Lessons From the Road

Last week I spent a few days alone at the Saratoga Springs Resort in Orlando. You might think that spending time at Disney World would be the last place a self-proclaimed introvert trying to recover from a traumatic emotional event would choose to go. 

But it worked. Wonders, actually. 

For one thing, the Disney Resorts are a very familiar and comfortable place for me, with years worth of happy memories to recall. We’ve had a membership in the Disney Vacation Club for 20 years, and when my son was in college in Orlando, I spent many days staying in the resorts and wandering around the parks all alone.  I don’t have to think about how to get around or what to do. It’s easy and comfortable, and I can retain my anonymity without feeling isolated.

This was also a good choice for me because I need to be busy. Lately I talk and read a lot about “slowing down” and “resting” and “simply being.” All that is nice and fine, and I appreciate the necessity of moderate amounts of down time. But I am happiest when I’m actively engaged in something: it doesn’t need to be anything more than wandering through a park or around the perimeter of the resort; sitting at an outdoor cafe with a glass of wine and watching the parade of people go by. If I sit in a quiet space for too long, I get anxious and restless, I feel almost claustrophobic. I have to get up and get moving. Maybe I’m not as introverted as I think: I like being around people. I don’t necessarily need to interact with them all the time, but they sure can be fun to watch.

So last week offered me a combination of both those important things. I wandered, ate great food at the opening of the annual Food and Wine Festival at Epcot, browsed in a plethora of unique shops at the newly opened Disney Springs shopping plaza. I escaped the afternoon heat at a couple of good movies, and indulged (twice!) in marvelous, fancy desserts at French style bakery. Not even getting drenched in a late afternoon thunderstorm could dampen my spirits. 

The real gift of those four days was the opportunity to take care of my self. That’s something else I talk a lot about here on the blog, and in real life conversation too. Usually it means following my tried and true routines, eating well, exercising, writing in my journal, finding little ways throughout the day to pamper myself. But in the context of this trip, it took a slightly different meaning. 

A while back there was a cute video circulating online that featured a preschooler trying to fasten the buckles on her car seat. Her father offered to help numerous times, but she always replied: “No! No! I can do it! You just take worry ‘bout your own self!” My mom and I loved that video, and it became something of a standing joke between us. “You just worry about your own self!” she’d say to me, “I’ll be fine.” 

“I know,” I’d tease, when she’d refuse my offers to help her with something, “you just want to take care of your own self!"

So last week I took care of my own self. 

I didn’t have to worry about anyone’s special diet or dinnertime. There were no dogs to walk, or carry up and down stairs. I didn’t need to get groceries, or prescription refills. I had no laundry to do or floors to vacuum. There were no appointments, no commitments, no schedules. 

There was no one to “worry" about except me. My own self.

I had no idea how consumed I’ve been with worrying about the needs of others. Those anxieties have intensified in the last few years as a result of illnesses and the aging process among my family.  What a revelation it was to consider only what I needed/wanted to do with my time. And yes, I feel guilty and selfish even thinking about how much I enjoyed it.

Caretaking is deeply embedded in my DNA, and so it never occurred to me to think about what life would be like without primarily focusing on the needs of other people. I’m willing to bet that most of you reading this can relate. Although none of us can (or would want to) totally relinquish the responsibilities we fulfill for our families and loved ones, maybe we should find pockets of time to put our own selves first. I think it’s important to occasionally mimic the little girl in the video and say to the world, “No! You just worry ‘bout your own self!” It’s more than the normal things we do to stay healthy and happy each day. It’s about dedicating primary mental and physical energy to our individual desires. 

It’s hard to say when (or if) I’ll have the ability to take a retreat like the one I had last week. But the lessons learned from that one were distinctly valuable, and will last a good long time.