Weeks away from my 40th birthday, with my mom now 70 and widowed, my sons 10 and 15, a ten-day trip together seemed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Of course, it also meant being confined together in a tiny room for ten days and sharing a bathroom. The boys would miss a week of school, I would miss a week of work, and my husband would be at home sulking since he couldn’t join us.
After the death of my father two years ago and my stress-induced mental health breakdown the previous fall, it was not difficult to justify. I knew that life was too short not to grasp opportunities when they arose. This opportunity had obvious benefits and, I suspected, hidden ones as well.
We flew from Chicago into Miami for a night, where the port was located, giving us time to get our bearings and arrive at the dock early to board the ship. My mother, an experienced cruiser, helped by knowing how to navigate around the ship, what to expect at every turn, where, when and how to make requests and what not to worry about. This was phenomenal for my stress level, allowing me an even further level of “letting go,” if you can imagine THAT on an already all-inclusive, all expenses paid, 7-day cruise!
One of my absolute favorite parts of the cruise experience was our private balcony room. My mother specifically chose a balcony room when she booked us. In fact, she insisted upon it.
Daily, I rose in the pitch-black early morning and sat on the balcony for three to four hours sipping coffee, reading, and journaling. Something about the ocean in those early hours, looking out into the black abyss, I found not to be terrifying, as it sounds, but comforting.
The feeling reminded me of driving through the Rocky Mountains for the first time over twenty years ago, of how being in the presence of something much bigger than we are can shift our perspective. I think it makes the big world we were creating in our head (full of drama, anxiety, fears, etc.) suddenly feel tiny and insignificant.
The vast ocean and the unending sky felt real and I was vividly aware of how they existed in my present moment. Being “unplugged,” I had the chance to see how unreal several of those other things (much of them stress-inducing) really were and how many of those things tied me to thoughts of the past or anxiety around an imagined future. I was in complete awe of how the undoing of my constraints around my connectivity to my cell phone, internet, email, my husband, my work, my home, and actual physical land felt absolutely liberating.
Overall, this trip both nurtured my need for solitude with deep reflection and replenishing time in the mornings on our private balcony as well as helped me take a needed break from routine being unplugged from the internet, work, and my regular activities and responsibilities at home.
This trip brought me out of my shell too, challenging and exposing me to living in close quarters with my family and amongst thousands of strangers the moment I stepped out of my bedroom door.
At times, I didn’t handle it well. I got crabby. I said things I maybe shouldn’t have. A skill I had to practice repeatedly on the trip to calm my OCD was finding a place of compromise or retreat if the overwhelm of the disorder or chaos became too much.
You know what else I noticed, though? I had moments, but we all did.
Every one of us, mental health diagnosis or not, has mental health needs. Traveling is a unique ground on which to explore some of those needs, to test them, and to see where lies your ideal balance. Traveling should never be about neglecting these needs. Before we embarked on the trip, I was scared of that happening. Coming off some very draining months, I wondered if the trip would feel like fun or would exhaust me? Now, I can see that it was up to me and how I attended to this personal balance. And…Mom booking that balcony room didn’t hurt.
About the Author: Laura Alcantar is a ghostwriter in the field of holistic wellness and an aspiring author in the field of neuropsychology, personal empowerment, dreamwork and mysticism. She served as a certified eastern medicine practitioner, bodyworker, and herbalist for over a decade and is currently a graduate student in the Mental Health Counseling program at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
Her personal journey through depression, anxiety and obsessive- compulsive disorder over the past twenty-five years has been marked with many personal triumphs as well as critical low points. Laura credits her personal writing practice with her ability to continually learn, heal, and grow within these challenging circumstances.