Last weekend I traded in my cell phone, email, and Instagram to head to Camp, Heart Camp to be specific. As a therapist I need continuing education hours to keep my license for private practice so I decided instead of being in a conference room at a local Holiday Inn, I would spend my time at a retreat center on beautiful Suttle Lake practicing yoga and meditating, while learning more therapeutic tools around trauma, grief, and just plain ole life, all through the heart.
At the end of the weekend, the man who ran the workshop encouraged us to ease back into life slowly. He suggested we take care of ourselves by not jumping right back into our emails, work obligations, life chores and “to do” lists.
Well, what do you think I did the moment I got in my car to head home? The total opposite. Once I had cell reception, I started reviewing my emails and text messages, checking in on what I had missed out on over the weekend with my family, friends, and work. With frenetic energy I began to organize my weekly calendar, all the while knowing I was totally going against my camp counselors advice.
It continued throughout my week, Monday morning I drove over to help a friend move into her new house, and as I arrived she told me her daughter had lice. I jumped into fight or flight, “Give me all your sheets, pillows, blankets, towels, and comforters to wash.” Oh and while I am doing your laundry, let me take care of your son. Lucky for me there was a barbershop right next store to the laundry mat. As I washed her sheets, I simultaneously had her son get a buzz cut. This was not my only frantic moment of the week, it proceeded to look like this:
* Participating in an exciting book launch with Blurb, Apple and iBooks.
* Attending a dear friend’s wedding.
* Going on a hike and having lunch with 5 families.
* Hosting a kids’ sleepover.
* Organizing a babysitter and making dinner for 8 kids.
* Going to a concert.
* Having a million play dates (not really, but you get the point).
* Participating in my children’s open house to meet their new teachers.
* Walking with a friend who was visiting from the Bay Area.
* Having tea with friends who were visiting from Portland.
* Seeing 15 clients.
* Being a Mom; driving to soccer practice, cooking meals, and cleaning my house.
* And oh yeah, and I got pulled over by a cop!
I want to say I am not a victim in all that I did, hell no. I take full responsibility for all that is above, no one coerced or handcuffed me into doing any of these activities, I did it all on my own free will, totally ignoring the advice to have a mellow week.
I also need to say that while doing all these things I was having a blast! I loved being front stage rocking out to Ben Harper, toasting my dear friends at their wedding, helping a friend in need, having all the kids at my house, and launching Cracking Open, my book that I have put my heart and soul into for 8 years. I loved it all. The problem was that when I began to slow down, I began to break down mentally, emotionally, and physically.
What did this break down look like? Yelling at my daughter for using all my makeup in her play cosmetic center, sobbing in my car about how I need more balance in my life, while my husband listened with compassion, but also with some shock, followed by crawling into bed to watch a movie while eating pulled pork on tortilla chips, no joke.
So, psychologically what happens when we go from 0 to 100, we are unable to stay grounded, clear in our choices, and we go into a bipolar pattern of mania followed by depression.
I want to express I am in no way using the term bipolar lightly. I sit monthly with patients in my office who struggle with being bipolar. In fact if I am attempting to do anything, I am trying to bring the separation we often create between the “us and them” of mental disorders closer.
I know I am not alone in coming home from a vacation to a crazy week, followed by some sort of breakdown; be that getting sick; the flu, a cold, or breaking out in hives. Yelling at your family or friends for things that would not usually upset you, or just being in a really bad mood, and not knowing why. We all struggle with this phenomenon of jumping into life to fast after taking time for ourselves.
So why do we as a society go into our manic mode after coming home from our vacations, retreats, spa weekends, and back country skiing excursions? I believe it comes down to guilt and shame.
There is an underlying belief system in our society that we do not deserve self-care. We have a story that we tell ourselves, “Since I have taken time off for myself or my family I need to make it up by returning home to work more hours, spend extra time at the office, play more with my kids, and be the superhero Mom, Dad, spouse, employee, and friend.” In my years as a therapist I have heard hundreds of stories of people going away only to come home to a feeling of needing to “catch up”. But the problem is after resting your body you cannot put it into overdrive. It would be like running a marathon “off the couch.” From this backwards belief system we become injured both physically and mentally.
From my story, I hope you are reminded of the moral from the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare; slow and steady wins the race. As you come back from a vacation, enter into the new school year, or start a new job take time to breathe, sleep, relax, and ease into life. Please don’t squeeze in ten zillion things to make you feel worthy and important. After returning home try not to fill your empty spaces in order to not have to feel uncomfortable emotions around loneliness, guilt, or shame for taking care of yourself. Or manically run around doing tasks in order to feel like you have made up for lost time.
Socrates said it most profoundly, “Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” Follow the path that says it will all get done in due time, the more conscious you are in everything you do, the more you get accomplished, and by slowing down we are able to see more of the truth in your life.
The most profound lesson I learned from my weekend away at camp is to live more in the heart, being more compassionate to myself and others, learning to listen from this deep well of wisdom, and slowing down to really experience life all around me. Looking back I now know that I wished I had cleaned out some of my earwax in order to listen to the advice from my Heart Camp Counselor, then maybe I wouldn’t have gotten pulled over by a cop with three kids in my car.