Last night I got back from a week-long vacation at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. The vacation came at a very good time. I was starting to get really mired down in negative thoughts, thoughts that convinced me that I was being used, wasn’t cared about, and was a failure. The rainy darkness that is winter in Vancouver certainly wasn’t helping.
Basking in the sun felt like being enveloped in a week-long hug. I had a spa treatment, did some writing and reading, and started on a bullet journal. It’s a lot easier to practice mindfulness when there are so many lovely stimuli to be aware of. I had no “to do” list, and aside from checking my email once a day I was totally offline.
The thing is, though, that no matter how paradisiac the setting is, you can’t truly get a vacation from yourself and your illness. There is always the knowledge that this sun-drenched escape is fleeting, and nothing about regular life has actually changed. So while my vacation was generally good, it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. The day that marked the midpoint of my trip was particularly plagued with rumination and self-doubts. I don’t usually get sucked too deeply into comparing myself to others, but I found myself falling into that trap, particularly when it came to body image. I was also catastrophizing about various things going in my life, even worrying that someone had called the local emergency mental health service about me regarding something that had happened shortly before I left. A potential suicide plan briefly but seriously crossed my mind.
I found a few strategies to help settle me down. I would move around, from beach, to family pool, to snack bar, etc., and somehow those little shifts helped me put a lid on my thoughts somewhat. I maintained a very simple but consistent routine that minimized the need to make any decisions. Every morning I went for an hour-long barefoot walk along the beach; on a couple of days the serenity of that walk that got hijacked by my negative mind, but mostly it was a peaceful, mindful, therapeutic recharger. It was also helpful that one of the female staff at the buffet was the perfect cheerleader. She always called me “sexy girl“, and was very free with the compliments. She complimented me on how young I looked, and if I had on anything other than my particularly cleavage-revealing sundress, she would ask why I wasn’t wearing my sexy dress. Being told I’m sexy while I was feeling ugly was exactly what I needed to hear. I guess it’s good sometimes to be reminded that showing a bit (ok, a lot) of cleavage can be sexy and fun for my own sake.
I did this vacation on my own, and I’ve often travelled alone before. I don’t have a problem with it, but I do sometimes struggle with others’ reactions. In my everyday life, most people I encounter aren’t aware of just how much I isolate myself. At an all-inclusive resort setting, where coupledom is very much the social norm and tequila makes people loud and chatty, I stand out in my aloneness, enough so that sometimes people felt the need to comment on it. I was talking to an older couple at one point, and while the wife was saying it was great that I was on my own, the husband’s face told a very different story. Disgust might be too strong a word, but not by much. In some cases I’m pretty sure that the service I received was of a lower standard than the couples around me. I was clearly not falling within the social norm. Boarding the plane on the way home, the people ahead of me were talking about some guy who’d gotten in a fight with his girlfriend and hopped on a plane to Mexico. Apparently this guy was then lamenting there were no single gals to be found, and one of the women in front of me authoritatively stated “of course not, women don’t travel alone”. Really? So what the hell am I?
I also felt like I stood out as an oddity because I was drinking very little. I’ve found that when I’m out in the heat and sun all day I get dehydrated very easily, and this makes me prone to more lithium side effects. Add alcohol into the mix and it just makes things worse. Minimal drinking was probably better for me anyway, but it was just one more little thing to add to the feeling-lesser-than pot.
All in all, it wasn’t quite the reset that I was hoping for, but it was a chance to put regular life on pause, at least for limited chunks of time. Hopefully I’ll be able to carry some of that lightness with me as I get back into my everyday existence.
Addendum: It’s always good to find a little bit of humour in life. Right now the very outer layer of skin is peeling off my butt cheeks and the back of my upper thighs, due to a combo of wet swimsuit rash, lots of sun, and insufficient sunscreen application. I need to pick up a loofah to take care of this whole situation, but in the meantime I look absolutely ridiculous. It’s the most unsexy thing ever, and it’s a good thing I’m not expecting any action in that department. So I laugh at myself, and that’s a good thing even if the shower of skin flakes on my bathroom floor is a bit icky.