Extreme me-time – leaving my toddler for 5 days

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Extreme me-time

 

Last weekend I went to Spain… For 5 days… On my own…

I went for some extreme me-time.

If you haven’t heard the story already, I was having a particularly bad time with my mental health a few weeks ago. A friend suggested I could do with getting away for some me-time somewhere hot on my own for a few days and it sounded like the most amazing idea ever! I instantly started looking at flights.

But of course I couldn’t find any for the right day, the right price, the right length of time, in the right place etc etc, so after a week of futile searches… I gave up.

And then I started getting a bit better.

I had a bath, spent an afternoon out with some friends, had a couple of lie ins. I took myself on a date to the cinema – that was amazing! I had all the popcorn to myself, watched what I wanted, didn’t have to think about anyone else or take anyone else into consideration… I know that sounds very self-centred, and of course I don’t mind taking people into consideration, but when you are a mum that seems to be all you do, all the time.

Mums are never alone

When Dee was born, I remember realising that I now had this whole other person to somehow fit into my brain alongside myself. This whole other person to consider – a whole set of hygiene rituals, feeding rituals, clothing rituals, entertainment rituals, appointments, excursions… for a person who couldn’t do any of those things for herself.

Alice and newborn Dee lie next to each other, heads touching.

And yet I still had to find time and head space to do those things for myself as well.
So for the last three years there have been at least two people in my head at any given time, and quite often 3 because Dave is rubbish at remembering anything. Although, admittedly, he does share the burden of Dee’s routines and for that I am endlessly grateful.

I’m not saying that’s what got me to the low point – I believe it was a culmination of things… a lot of work stress at the end of last year combined with being ill, starting a new blog that I wanted to see flourish and not wanting to give it up even though I had a lot on my plate.

Spiralling into a pit of zero self discipline – not going to bed at a reasonable time, stretching myself too thin, procrastinating instead of doing anything useful – and by useful I don’t mean being constantly on the go, I also didn’t use the time I had to look after myself. I’d waste it doing something inane that wasn’t helping my mind, body or schedule.

Seizing the moment

So back to Spain… one tipsy evening, having had enough of my excuses, our aforementioned friend took his laptop and booked me a flight to Malaga returning five days later.

Aeroplane wing against the clouds with bright sun shining in the distance.

Although I was kind of feeling a bit better by then, I was still having the odd wobble now and again. I thought perhaps it was silly to still consider going away when I wasn’t in that really bad place anymore.

But then I thought, actually, I didn’t want to just wait to be in that bad place again, and while I still wasn’t feeling 100% perhaps now would be a good time to go.
I’d been worried about going on my first solo travel adventure before when I was so anxious and prone to burst into tears at any given moment. But now perhaps, with a little bit of healing behind me, I would be better equipped to enjoy it and do what needed to be done to get my old self back. Perhaps I should seize the moment.

So he booked it , and I woke up the next morning and felt… Awful.

Guilt

I was anxious again, I felt guilty, I worried about what people would think, I worried about how I was going to manage looking after myself abroad in this state, I worried about Dee and about Dave… But I knew there was no going back – you can’t return flights – and I knew I was going to go.

And I cried in the shower and it all felt overwhelming.

And I felt silly for being in such a state about it because it was just five days and I should be really looking forward to it. I know loads of people that would love to get away, and deserve to get away, and here’s me freaking out about it.

Dave was thrilled about me going. I think he’d been worried about me and I also think he was looking forward to spending some time with Dee without her ‘favourite person’ around!

And I love him for that. I don’t know how many husbands or partners would be so fully supportive of what I was doing. But Dave is the most amazing human being and I’m very, very lucky to have him, because I know whatever happens, he’s always got my back – no questions asked.

Spain

So I booked a room on Airbnb staying with a local couple, Dave drove me to the airport at stupid o’clock on Thursday morning, and a few hours later I arrived in Malaga. On my own. With two hand luggage bags, my phone, and some sketchy directions to get to my accommodation.

Selfie of Alice smiling with an aeroplane in the background and a queue of people climbing the steps onto the plane.

Saying goodbye was hard, but most of the first day I was too concerned with getting to where I was going to worry much about anything else.

When I finally got there around 3pm and put down my bags with the stress of travelling finally over….I felt sick. I missed Dave and Dee – even though I’ve been away from both of them longer than I’d actually been away from them at that moment. I felt alone. I felt stressed about all the things that I ‘should’ be doing while I was there.

So I hid in my room and let the internet distract me, and then went for a walk so that I didn’t just stay there all day which honestly did seem quite an inviting option.

