When I had the inspiration for my business I knew I wanted to call it something that included all the little bits I wanted to talk about – not just spas and hotels and flights, the usual stuff of travel guides, but also books, films, bath products and just, stuff, that had helped me in some way. "Stuff" isn't generally a word you see in business names, and it didn't seem quite right, but when I thought of the word "escapes" it all fell into place.
Then a friend suggested I write an article about why we need to escape. That was about a year ago. It's not that I didn't start writing it, or have ideas, but it was only today that I felt ready to really tackle that seemingly simply question.
We talk about escaping to and from things; escaping from monotony, escaping to a desert island, even escaping pain. Certainly most people can see how a trip is an escape, or pain medication may be an escape, but I've also experienced food that warms the heart, that's an escape too. For me an escape is anything that, well, rocks your world – even if it's only a tiny tremor.
When I was working in the busy financial world I took my lunch hour every day. Colleagues raised their eyebrows as I left my desk, but I took my time, went for something nice to eat, read a book, had a walk or did some shopping. It was just enough time to lower my blood pressure, raise my blood sugar and allow me to arrive back at my desk like a normal human being, ready to handle the next few hours without taking it all too seriously. Sometimes just escaping from a situation for a little while, to take a big gulp of fresh air enables us to walk back in and carry on.
In my first year or so at the company I would go on holiday and throw myself around a busy city or through the waves on a beach, and, as much fun as I had, I would come back to the office and appreciate all the things that were easier in my day job – tea and coffee on offer, a nice sit down, cool, clean water, not having to put on sun cream and just taking it easy – working intellectually instead of physically. Escaping for a few days or weeks helped me to see all the positives that I had taken for granted. For many of us this is one of the most important escapes. Ask any rundown mum. Having a day or two away from the kids, getting the chance to miss them, instead of being trampled by them can be the absence that is needed to see how fond the heart really is. After a few days, weeks or months without someone we love it's easy to see how many of the small things we blew out of proportion and how many good things they brought into our lives.
But… in my last year at the company something else happened. I’d take a break, relax, enjoy myself, rush around and be busy, come back to the office and… nothing. I didn't appreciate the tea and coffee or the comfy chair or the local cafes and shops and I didn't feel happy to see everyone again. In truth I felt worse walking back in the door than I had when I left. Sometimes we need to escape, to get some perspective, to see that things really aren't working anymore. Sometimes the escape allows us to see that we really shouldn't need that big gulp of air in the middle of the day quite so much.
Now that my life has completely changed and I'm teaching Zumba Fitness classes and working on my own website, most people would say that my whole life is one long escape, and in some ways they'd be right. It's busy, exhausting and so much fun, but it's still life with all the confusion and demands that can make my head spin. It's still a phone with messages, an email inbox (or three) and people for asking stuff that I don't know if I can or want to give them. So I took some time out today for the most basic of escapes. Seeing a friend, going to a park and lying down with an ice cream and a magazine, and switching my phone off.
Walking home, switching my phone back on and thinking about my emails some things became immediately clear; whose messages did I want to ignore, whose were annoying but easy enough to handle on Monday, whose were just not something I could help them with right now and who were the people who hadn't been in touch but who I really wanted to talk to? In some ways it was a lot like my lunch hours before, but I forget that, even though I love what I do now, I still need to escape from it sometimes.
But it was the seeing a friend that really gave me the light bulb moment today. As I sat talking about how overwhelmed I felt, I realised that it was really me that was piling on the pressure, piling on the work, distracting myself as so many of us do with our busy jobs or social lives or family matters. As I talked I realised of course it was me, using work as a distraction, as an escape. In my busyness I had managed to ignore two very painful anniversaries, clever me, but I couldn't keep up the busyness forever, and the painful thoughts I had tried to avoid by working too hard were poking through.
Sometimes work, or our social lives or our family management or obsessive cleaning is actually the escape, it's where we can focus our time and energy and most importantly thoughts, so that we don't have the time and the energy to think about the things we're really avoiding.
Sometimes we need it. How many times have you heard someone say about a break-up or bereavement "I threw myself into my work"? Sometimes believing that a report or project we are working on is vitally important is our way of getting through. But there also has to be a moment when we stop, step back and realise that it's time to get on with our whole lives. It's time to stop being a workaholic and connect with all the other parts of who we are. No matter how much fun our jobs might be. Life goes on. The last few months I have been Zumba Fitness crazy, but I've stayed in touch with my family, am getting back in touch with my friends (they've been a bit crazy too), and it's also time to pull my head up out of the sand and recognise those painful anniversaries, recognise how much time has passed and that some people are really gone from my life.
Escapes; the holidays; the massages when there is nobody to distract you from your own thoughts; the book about eating, praying and loving; they can all help us to stop and listen and connect with the parts of ourselves we have been trying to ignore. That quiet walk on the beach gives us time to cry the unshed tears, time to heal, or, if we're lucky, to see that we have already healed and are ready to move on. It's one of the most important reasons that we need to escape from time to time, because it's in escaping that we come back home.
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(c) Pearl Howie 2017. All rights reserved.