I went on sabbatical yesterday afternoon.
It was extremely out of character for me, but I have been out of character for a while now. I’ve been working even more than usual, sleeping less than usual, and feeling more drained than usual. Last week it all seemed to hit me at once and I walked around on the verge of stress- and exhaustion-induced tears for days. I had the strong desire to take a road trip somewhere, anywhere. Just…away.
That’s why, when I ran into a friend of mine while running errands and she noticed that I was so tightly-wound and subsequently offered up her lake house as a possible destination for a mental health day, I jumped on it. That was also out of character, completely. Normally I would say, “Oh no no no…that’s so very kind of you but I’m good!” and then I would soldier on.
Something about that moment—the generous offer, the thought of being by myself in a place I’d never before visited, the peaceful feelings that are conjured up by thinking about being near the water, the idea that it could be exactly what I needed—made me hastily and gratefully accept. I’m so glad I did.
As odd as it sounds, even through I was excited about getting in the car to drive north, I had some trepidation. Being BY myself is no big deal and I enjoy it often as a result of being an empty nester who works at home. Being WITH myself in a foreign place with no other distractions, well, that’s different. I know myself well enough to have thought about the difficulty I would have, putting myself in a somewhat forced position to listen only to the sounds of nature, with the intention of finding peace in that.
At home, I have music playing almost all the time. I am watched over while I work by my dog, who demands my attention here and there. I’m constantly giving the side-eye to the clutter and piles of laundry that I allow to become slightly out of control. It wasn’t that I couldn’t listen to music at my friend’s lake house. The idea of temporarily removing myself from the distractions of my life, even the good ones, was that I wanted to see how I would feel after a day of surrounding myself with peace.
And peaceful it was.
I headed down to the pier where my friend had thoughtfully left a plastic Adirondack chair for me. For a while I sat and actually read a book, something I never have time or make time to do. Every now and then I glanced up from the book to look at my surroundings, close my eyes, bask in the sunshine, and listen. It was perfectly peaceful, except for an occasional bird’s chirp, the sound of water lapping onto the rocks on the lake’s edge, the wind blowing through the trees, my own breathing.
I could hear my own breathing. That’s how quiet it was.
I did a lot of thinking out there on the pier. It is such a foreign concept to me, to drop virtually everything in favor of going to a strange place to do absolutely nothing. This was me putting my oxygen mask on first, as everyone in (and out of) the airline industry recommends these days.
The interesting dilemma that forms when a tightly-wound workaholic puts herself in a “time out” of sorts, even a good kind of time out, is that time, the very thing I always seem to lack, crawls. I found myself checking my phone for the time often in the first part of the afternoon, marveling in total disbelief that it wasn’t later in the day. Conversely, at home when I’m busy working, I don’t think about the clock yet time still flies. I found myself feeling like a small child that was told to sit in the corner for four minutes.
Can I get up now?
Can I get up now?
How about now?
After a while I closed the book and moved to a prone position on the pier. Once again acting completely out of character, I tried some visualizations. I let the weight of my body and all of the mental baggage-slash-exhaustion I’ve been carrying around for the past few weeks sink deeply into that pier. I imagined the stress seeping through the cracks between the boards and just…away.
I’ve attempted visualizing before in other situations and have always felt ridiculous, but for some reason the mental work I did all by myself in the lake’s peaceful surroundings just clicked. I can’t remember the last time I felt as relaxed as I did when I was lying face down on that pier. I jotted some words down in the notebook I brought, and then enjoyed a glass of wine and a coconut cupcake.
By this time, a boat was cruising down the center of the lake. The people on board waved to me and I waved back, laughing as I noticed their dog standing at attention at the aft end. The dog was barking at the teenager who was being pulled through the water on an inflatable raft and screaming joyfully all the way.
Feeling sleepy, I headed back up to the deck (and out of the sun for a while!) where I opened my book and read for a few more minutes before allowing myself to take a nap right there, sitting upright in my chair. I think I slept for about thirty minutes but can’t say for sure since by then I had banned myself from looking at the time.
I can’t adequately express how calm my mental state was at the end of the day, and to be completely honest if you had told me a couple of weeks ago that being with myself for an afternoon at someone else’s lake house would do wonders for me, I wouldn’t have believed you. It did, though; it was wonderful. I learned a lot about myself in just one short afternoon, the most important thing being that listening to the cues my body is giving me, especially when fight-or-flight comes into play, is crucial.
The icing on the (cup)cake was when I got back into the car for the long drive home and was rewarded with ninety straight minutes of my favorite, sing-along-at-the-top-of-my-lungs-with-the-sunroof-open songs. It was like the universe was ensuring that I would absorb the depth of good this experience did for my whole self, and remember that feeling for a long time to come. I know I will.