Mental Sabbatical: A Time to Step Back

After the New Year and a return to the Netherlands from visiting friends and family, I did something inconceivable only a few months previously. I decided to take a step back from life, review it and decide whether anything needed to change.

So what prompted this rather radical way of making new year’s resolutions? I’m not entirely sure, but it was evident to both the Captain and myself that while life was good, something in it was not, leaving us feeling unsettled and out of sorts.

We recognised some of this malaise was fallout from our continuing battle (still ongoing) to get money from the insurance company for a vehicle theft back in September. On New Years morning, laid in bed at our friends’ home, drinking our morning tea and looking out over a quintessential English village, I asked my seemingly relaxed and laid back spouse what he was thinking.

” I was wondering how hard it would be to plant a bomb in the building of the insurance company.” This was not a light-hearted or throwaway line delivered with a wry smile, this was the comment from a man who had had enough. I was deeply shocked; of the two of us it is me who is more likely to get enraged, while he is calm, measured and annoyingly reasonable. Yet here we were, on a short break away from everyday niggles and annoyances, and he was thinking about the insurance company.

Travelling home I started thinking. We all have to deal with life issues which drain us of energy and joy. We carry emotional baggage for years without realising we’re doing it; old hurts, angers, disappointments, abandoned dreams, lost chances, bad choices, guilt and shame over past behaviours, never feeling good enough.

My emotional baggage is carried on my back in a huge wicker basket – the type normally used for storing logs or children’s toys or laundry – held in place with leather shoulder straps. Because it’s on my back I don’t see it, but as I wander along things get tossed over my shoulder into the darn thing, as you would old and worn socks into a laundry basket. I may not be thinking about what’s in there, but life stuff gets heavier and heavier without us realising it. Not important stuff, you understand, rather the day-to-day grinding of life’s wheels.

There’s never time to stop and empty it; we make sure there’s never a spare moment in our busy lives. Far easier to ignore it and carry on. But when a spouse is fantasising about blowing up buildings something has to give. And the drain of carrying the basket has been annoying of late.

Easing off the shoulder straps and tipping it out, seeing the contents spill in every direction across the floor, it was enlightening.

Holding the basket upside down, banging it on the floor to dislodge small items snagged in the wicker, I was amazed by the clutter of bits and pieces clattering out, all broken off from things relegated to the trash decades ago. There were several dusty, battered fragments which had been part of my life, but weren’t part of it now, needing to be collected up and swept away.

There were other tangled memories and situations which did need unravelling, re-sorting and trashing. Many were issues resolved eons ago but I’d forgotten to remove them from my wicker hard-drive.

There was suddenly a huge amount of space in my newly emptied life-basket and I was wary of what went back in. I didn’t want to spend time and energy (a vital commodity at my stage of life) on things that no longer engaged or gave me pleasure or a sense of personal fulfilment. I didn’t want it brimming with ‘must dos’ or ‘ought tos’ or ‘should dos.’ I wanted to fill it will good things, memories and important people in my life

Last year I’d been offered wonderful opportunities to explore new and exciting ventures, meet new people, start new projects. It was exciting and stimulating, but I didn’t feel as excited or stimulated as I should. I wasn’t sure I wanted that part of my life back in my basket.

Which begged the question, “What do you want?” along with, “Life’s too short to spend it doing things you don’t want to, if you’re in a position to choose.” And I’m lucky, some things I can choose. Some I can’t. So how to differentiate between the two?

A Mental Sabbatical. Time to step back, reaffirm and realign life onto the track you want to follow. Change the things you can, come to terms with, and accept, those you can’t

It’s a lot tougher than it sounds. Stepping back from everything, and I mean everything, to discover what it is you want and more importantly what it is you don’t. Basic stuff, but how many of us do it? And what a revelation.

Things I thought were important, that I couldn’t live without, weren’t so important after all. Other things, seemingly inconsequential, have turned out to be essential to my mental well-being. An area of work I’d toyed with exploring has been the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.

The biggest surprise has been the most obvious of all – we put unrealistic deadlines, goals and expectations on ourselves, which we would never expect of other people.

Returning from my Mental Sabbatical I can report it has been time well spent. Life does not shudder to a halt if you step back into the wings. Friends do not abandon you, the world does not fall apart. The quiet joy of time out, time to think things through, work them out at your own pace instead of charging through life, is a priceless experience. Finding balance is essential.

