Vacation, All I Ever Wanted
Open country roads, Main Street, little cabins on the lake, fresh air (except for the stinky turkey farms), miles of green fields for as far as you can see...no, this isn't a sappy country song. These are things I happily was able to occupy myself with last weekend when I took a trip "up north" to the small town of Osakis, MN--which is about two hours north of the Twin Cities.
Noticeably absent this weekend were: medical clinics, waiting rooms, exam rooms, prescription lists, pain scales, infusion centers, doctors, nurses, sick people sitting around awkwardly on uncomfortable furniture, bitter coffee in white styrofoam cups, anxiety, stress, annoying on-hold music. It was a relief these things were gone, even if just for a weekend. Taking a break and going away felt wonderful and made me realize how important self-care is for my RA and my life. It also made me realize that I'm not doing enough of it. The daily grind of RA has been consuming nearly all of my time, energy, and attention and I'm burnt out.
Why is it so difficult to practice self-care?
Why is it so hard to get in the car and take a little drive somewhere? I don't know, but for some reason it's not easy for me to do this. I've written before about my challenges regarding self-care, and I still think that one of the main obstacles is the feeling of guilt I often experience about it. I feel guilty that I'm already not doing enough or being productive enough in my daily life due to RA getting in the way and sapping up all of my resources. How can I justify taking time out for myself when I'm constantly behind with everything, trying desperately to catch up, or to at least feel as though I'm accomplishing things?
Leaving the "chronic life" behind
The trip to Osakis was a welcome reprieve from the pain and stress of my usual "chronic life." It's a weekend that I've looked forward to every year since I was 17 and has become a fun tradition in my family. Each year, during the second weekend of July, I head up north with my aunt, uncle, cousins, and their families for the "Roddin' Round the Lake" street rod car show where we join fellow street-rodder friends who have also been coming to the show for several years.
My uncle has restored classic cars for as long as I've known him, and for many years now he has shown his pale mint green (original color) 1951 Ford in various car shows. The Osakis show is especially fun and special because my uncle is originally from Osakis (he's married to my mother's sister). He still has family up there who live on farms and come out to the show and our little after party at "the farm" to hang out and visit with us.
"The farm" is the site of a former century-old, crumbling yet charming farm house that my aunt and uncle purchased over 10 years ago from his brother. About a year ago they demolished the old house and built a new one in its place. Since buying the land and the house, we've been staying there each year for the car show (and other times). Friends drive up in their old cars pulling campers behind them and set up camp on the land. The night of the car show my aunt and uncle host a big communal picnic-dinner on the land. We eat, and talk, and sit around the bonfire, laughing and slapping mosquitoes until late into the night.
Sitting across from the bonfire last weekend, I felt calm and happy and even a little bit at peace with myself and my life, which lately is a rare occurrence. I wasn't wrenched into knots of tension and worry like I usually am. The night was dark and quiet except for the light of the flickering flames and a small glow from the windows of the house across the yard. We were gathered together in our small group surrounded by soybean and cornfields with the occasional bat flapping overhead (I told myself they were birds). The sounds of talking, laughter, and country music on the radio were the only things you would hear near us on that perfect summer night. I loved it. I always do.
I think it's important to take the time and energy (physical and mental) to get away from your RA life, somehow. Even if it's just a weekend away from home or a day spent doing something relaxing that's completely for yourself (reading, writing, drawing, a bike ride, etc.), it's worth it. Dealing with the daily struggles and weight of carrying around a painful chronic illness gets to be too much to bear for all of us, I think, if we don't stop and take time for self-care. Let yourself gaze into a bonfire once in a while, and give yourself and your RA a much-needed vacation.
Did you have difficulty receiving a RA diagnosis?