The last three weeks I took my first adventure vacation after 7 years to my old stomping grounds in Miami to visit friends, family, and just generally embark on a mission to play. I not taken a vacation for years as I was dealing with one medical disaster after another year after year. To be honest, I had forgotten what it was like to have fun for more than a few hours on the weekend.
I planned this trip last year, but due to caregiving challenges the trip kept getting postponed and postponed. I started to lose hope that I would ever take this trip when I finally decided to bite the bullet and go for it in September. I was slightly anxious because I did not know how things would go with respect to sleeping on a new mattress, running into further medical issues away from home, planning who would go down with me to take care of me, how my body would handle being up for more than 12 hours a day, the list goes on and on.
I worked myself up into a frenzy four weeks before the trip and to top it off I ran into further caregiving issues, which left me with my mom and boyfriend to accompany me down to paradise. I was unsure how the dynamics of my mom & boyfriend taking care of me would work as it was the first time in seven years I would not be taking a caregiver with me. To top it off, while my mom is the most young & fit 71-year-old I know, I was concerned it may be too much for her. The list of anxieties that ran through my head prior to the trip was overwhelming. Most people go on a vacation to unwind, but prior to my trip I just could not see how I was going to do this.
I had not realized over the last seven years how much anxiety and fear had built up within me on a daily basis with respect to thinking about 1,000 things that could go wrong being paralyzed on a daily basis. Many of my other quadriplegic friends deal with similar struggles as I do, but many of them seem to just go with the flow. My body is particularly sensitive with respect to pressure sores, broken bones, etc. that had literally forgotten how to unwind. I am generally so focused on surviving life that I forget to live it sometimes.
When I arrived in Miami it took me several days to kick back and start enjoying life. I’ve always been so appreciative of the support my family and friends have shown me, but I tend to beat myself up on a regular basis if I am not staying on top of every little detail, working my butt off, being productive, and trying to make something of myself. Before my accident I worked very hard, but I also knew how to play hard. While my definition of playing has changed over the years, until this trip I was not able to get out of my own head … I kept getting in my own way of living life.
As the days and weeks progressed I went on every kind of adventure with my boyfriend, saw my friends, and started to unwind. After the first week and a half I noticed a drastic change in my mental state and physical body. Will my chronic pain persisted, many of my other aches and pains seemed to lesson, my bathroom functions went much more smoothly, my skin did incredibly well for being up for over 12 hours in a chair most days, and I was able to sit back with a glass of red wine overlooking the ocean in the afternoon & just stop. I stopped thinking, analyzing, and living in the future of the next hour, day, month, etc.
It was the most momentous feeling to not think about spinal cord injury for a few weeks, well other than the regular activities I needed to take care of on a daily basis. I’m not sure if I can attribute this to feeling so unbelievably comfortable with loved ones around me and not having a caregiver present. Many of you have read about my caregiving struggles in the past and I thought I would be consumed by thinking about having to train and hire a new main caregiver when I got back. This particular issue causes me the most amount of stress and anxiety in my life. Surprisingly, I did not … Rather, I lived each day in the moment and soaked up the sun, good company, and tranquility around me. Life just ran more smoothly over the last three weeks, which got me pondering what was missing in my life in Raleigh?
While it is still too early to tell I suspect the daily stress and anxiety of caregiving, keeping myself on such a strict regimented work & exercise schedule, and planning every moment of my day is the main culprit. In essence, I have been creating this toxic environment for myself. I need to learn to let things go, realize that if something doesn’t work out with a caregiver, work situation or don’t get to do everything I planned in a day life will move on. I’ve always been constantly terrified of my mother getting older, not being able to help me out, and being stuck trying to figure out who will be my person in life. Living with my boyfriend every day for the last three weeks has been a very eye-opening experience for me because he, not only is wonderful at taking care of me, but is now my person. While my family will always be there for me they have their children, families, lives, etc. I have always felt very alone in this aspect of my life until I met the love of my life. He is there for me no matter what and I am there for him. I’ve never experienced this before … probably because I’ve never allowed anybody to enter my world so intimately.
Life is all about relationships… If you do not build them, nurture them, and grow them you will be alone. In my experience, no one wants to be alone. Being alone, and I’m not talking about taking time for yourself to reflect and be by yourself, but alone in the sense of not having anyone to depend on you or you depend on them.
I feel so blessed to have spent the last three weeks with two people who I love deeply and dearly who also love me. They took time out of their busy lives to help me experience a much overdue adventure. The fact that these two people would put their lives on hold for my happiness for a few weeks… Well, not only is it the most incredible feeling in the world, but I still don’t have words to express my gratitude.
I am now back in Raleigh, North Carolina on the hunt for a new main caregiver, back into the work grind, and realities of daily life with a little bit less stress, more happiness, and a Zen -like state of mind. Naturally, it will always be a work in progress, but I will never give up. I do think it is very important to stay focused, exercise, and keep on a schedule, but it’s the enjoyment of the little things in between that I strive to work on.
With respect to my vacation… The adventures are too many to count, but here are a few of my favorites over the last three weeks. Enjoy :-)