Coping Chronicles: Take a Retreat

Early on in my struggle with illness, before we knew what was really the matter (or that anything was really the matter), I went on a personal retreat. I spent one night at a hotel, alone. Taking time away from your daily demands to have mental space to think about what is going on is essential, I believe. Whether you are coping with what you'd consider a major life-change, or not, finding some time to be alone can be both refreshing and revealing.

First, let's deal with the logistics. At the time that I took a break, my baby was 15 months old or so. I don't recall, but I think we had just stopped breastfeeding. My boys were just under 3 and 4.5. So, I understand that it is difficult to leave very small children to take time for yourself. Thankfully, I do have a brave, kind husband who was willing to let me go for 18 hours. If you do not, I bet that you can find a friend or relative who can spend the night at your house while you go or have the kids to sleepover while you stay home alone. BUT, I do highly recommend trying to get out of your own home. It is just too, too tempting to get things done when the kids aren't around. If you can't afford a hotel, even after priceline and groupon checks, see if you can stay with empty-nester friends in a spare bedroom. Assure them that you won't bother them (and make sure they are people who won't bother you! This is about alone time).

The most obvious benefit to this time alone is uninterrupted sleep! Of course, I was unfortunately caffeinated (we'll get to that) and didn't sleep well, but at least it wasn't anyone's fault but my own! Do whatever you can to ensure that you will have a fighting chance to sleep well. Avoid caffeine if needed. Bring pillows from home. Bring the white-noise machine. Be sure you have a quiet room, etc.

Other benefits include all the things you wish you could do, but never have time to do! I spent time journaling, drawing (I'm a major fan of art therapy: draw about how you feel- even if they are crappy stick-figure drawings), listening intentionally to music, watching a couple TED talks (David Blaine on how he held his breath forever is one of my favorites!), and enjoying a few spa treatments. I prepped at home for all these things. I brought everything I needed including my homemade hair and skin treatments:
Body Scrub
Coffee/Cocoa Facial Scrub (This was awesome, but it kept me up! duh! Save it for the morning)
Avocado Hair Mask

I had a hotel room with a bathtub. I cleaned my bathtub first with clorox wipes, and then took a nice long bath and did all these treatments. It was so fun! After a long time of ignoring my own health and beauty, these things felt so luxurious.

If/when I go again, this is the kind of schedule I will follow:
Check-in to hotel
(If you are extroverted) Have girlfriends or partner meet up with you for an afternoon/early evening room service happy hour in your room or hotel bar.
Return to room and read or journal
Get the bath running and do hair and body treatments. Just wash face.
Do 20 minutes of yoga on hulu or netflix
Order a snack or walk out to grab some take-out
Choose a movie to watch, TED talks, more reading, etc.
Try to go to bed at a decent time.
Wake up whenever you're ready.
Eat a good breakfast- preferably in bed
Drink green tea or coffee and do facial treatments
Take time getting dressed, doing make-up, fixing hair (never get to spend much time at home, right?)
Pack things and go to U.Village or do something else you don't get to do- now is the time for that rock climbing session, massage, hot yoga class, run around the lake, whatever!

Hopefully, at this point. You are ready and eager to be reunited with your family! It's OK if you wish it wasn't over. This is where the "revealing" feature of the personal retreat kicks in.

1. What did you miss the most? How can you get more of what you missed in your day-to-day life? Did you miss snuggling and playing with the kids? Maybe you should let the housework go a little bit more to spend more time enjoying your kids' company. Did you miss your own bed? Maybe you should work on your sleep hygiene to ensure better sleep each night. Did you miss your partner terribly? GOOD! Tell him or her so, and do your best to remember how much you like him!

2. What were you relieved to be away from? Oppressive children in the night? Maybe you and partner need to buckle down and set up some harder rules for the kids after hours. Messy house? Maybe you can look at your budget and find money for house-cleaning once a month (it's more affordable than you think! Post on that to come!). Or, make rules (and enforce them) that help you to keep at least one area of your home for you alone to enjoy and keep clean as you wish.

3. What did you remember about yourself? Are you an introvert who needs more alone time? Look for one group activity per week to drop. Are you an extrovert? Try to proactively schedule for ADULT friend time (I mean age not rating... of course... oh, you weren't thinking that... well...). Do you like painting your finger nails? just do it. Are you a fan of reading? Pull out a novel or something instead of reflexively turning to netflix every night. Do you like eating breakfast in bed? TOO BAD.

4. And the hardest question: Did this retreat help? If it did, GREAT! Get excited to do it again in 6 months or so. Save those pennies. If it didn't, why not? Were you too plagued with trying to figure yourself out the whole time? Maybe you need to seek counseling. Were you in pain or unable to sleep? Maybe you should talk to your doctor.

I realized after my retreat that I must have bigger health problems than I realized. My retreat did not make me feel better at all. I still felt exhausted, distressed, and pained. It was a good test to see if I just needed a break (which I did and many of us do) or if there was more going on. I talked to my doctor about how my body and heart still felt terribly run down even after my mini-vacation, and it led to more conversations and, eventually, the uncovering of my diseases and syndrome. Now that I know how much was happening to my body at the time, everything makes so much more sense. I was just such an exhausted, depressed person. I kept asking myself, "Is this just how all mothers with 3 very young children feel?" Well, the answer was "no."Taking the time to get alone with myself and relax and really see what was going on with me even with no responsibilities was a very helpful evaluative step in my health care. Hopefully, when you take your personal retreat, you will come away feeling refreshed and ready to take some of your great self-care inspiration and inject it into your usual week! If you come away feeling like something is still not right, take the next steps and find help to discover what's happening. I am so glad that I did and so is my family!

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