Bon Voyage, Pain! See You When We Land
Vacation: the intersection of high hopes and low abilities.
Posted Feb 08, 2019
You know one of the worst things about having a body? It goes with you everywhere.
I recently went on a two-week trip to the Pacific Northwest. It was meant to be a vacation. But the period of time before this trip was a Cuisinart full of pulverized anxiety and stress. I was slugging down painkillers by the fistful and chasing them with my usual prayer-apology ("please work a little bit oh my god I'm so sorry.") I was chatting with Starbucks employees and CVS stockists, making jokes that veered darker than I meant them to.
I was not, strictly speaking, living my best life.
Once the whirlwind was over, I got to my destination and slept.
From my horizontal position, I chastised myself: “Why aren’t you out hugging trees? They’re such good trees.”
“Ooh, a four-hour lecture on coffee varietals! What, too lethargic?"
“It’s like you don’t even care about seeing salmon spawn.”
“I see plenty of green from the window,” I’d protest at the voice, weakly. Then I’d pad downstairs to gaze into the backyard.
Greetings from Sunny Washington!
Around this time, a good friend reported that she was in the desert, on her semi-regular vacation from grad school. “I’m struggling a little,” she told me. “I’m kind of depressed, so it’s not as much fun as it usually is.”
Plink-plink, went the information Tetris in my head. Oh, duh.
“Yes! I keep having waves of nausea, and my body hurts,” I typed back. “Why am I surprised my amped-up symptoms followed me?”
Moments like this are useful reminders that my thinkin’ brain is often woefully out of touch with my feelin’ body.
Despite evidence to the contrary, I want to believe that a change in environment will hit a “reset” button. I want my body, mind, and spirit to know they're safe and magically heal themselves overnight. I’m used to being proven wrong, but these beliefs are scrappy and senseless. They will not go away.
Of course, it’s easy to forget the precipitating factors. I was berating the Worthless Layabout wasting her vacation, without factoring in the stress, travel, airports, pathogens, rushing and insomnia that created her.
Eventually, I remembered that the only way out of the malaise is through it. So I adjusted. I set my sights lower. I did no ice climbing or swimming with orcas. I didn’t pop on over to Canada for a quick how-ya-do. I didn’t even learn to tap trees for my own maple syrup, which I would have bottled in hand-blown glass and given as very thoughtful gifts during the holidays. Sorry, family! NOBODY IS GETTING SYRUP.
Instead, I befriended a diner waitress, puttered around nature preserves, and forced my dog to wear a sweater. I bumped into two different alumni of my tiny college, which is, statistically speaking, bananas. The trip shifted from an outward-focused adventure into an inner-focused one. When I couldn’t conjure the oomph to get very far, I sat with the trees in the backyard.
It’s tempting to spit-shine this with a message of “…and it was a blast!” but that would be stupid. It was often un-fun. "I could have been inward-focused at home," a voice in my head still grumbles.
I would have loved to hike and feed my sweater-dog bits of my lunch at the top of a mountain, but those things weren’t available to me. I could mourn all my unreachable goals, or I could find other ways to find meaning.
Well, disclosure, I could do both, 50/50...
Fine. 60/40. Sometimes 90/10.
I’ve been dealing with pain, fatigue, and dashed dreams for about 20 years, and this adjusting-of-expectations never gets that much easier. I expect it never will. So you make do. What’s the old saying, again? “Shoot for the moon; even if you miss, you’ll…fall back to earth and catch fire on re-entry?”
Yes, that’s it. That sounds right.
Let’s all keep reaching for that star.
Thanks to Scott Fogel, the artist who penned these drawings. He would like to inform the buffet staff that they are out of shrimp.
Caitlin Caven writes Better Living Through Snark about the charming fury of chronic illness. If you would like to be notified of new posts, please sign up for the mailing list or follow us on instagram.