So, last week I was on my hols in Cornwall. Weather was glorious, scenery magnificent, food and drink were all that I could wish. I came back physically refreshed and much fitter.
From a mental health point of view, I came back like a bit of a limp rag. Being a reflective kind of bod I have spent a couple of days considering what didn’t go too well and what lessons I can draw from it.
Here’s the back story. My parents are getting on, love Cornwall and are no longer able to get there under their own steam. My brother and his wife and their four year-old lead hugely hectic lives, love Cornwall and appreciate someone organising dates and accommodation so they can just kick back. David and I love Cornwall, have been every year for as long as we can remember and are happy to do the organising/driving. We have 2 cottages booked in the same village giving us the opportunity for optimum balance between being together and having our own space. So far, so good.
Let go of “trying” to make everything okay for everybody. Poor Dad developed sciatica just before coming on holiday. I couldn’t “fix” Dad’s back but spent a lot of time researching and fretting about helping him find some relief. This also manifested itself in offering him lots of suggestions and getting a bit frustrated when he didn’t immediately act on every one of them.
Just listen. Mum had been worried about Dad’s pain (and living with it) for 2 weeks. She needed to tell someone about it. I don’t want her to feel upset, frustrated or worried. Ever. Rather than listen, I spent quite a bit of time pointing out why she didn’t need to feel that way, effectively shutting her down whenever she began to speak. This meant that we had the same conversation about 6 times with increasing levels of frustration on both sides. Had I managed to listen we could probably have been done with it by Day 2.
I am not responsible for other people’s behaviour. People in severe pain can sometimes be difficult, short tempered and even aggressive. Fluttering around them like an ineffective nanny does not help. People who are frightened and worried can also be difficult, short tempered and even aggressive. Getting cross with them for “lacking empathy” does not help.
Ask questions so you know what is really going on. What I took for my husband’s frustration with my whole family and me for ruining the holiday, was just his concern for my stress and guilt levels. I didn’t ask about it till the last day though. Had I done so earlier then I could have relieved a proportion of my stress and guilt in one swoop.
Manage expectations (including your own) and you reduce the opportunity for conflict. I set myself two goals – making everything as perfect as possible for my parents and having a carefree, schedule-less break with my husband. Those goals were not fully compatible but I went at it as though they were, feeling that, whatever I was doing, I should be doing something else. On mature reflection, I could have had an honest conversation with David, my family and myself about what might actually be achievable and “okay” for all of us.
There you go then. My nephew had a “cool holiday”. My brother and his wife look tanned and relaxed and all of us had some days and hours that were wonderful. And we experienced it together. It wasn’t perfect, but it was so worth doing.
And, if I manage to learn some of these lessons, then I have the opportunity for mental as well as physical refreshment next time.