Holidaying for Mental Health
August 21, 2016 by Stuart Rawlins
It took all of about two minutes before I subconsciously grabbed each of my pockets wondering where my mobile phone was. Had I put it in my wife’s handbag or accidentally left it on the top of the car? NO. It was actually safely secured away inside my car where it would stay for the next two weeks whilst we embarked on our first overseas family holiday.
My aim was to have two weeks where I was completely un-contactable from my normal day-to-day job. This might sound fairly easy to some but when you are a workaholic and have three different electronic devices that receive work e-mails and a combined work/personal mobile phone, getting away from it all is almost impossible. Couple that with previously being diagnosed with PTSD and Depression from thirteen years as a Detective in the Police Service and the ability to relax and de-stress gets a whole lot harder to achieve.
Easy-fix I thought. Just dump the electronic devices and head off for a two-week family holiday travelling around New Zealand’s beautiful South Island and voila…………complete relaxation and bliss. With no contact with or from work I would immediately, or after a day or so, be so relaxed I could just chill-out and enjoy the breakaway.
Little did I know how far from the truth this would be!
Between leaving the car and arriving in New Zealand I must have checked my pockets for my mobile phone at least a dozen times before my brain accepted that it was ok that it wasn’t there. I can’t honestly remember in the last fifteen years a time I went for more than a day without access to a mobile phone.
Why is it that at 41 years of age I can’t get by without my mobile phone being in my pocket or within a few meters of where I am? Is it social conditioning or the need to be constantly connected with what is going on in the world?
Flying out of the country on a Friday morning whilst managing a significant work activity didn’t really help, I spent most of our first day away thinking and worrying about what I had forgotten to do, had I prepped everyone for Fridays activities in my absence and who did I forget to ring back?
It was at this moment I realised that simply leaving all of my electronic devices at home wasn’t going to automatically make me relax and unwind the minute I jetted out of the country.
Still with work firmly on my mind we picked up our Britz motor-homes and we were off to our first night’s location, Hanmer Springs. As luck would have it, it snowed at Hanmer Springs that night, and snowed and snowed some more. With it being our first ever overseas trip and our first time touching real snow everyone was buzzing with excitement.
The next morning, I had my first ‘Ahh this is what I need’ moment. Whilst waiting to fill up the water tank on our motor-home it started snowing again and the snow was coming down quite heavy.
I stood there, held my arms out, let the snow fall all over me, feeling how it felt when it hit my face and I simply stared into oblivion whilst thinking ‘This is what life is really about, why has it taken me this long to get here?’
With the water sorted we were off and into our next five-day motor-home adventure of the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island.
Still the ‘no-mobile phone in my pocket’ was playing tricks with my mind and I had to continually remind myself that work was going to survive without me and the world would not stop turning if at 41 years of age I had a two-week break away from my mobile phone.
Over the coming days we drove through and passed some amazing places and I made sure that I continually involved myself with the beautiful scenery at any opportunity in order to take my mind away from the thought of work. This also allowed my mind to drift away and do a bit of day-dreaming about the reality of my life, what I had been through to get here and what I had to change to make it better, and not just better for me.
One of the many annoying effects of PTSD is that it affects your nerves. Just like how continually stretching a rubber band eventually doesn’t allow for it to go back to its original shape, PTSD can affect how your nerves handle the small things that used to previously, not bother you. For me one of those ‘little things’ is finding myself being continually snappy and grumpy at my kids for all kinds of ridiculously little things, simply because my nerves can’t handle it anymore.
Seeing my kids as just that………kids. Kids that drop things, kids that fight and kids that love the feeling of seeing and touching snow for the very first time was not just refreshing but humbling. Humbling that I could give them that experience and be there to witness it first hand and not be at work and have to get told about it the next day.
Over the following days I made a pact with my wife that we would not talk about my work at all and just concentrate on having a good time, as she said ‘It will all still be there when you get back so why worry about it now, you can’t do anything about it from here’.
Epiphany No.1 – If you are in another country and don’t have access to your work, you can’t sort work sh@t out. So just let it go!
One of my strategies to de-stress and relax was to get involved in some holiday activities. Let me tell you this is a great idea and certainly aids in forgetting about your troubles, issues or work related matters. It also assisted in providing me with the perspective that there is more to life than working or worrying yourself to death.
I have also found that my body’s ability to deal with adrenalin is not that same as it used to be, Pre-PTSD. I find that an adrenalin rush can be triggered by my bodies senses associating something simple now with a situation that was not so nice previously. I also find it harder now to get that adrenalin rush and awesome feeling pumping through your body when you are doing something amazing. Well during this trip, I found a way to sort the second statement out!
Epiphany No.2 – Exhilarating activities like Jet-Boating in 4 inches of water at 95klms/hr certainly assists in getting your adrenalin going and takes your mind off some of life’s worries.
As we worked our way around the South Island, out of the motor-homes, into 4WD’s, rented houses, and motels I found myself being immersed in ‘I don’t give a crap what my hair looks like today under my beanie’ and ‘Does this short sleeve shirt really go with my long sleeve stripped thermals underneath?’
Bit by bit I found my inner-self acknowledging that it was OK to unwind and LET GO!
Until it happened……………………..My inner-self worked out I was on holidays. How?
Epiphany No.3 – You know you are truly on holidays and relaxed when you have no idea what day of the week it is and actually have to ask someone for clarification!
BANG and that was it! Day 10 of a 13-day holiday my body relaxed and de-stressed enough to realise it was actually on holidays!
Am I disappointed that it took 10 days into a 13-day holiday to feel like I was on holidays? No, not at all. I am just grateful that I still have the ability to enjoy life and the pleasure that it has to offer. The enjoyment of watching my kids experience something for the first time in their lives, something that I know they will remember forever.
Having been affected by a mental health condition and all that comes with it doesn’t mean you can’t have a fulfilling life. Not at all! It does mean that you have to continually monitor and work on maintaining the right balance in life to ensure you keep your mental health in check.
Sometimes you have to acknowledge that somethings aren’t the same as they used to be, but that in itself is not all bad!
So next time you are feeling a bit overwhelmed or just need a break from the world, go-on ditch your electronic devices and get away from it all for a while. It doesn’t have to be to another country it could be as simple as going camping up the beach or in the bush for the weekend, staying on a family members farm or heading out onto the ocean.
Believe it or not the world will still turn, you will survive not being contactable for a while and your mental health will be better off for it.
I would love to hear about your breakaways from the electronic world, so if you have any please send me an e-mail and tell me how it all went!
Live Life. Be Positive!
Stuart Rawlins | Healthy Mind Healthy Future
Providing you solutions for life’s mental health challenges!