This morning I did something spontaneous for the first time in forever. After a freezing dog walk in the dunes, instead of charging off with my ‘to do’ list as planned, I drank tea with a girlfriend. We ended up heading to another girlfriends house to shovel snow from the canal in her garden, and ice skate – for the first time in 30 years.

People and memories; the most important things we have when everything else is stripped away.

Although I must dash, another deadline to meet…

About wordgeyser

Our anglo/american family used to live in four countries (USA, Canada, UK and the Netherlands) on two continents, separated by distance, time zones, circumstance and cultures. It has been a scary, enriching, challenging place to be. The only things guaranteed to get us through were a sense of humour and the amazing people met along the way. . . This year everything changed with a move for us from the Netherlands, – and a move along with us for our son and his wife from the UK – to Houston, Texas, the same city as our daughter. With our youngest in Vancouver, Canada, we are now all living on the same continent. How this happened, and more importantly why, will be the subject of this ongoing blog...
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17 Responses to Mental Sabbatical: A Time to Step Back

  1. springfollower says:

    Nice article. I didn’t however understand what you exactly mean by “stepping back from everything”. Did you stop working? Did you get away from people? Did you meditate? Did you travel?
    I hope I didn’t ask too much 🙂
    Have a nice time

    • wordgeyser says:

      All of the above! From the routine of regular life and everything that entails. Mostly from people who are draining – the emotional vampires. You can still remain in the same physical location yet step back and away from it by changing your routine.

  2. Sareen says:

    In my mind you created a picture, indeed refreshed a memory, of the Iban people of Sarawak with their baskets on their backs. I’m glad you were able to put yours down.
    Thank you for the reminder to stop.

  3. sarah koblow says:

    Lovely image in the desert, iceskating word geyser. my favourite prayer grant me the courage to change the things I can, The serenity to accept the things I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference. you are so wise!

    • wordgeyser says:

      Sarah have lovely to hear from my desert rose! Wise? a long way to go yet, but it’s the getting there that’s the fun part. Hope you’re enjoying warmer temperatures than us!

  4. What a lovely story, other than your husband’s thought, but hey, we’ve all been pushed. Your description of the clutter hanging on in the old wicker basket is absolutely priceless. How annoying it is that we just keep piling things in, until we can hardly carry it anymore.

    So glad that you enjoyed time with your friend and then went skating with another, as well. Sounds as though you are on the right path.

    So glad that Linda J. shared this on FB. Linda and I know each other from the States; our daughters use to play soccer together. Great post; your words are captivating!

    • wordgeyser says:

      Hi Carol, thanks for taking the time to stop by and your kind words. Amazing what a small world this is – connections are so important on the journey through live, glad we’re now connected!

  5. Jane says:

    Oh, it was so lovely to play today… and when you decided to, you enriched my day too!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and vulnerabilities (Brene Brown would be proud of you). More discussion at book club, and I am so please that you have her Guidepost 9 sorted 🙂

  6. Sheila says:

    Fantastic…beautifully written ! You have such a wonderful way with words and the topic is so thought provoking. It is so basic, it could be assumed we would do it all the time, but very few of us do. We dash around as you say – but with time out and a look at what is really important to us we can be so much happier and more fulfilled.

  7. I am…breathless. I cannot imagine a better way to express so many things that so many of us feel. I have said from the beginning that nobody, nobody writes like you. I’ve been patient, and this beautiful piece (and indeed peace) descends. Wordgeyser, purveyor of luminous thoughts and stalwart sincerety, is back. Absolutely breathless.

  8. Sara says:

    So glad to be the one you were spontaneous with – what a fantastic morning! Shoulders a bit sore from the shoveling, but better than being sore from being hunched over the computer working on my tax return! Thanks for sharing a cuppa and a skate,

  9. expatlogue says:

    It’s so easy to lose sight of the things that make us happy in the race to meet all the expectations put upon us. The importance of enjoying life and living it our way cannot be underestimated. The biggest deathbed regret is having lived a life by someone else’s rules and desires.
    Sorry to hear the insurance company are still twisting the knife. You might not be able to change their behaviour but you can change how you perceive and react to it. Good luck and maybe make time for more skating some time soon!

    • wordgeyser says:

      Funny how we all feel the need to justify how we spend our time, that our days should be filled with ‘worthy’ things without truly understanding what true ‘worth’ is. Congratulations on your mental health initiative!

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