Colourful flower pots sit behind black grates on a window in Spain.

Outside the sun was warm, the sky was bright blue, the palm trees swayed in the breeze, the colourful tiled walls of the Spanish buildings invoked holiday memories from my childhood.

Close up of Spanish tiles in red white and blue colours.

I found a neat little landscaped park next to the supermarket where the locals were walking their many dogs, took lots of photos and waffled on Instagram stories quite a bit.

I was acclimatising to being there, and enjoying the environment, but then I saw a little girl playing in the park and got a pang in my chest & my eyes welled. In the supermarket, I nearly cried at the strawberries because Dee always asks for them when we go shopping. I picked out a Pez dispenser as a special treat for her when I get home and had to hold it together as I imagined her little face light up at the prospect of sweets.

Bittersweet describes that first day.

The next few days I spent catching up on some blog work without distractions, and exploring Malaga’s old town on foot. Interspersed with yoga, tea, and Netflix breaks!

Alice sits on a bed with her laptop getting some me-time to blog. She is wearing a warm, purple poncho and has books and a mug on the bedside table.

I’ve got to say those three days were pretty amazing and I only cried when I spoke to Dee on a videocall. (I’ve tried telling myself to get a grip – it doesn’t work!)

Missing people is so strange in this age of technology where you can communicate so freely. I just wanted to hug her and kiss her and smell her and squish her. She seemed even more ok than I’d imagined though, and was mostly interested in the sweets I’d mentioned!

I was very ready to go home by the last day, and got to the airport three hours early because I was so worried about missing my flight!

Getting home was a relief. Although I’d been able to relax, I’d also been on edge quite a bit. Turns out I’m not as much of an adventurer as I thought and solo travel isn’t massively my bag.

I scooped Dee up and squeezed her so tight. She had this little look on her face of urgent, overwhelmed joy that almost brought both of us to tears, and she squeezed me back. And then she asked about her sweets…!

So did extreme me-time do the job?

It certainly gave me space to think and do things that are so hard when you’re pulled in every direction. I work most evenings from home, but some nights Dee is up until gone 9pm, even if we put her to bed earlier, so I’m stopping and starting, putting her back to bed. I don’t get going properly until late and then have time pressure to get things done and get to bed at a reasonable time ready for the next early start. …I’m getting stressed just thinking about it.

It was such a relief to be able to put in solid hours of concentration with zero distractions, and then not being worried about losing focus.

My work was interspersed with Netflix breaks whenever I felt like it, or going for a short walk which once turned into a whole afternoon out which I didn’t need to worry or feel guilty about.

Head & shoulders photo of Alice sitting in a sunny park in Spain getting some me-time with green grass and a tree with pink flowers in the background. The sky is bright blue.

I did some yoga in my room, downloaded a mindfulness app and did a little each day. Went to sleep at 2am and woke at 10am…

Honestly the freedom was magic. Not being beholden or accountable to anyone but yourself is an experience I think many mums might struggle to comprehend.

All the time though, there was this niggling pain in my heart that got more powerful whenever I thought of Dee. I missed her like crazy, despite being quite keen to get away from her for a little while before I left.

Perhaps all the adages are true – absence does make the heart grown fonder, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, the grass is always greener etc.

I definitely came back with a renewed appreciation for my daughter.

Since coming home, I’m not half as quick to get frustrated with her. I procrastinate less about getting her ready for bed because I’m looking forward to spending that time with her rather than seeing it as an inconvenience. (That sounds awful, but it’s how I was feeling some nights and I think it’s important to be honest).

Toddler sitting on mum's lap eating a plum and half eaten apple in other hand. Both looking at camera, pleased mum is home from her me-time break.

It hasn’t ‘fixed’ me though. I can feel the walls hovering, threatening to crash down around me again now I’m home and put me back in that box of misery. But they’re far less substantial than they were, and for the time being I can look right through them.

What it has done though, is given me the space to replenish my stocks of optimism a little, so everything seems a little brighter, and more attainable. I hope to be more self disciplined now I’m home because it doesn’t seem so futile anymore.

So, in conclusion, I think it has done me good. If only to make me appreciate what I have got at home. The lie ins were pretty special too though! Although I appreciate that it wouldn’t be the best solution for everyone, I hope that by sharing my experience, for those mums who think it sounds like a good idea but are worried about it – maybe this will help you make the call. It’s only got to be right for you and your family – try not to worry too much about anyone else and do what you’ve got to do.

What’s the most extreme length you’ve gone to for some me-time? How does the idea of spending 5 days away from your family on your own appeal to you?

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