Monday, August 06, 2012

Home again! (And What I Learned From Travelling)

Well I've been home in Brisbane for a little over two weeks now and this photo shows one of the best things about being here. Little Mia seemed to enjoy her holiday at the "Cottages" but there's no place like home.

It's taken a while for the fact that I'm back home to really sink in and I haven't actually re-established a routine yet. This has been intentional because I can easily feel quite pressured by routines, and I really noticed the difference while I was away.

This trip was long enough and varied enough that it allowed me to see more clearly some of the things that work for me, and some that aren't so helpful. I don't just mean in regard to travelling. Of course, I had a great time while I was away, but for us, its not just about being on holiday or having a break from work/the routine. It's a bit more complex than that and in some ways, it's amazing we can manage travel at all, let alone find ways that work better for us than in our everyday.

I've been thinking that there must be some lessons I can take from these trips and apply to how my days are organised back here in Brisbane.

Some of the differences that seemed positive:
  • very few commitments set for particular days: this allowed me to do what felt most inspiring on the day. Also, I was much more aware of choosing what fitted with the energy I had, rather than feeling as if I had to do something and pushing on, regardless of how I was feeling.
  • getting out of the house almost every day of the week: I guess it's obvious why this is good for me, but here at home I can go days without leaving the house. I become so fixated on getting some artwork done that I always choose the option of staying in.
  • more social contact: yes! even in a country where I barely speak the language or know a soul. The question of social contact is a tricky one for me, on a few levels. Firstly, I do like quite a lot of solitude, but I also really need enough social contact. When I've done those personality tests, I always sit exactly 50/50 introvert/extrovert. Since being sick I've especially found that socializing can be very tiring, but nevertheless, I really need it.
  • surroundings that I found incredibly inspiring: I really noticed the difference when it came to reviewing my photographs. I always enjoy taking photographs, but the end results never feel as satisfying to me as when I've made some other sort of artwork. For the first time on this trip, I felt a number of my photographs (especially with my new camera) were quite exciting and expressive, and I'm planning on taking them further.
  • limiting my activity to about 3 hours each day: This really relates to the question of pacing and is something that is really key with ME (as it's now officially known in Australia, not CFS). For some time I've known that 3 hours of "active" activity* is my limit, if I don't want to overdo things and find myself unable to do much of anything at all for a day or two after. It's not a bad length of time, but it is very easy to stay longer. While I was away, because I was very motivated to be well for as many days as possible so I could do and see as much as possible, I became pretty disciplined about sticking to this. I think it was also made easier by the fact that I wasn't trying to match the energy of healthy friends, or not to let anybody down by leaving early. 

And over all I was able to be much more active, and I saw and did so much! 

My studio looking towards the window

So now I'm back home and I am champing at the bit to get into the studio and have some creative fun with all the great inspiration I've absorbed, BUT I don't want to isolate myself too much. Somehow I want to find a balance between doing enough creative work to feel satisfied, achieving some goals, and still getting enough of all those other good things that I discovered make me happy. It's going to be tricky, but the good thing is that I do have the freedom to make adjustments as I see fit. I just need to stay aware enough to see what is needed. Wish me luck!

Studio: looking back the other way

*By active activity, I mean something that I have to engage with - intellectually and emotionally (not physically of course) in contrast to passive activity - like watching TV or surfing (the internet, that is!)


  1. Ah, yes! This pacing oneself is a tricky path to find then follow. But I do believe that many more non-ME folk would benefit if they could follow some of your steps.
    Not everyone can work to the same pace;if you can find the level that works for you then I say"stick with it" and never mind trying to keep up with the herd.
    (And I suspect Mia has all the answers!)

  2. nice to see you safe and sound at home.... its interesting what you mention about what works for you (and your ME) when travelling and what doesn't.... each winter my folks 'head bush' - not just for the warmer weather, but my mum really seems to benefit from the lack of expectations and routine that gentle travel entails.... its been a strange thing to witness - I would have expected that these sort of journeys would be too much for her and make her PD much worse - but no! there you go....

  3. Welcome home! I never, ever feel as alive as I used to feel when I traveled overseas with my camera. It's an incredible kind of inspiration. And can be quite an adjustment returning home again! I think I can relate to what you are saying a lot.

