Filling the Tank

Dear MotionWorks Family,

We survived! Not that it’s that big of a deal, but it did get a little nippy for a little while, even for the most diehard Wisconsinite. I guess I should say YOU survived. I somehow managed to escape the polar vortex before it set in, flying to sunny southern Florida just in time for a medical consult I had booked over the weekend through Healthgrades (who knew?). The reports from my home were getting a little desperate by the end with my kids home alone with my husband for 5 out of 7 days in the same week! Needless to say, they all survived, and although close, the mutiny was avoided.

While I firmly believe you can learn something through every trial, in this instance the lesson was clearly that our family would never survive in Alaska or northern Canada, where it’s this cold for most of the winter. And while I escaped it all, I learned something very surprising as I wandered onto the nearest beach as soon as daylight broke.

As my feet hit the sand and the overwhelming sound of Atlantic waves crashing onto the shore over and over again, my heart was overcome with emotion. Immediately I realized it had been too long, way too long. I needed this. It wasn’t really a vacation at all, but I needed this break from usual life.

We kind of instinctively recognize that we need a vacation every so often, but when life has been crazy and expensive and medically limited, the thought of vacation is the last thing on the mind. It is so easy to go along with the repetitive rhythm of work, kids going to school, cleaning the house, shopping for essentials, doing the taxes. For our family, due to my own medical issues, our trip to Disney World (and one very important day at the beach) had been pushed out and re-scheduled 3 times. It's an odd juxtaposition to be home sick in bed, not fully working because of medical issues, to even think you might just need a vacation. Who needs a vacation when they’re not really even working? But we forget about the stress that builds up as we mitigate those medical issues, and new stresses on each member of the family because of it.

As I studied the panorama of picture-perfect aqua blue-green water all around me, it hit me hard. I needed this. No really, I needed this. I didn’t even know it, but breathing in the salty air at the beach, had I even ever been breathing? How much tension could a stressed-out body carry? In just one hour, taking in that scene, all of my tension seemed to melt away. It seemed odd to me, as I always thought I was fairly in tune with my body, that I could have needed this so much and not had an inkling there was even an issue. It was as if I was so focused on the prize, the key to unlock the door of returning to work and normal life, that I missed taking care of myself during the journey.

It forced me to think about my husband and kids as well. Had they been as stressed as I had been without even realizing it? Probably, of course. We’ve adapted so well as humans with so much experience of blocking out the pressures of life that we no longer recognize our need to relax and breathe deeply. It’s strange but true, that at the times of peak stress the very last thing we think about it taking a vacation to relax, when in reality, it’s probably what our bodies and minds need most.

To be introduced to things I had never seen before like the seagull on the water’s edge that I nicknamed “Kim Kardashian,” because the bird ostentatiously walked up and started posing for pictures for minutes on end to which I gamely obliged. Or the huge, translucent jellyfish washing up with the seaweed on the shore (God bless the couple who pointed out their 3-foot-long tentacles and that they could still sting you hours after they were dead!). Or like the guy who was taking his parrot for a walk. Yep, never saw that before and maybe never again. (In case you were trying to picture it, the tropical bird was perched on his fingers, not leashed and meandering behind him). Or finding 100 SPF sunscreen at Target. I didn’t even know they made 100 SPF sunscreen, but I’m pretty certain it was speaking to me with, “For you fair-skinned Wisconsinites in February,” on the label.

Taking a vacation not only resets your stress meter, but the novelty enlivens your senses, and helps you regroup and prioritize what is truly important in life. Americans are notorious for receiving the least amount of paid vacation in the world, but even worse, we are terrible at pausing daily life to take those vacation days. Whether the discipline of our own frugality or the guilt of leaving important responsibilities behind, we place our obvious burdens on the front burner, not ever checking into our personal stress levels of daily life.

Consider this letter as a clear message from me, giving you, the freedom to, no I’m demanding that you check into how you are really doing. How tense are your muscles, and how cluttered is your mind? When is the last time you took a break, a real break from it all? When is the last time you were able to breathe deep and think clearly about how wonderful it is just to live life? When is the last time you experienced something new, something freeing, letting go of all worry? A place where the mind is so settled, you can finally read that book, ponder life, and maybe even simply not think at all for a long, long time.

I often consider that even God took a break on day 7 after creating our world. If even the omnipotent Creator of the universe requires a rest break, surely we mortal humans require the same. So get going. Plan that vacation. And as a family with three kids, I’m not sure that taking a busy, go-go-go family vacation to Disney World even counts. I mean take a vacation where you can do nothing, have no responsibilities, refresh your soul, and fill up the tank. Don’t make any more excuses- book that trip and take care of yourself, your spouse, and take that break that you were not even aware that you so very much needed. The major responsibilities of life can wait. Your work will still be there when you come back. Your house will not burn down. This way when you return, you will restore your energy to attack the burdens of daily life head-on with a renewed sense of confidence and purpose.

Lazily yours,
Dr. Jill Murphy
Owner/Physical Therapist
MotionWorks Physical Therapy