Gap year health crisis leads to book deal

A young UK backpacker is to publish a book aimed at raising awareness of a medical condition he developed while volunteering in Africa.

Jon Clarke, who is 20 and from Hutton near Bristol, finished up bed-bound and terrified of the outdoors after developing ulcerative colitis while working on a community project in Kenya. He went on to complete an InterRail tour of Europe but his condition got worse and the drugs with which he was treated led him to develop agoraphobia – the fear of open spaces.

Ulcerative colitis is an intermittent inflammatory bowel disease similar to Crohn’s disease. It has no known cause. Diarrhoea is the main symptom. Among the most common treatments is the prescription of powerful steroid drugs.

“I was unable to go anywhere or see any of my friends,” said Jon. “I was depressed and didn’t want to talk to anyone about my troubles.” 

In a bid to break the downward spiral, Jon began blogging about his condition. That became a book. A friend got in touch with the England rugby player, Lewis Moody, who also suffers from ulcerative colitis and he agreed to write a foreword. Jon agreed a deal with a publisher and now his book, Sh*t Happens, is due out in May.

“I hope it will raise awareness,” said Jon. “People shouldn’t feel embarrassed about bowel problems. They’re very common. And reluctance to go to the doctor is one of the reasons why bowel cancer is such a big killer.”

Jon’s condition and confidence are both now improving and he hopes to get travelling again this summer. You can find out more about his story via

Falling ill while on a gap year is rare but not unheard of. Make sure you check out our insurance advice before heading off.