(Re)treat Yourself

I mentioned a few posts ago about how much I miss spending time in the forest and what an important recharge it is for me. That period of time–early September–became a turning point for me.

The downward spiral

I have been suffering from a period of heavy depression for a good part of this year. Essentially, it began and April and only started to taper off in August, and I didn’t even really realize it until I started feeling better and more like myself again. Most days, I could just do the bare essentials of taking care of my daughter–taking care of myself was hardly a part of the equation. I haven’t even done any meal prep since May. I haven’t posted much in this blog all year.

I can’t say what brought me out of it, but I remember walking to the library in early August to talk to some kids about writing and being a writer, and it hit me that I actually felt like myself. I hadn’t felt that way for awhile. It hurt a bit. But I felt something else, too–the drive to continue on this route. I don’t even remember feeling awful, but I don’t really remember June or July at all, so that might be telling enough.

In late August into September, for about two weeks, my back went out. I was finally starting to feel better mentally and my body decided to betray me! So I had a meltdown. I remember sitting on the living room floor sobbing about what a terrible mother I was because I couldn’t move (?!). I spent some valuable recharge time in Alma that week, hobbling through the forest as best I could. And then, two weeks later when I was feeling better, I started thinking about what I could do to spend more time in the woods. I had spoken to my therapist about it as well and she talked about finding strategies to take that feeling of being in the woods with me. Being in the woods is beneficial for many people, which explains why I feel so good when I’m there.

The next steps

I spent a whole week out and about with my daughter. We’d wake up at the crack of dawn, as we always did, but we’d eat our breakfast and then go out almost immediately. There’s a lovely little playground that’s very toddler-friendly about a fifteen minute walk away, and we often go there. We went every day that week. I packed a plethora of snacks to ensure our stay was well over an hour long.

One of my co-workers had been talking about going to a horseback riding retreat, and it got me thinking about how nice a writer’s retreat could be. This led to a little mental back-and-forth of me telling myself there likely weren’t any in the area, and certainly not ones that would fit my schedule. Maybe not even retreats that would be the kind of wilderness escape I was longing for. So what was I looking for, then?

Well, I told myself, you don’t have to be around other people to do it.

And that was what set the wheels into motion. I started thinking about what I could do, and when. And I settled on September 29th, in an oTENTik in Fundy National Park.

Why oTENTiks?

I’m not prissy or anything, but let’s be real: camping in late September in a tent on the cold hard ground–where there are critters, and you need to duck down low and huddle up in your tent, sleep on rocks, and hide your food from potential predators–was not my idea of a relaxing and inspiring time, especially when I was doing this to escape obligation, not create a different one. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it wouldn’t have suited my purposes. oTENTiks are basically the baby of a cabin in the woods and a regular tent. Perfect. I had been wanting to stay in one for awhile anyway, so this was the ideal opportunity.

I decided on Point Wolfe as my campground of choice, due to its general seclusion and access to trails and gorgeous vistas. I confirmed with my parents that they could take Amelia for the night and booked my oTENTik. I was so excited for the opportunity to reconnect with nature and be outside of obligation for a short time.

I love the forest and the wilderness because, in the city, human problems seem so big and omnipresent. In the woods, I’m small, and my problems are small. Standing near a tree-lined cliff, looking down at the tossing salt waves beneath me and seeing another cliff in the distance–that made me feel small. It made me feel like a part of the world instead of a part of my own little bubble.

The retreat

Dad dropped me off at my site and we let Amelia run around and explore for a bit. She brought me a few rocks and placed them on the little kitchen table, then Dad packed her up and they went away. I took a moment to breathe in my surroundings. I was alone in the woods. This was what I needed. I already felt myself recharging. And then, it was time to explore.

I spent the next two hours wandering the Coppermine trail in the deep forest, then taking the loop back along the coast. Walking, for me, is a kind of active mediation–even when I’m out with my daughter in our neighbourhood, I’ll pick a topic to reflect on and do so as we walk. I flesh out a lot of ideas while walking. So at the beginning of my hike, I asked myself what I was looking for. I started thinking on a topic I had thought of a day prior, and by the end of my hike I had a whole plot fleshed out.

I walked down to the Point Wolfe beach for a quick look around. Then I went back to my campground, scribbled down about 5 pages of plot summary and character notes for the aforementioned idea, then settled in for the night to build a fire.

The three hours that I sat there tending to the fire may have been the most eye-opening of them all. What a strange feeling, to be sitting down completely by yourself and alone with your thoughts when you’re so accustomed to having to be on your toes and barely having a moment to process the day’s events. Staring into the flames, poorly roasting veggie dogs, and feeling the heat on my face became a sort of meditation of its own. I reflected on this year, how much I missed my daughter and husband, and thought about how big it was for me to have thought and planned to come all the way out to this spot to work. A few months ago, something like this wouldn’t have been possible, because I wouldn’t have been in the mindset to even consider it.

A mouse ran up to my feet, looking for scraps of food. I looked up at the stars and felt gratitude. An owl hooted in the distance. I was wholly immersed in the world of the wild, and was a part of it, not apart from it.

After the fire died down and my reverie subsided, I wrote for a short time, and went to bed. I slept in relative comfort, having received a very warm sleeping bag as a gift from my mother a few days prior.

In the morning, I woke up and packed myself a small breakfast. I sat on the Point Wolfe lookout, eating leftover veggie dogs from the night before and some hard boiled eggs I’d brought along. I read Thoreau. I glanced out at where the peregrine falcon nest was hidden in the cliff.

And then I was walking again. Back down along the coast, lukewarm tea in my travel mug. It was a beautiful morning. I walked all the way down to the covered bridge, then along a hidden service path I’d visited years prior. Before I knew it, checkout time had arrived.

Aftermath

One of the many problems with “high-functioning” depression and anxiety is that you have to spend an awful lot of time focusing on what you can do to make yourself happy and keeping your emotions in check. This year, for me, has been divided into two parts: what came before August, and everything that has happened during and after August. Going on a retreat has certainly been a highlight of the latter half so far.

Taking this retreat from my daily life was the full reset I needed. I realized that I can live the life I want–at least, as much as I’m able–as long as I make the effort to do so. I can balance everything, even if it’s hard.

I think I answered my therapist’s question. I think I found out how to take the feeling of bening in the forest with me everywhere. I created memories during this day-long excursion that will last with me for a long time to come, and I have the photographs to remind me, too. You can look at them here, if you want! There’s already so much in this post that I don’t dare to add more!

By the way, I’ve decided to name this retreat, and now will be saving up to do it again in the spring. I’m hoping to make this a bi-annual event. It’s called the Unicorn Cave Writer’s Retreat. As ridiculous as the name may sound to some, I think it’s very reflective of the retreat’s purpose. I’ve typed up a little more info over here, because perhaps you’d like to take your own Unicorn Cave retreat sometime. Please let me know if you do, and tell me more about it.

Other past retreats:

May 2017

1 Comment

  1. What a profound experience and so well written, thank you for sharing it and keeping me posted on your life journey. Keep up the good work Kate!

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