia.
When I was on a flight once and had to use the restroom, I didn’t realize that I bumped into a lady who was sitting down and I spilled her coffee. She came up and yelled at me about it and I informed her, I have a balance disorder and she shouldn’t put her coffee somewhere where it can be spilled. I couldn’t blame her for being mad at me and I felt horrible but was so frustrated that someone was yelling at me for something I couldn’t help.
Another incident I had was in Greece on a ferry where I was taking a tray of food to my table, but I lost my balance and the food went flying everywhere and made a loud KAPLUNK! Since then, if I am somewhere that I need to carry a tray I always ask for assistance.
I’ve also spilled my drinks on people and knocked drinks out of peoples hands, I have fallen down stairs and got a black eye, almost fell off a cliff hiking (I don’t hike anymore), almost fell off a boat (I don’t do small boats anymore unless I am sitting the whole time.)
Needless to say, I have had a lot of scary moments, but they are moments I have never regretted. Ataxia may not allow me to do certain things, but I always find an alternative. Like when a tour I was on in Thailand was doing a bike tour I did the tour but on a Tuk Tuk instead. There is always a way and travel has taught me that.
Why should you trust what I say
The big question! Why should you trust my travel advice? Well, because I know what I am talking about. I have been traveling non-stop for 7 years and have made a lot of mistakes during that time, but have also learned so much.
Everything in this blog I have tried myself whether it’s a hotel, restaurant, activity, tour, service. I won’t recommend anything I haven’t personally tried. Your trust is the most important thing. You guys are what keeps me going.
Now that we are better acquainted (I’ve talked about myself for way too long), I hope you will join me on my adventures around the world as I trip and fall from one country to the next! That will probably literally happen.