    And that pacing and finding a livable routine around one's illness thing... personally, this is something I have a very, very hard time with (my 2 months away from my blog is probably evidence of this!). Three hours sounds about right on my end too... on a good day. Unfortunately, the other stuff like cooking meals and other drudgery seem to get those three hours rather than the studio. I wind up so tired all I have the energy for is staring at the computer, and often not that either. It's very hard to find a balance. I feel for you. If you come up with any good tips for dealing with this conundrum, please let us know. I suspect that some of the benefit of going away might actually be from being freed from a lot of household work. I'm not trying to whinge (well, mostly ;-), but it is something I am curious about. How do others in a similar situation learn to find a rhythm that allows meaningful work to be a regular and sustainable part of one's life. It's an interesting and useful conversation to have.

  4. Nothing like getting away from it all to work out how it all works!

    Glad to see you are happy to be back home with a fresh perspective.

  5. For me it was very interesting to read about your thoughts about pacing.The first step is to accept the 3 hours or whatever it is. During my stay in Paris for 4 weeks I learned a lot about that. To find the balance between being inspired and overwhelmed was not easy.
    I have the impression that you did a good step to find out your own need.
    You gave me a lot to think about, thanks.

  6. You've given me a lot of inspiration there Amanda to think about what works when you're away, healthy and happy, and to try to then apply it to normal life. You may not always be in control of an ideal situation but if you manage it most of the time, then that's fantastic.

  7. I'm really pleased that this post has struck a chord with both the healthy and the less-healthy. Pacing is a skill we definitely all can do with, particularly as time ticks by.
    Di: you are right - Mia has no guilt about napping whenever she likes.
    Ronnie: its interesting to hear about your mother's experience with travel. I've realized the moving part really stresses me out (crossing borders, worrying about missing connections) but once I arrive somewhere new, its great.
    PC: I agree about the freedom and also, that part of it is to do with all the housework side of things. This time we stayed for all but about a week in self-contained accommodation. Here at home I am lucky to go to my MIL twice a week for dinner and usually have take-away at least once also. Away from home we adjusted by tending to eat a lot of our main meals at lunchtime. This meant I often made simpler and smaller meals at night. Often I found this was better than at home, and in fact in rural Ireland where often the eating-out options, lets say, were't to my taste, it was much harder for me.
    Nevertheless, the meals thing is a huge drag, especially as I really care about my food. I want both good quality and I' m a bit of a foodie, so beans on toast doesn't really do it for me.
    After being in Ireland, where I'd cooked nearly every meal for a few weeks, we decided to treat ourselves to no home cooked meals ( other than breakfast) for 5 or 6 days. It worked really well to give me a break, and I' m thinking occasionally I could do the same thing at home. Also, I already cook extra amounts which I freeze, and I'm hoping to cook bigger batches and maybe have a whole week of home-cooked pre-prepared dinners from time to time. That's the plan anyway, but first I have to do the cooking, which is not as easy as it sounds as it involves a lot of standing.

  8. All that cooking doesn't at all sound easy. Indeed, it is strenuous and all that standing is horrible. I've read recently that one shouldn't chop standing up, but should put a stool in the kitchen or take the food to the table. Maybe that would work for you? I've tried to imagine how I could do that, but the truth is, at least for me, cooking requires so much moving around (not to mention the 4 cats who feel it is their right to jump up on anything lower than the kitchen counter to see what I'm doing). Cooking is my own number one frustration in terms of energy sucking. I think I remember you saying a while back that you had to eat gluten free too, or am I misremembering? I have celiac disease and several food allergies. There is rarely such a thing as a safe eating out option, and most things have to be cooked from scratch. If you are able to find ways at all to not cook meals at some points during the week, you absolutely should with no guilt! For sanity as well as energy level. As for the freezing bit... I always plan to. And on the occasions I have, the food always seems to wind up going to waste. It never seems appealing. It might be the gluten free/many things free aspect of it, perhaps. Maybe it just doesn't freeze well. But if you are able and the food freezable, it sounds like a good idea.

  9. I'm smiling to myself because we are surprisingly alike in some ways. I can rarely handle more than 5 'actively' active hours a day and that's when I'm on a roll and just cannot let go. It's also all that 'work' that goes on within when we are not actually working, the thoughts, feelings and associations that keep spurting from some unchartered depths and eventually end up in our books, paintings, etc. There's so much activity than cannot be put into numbers.

    Your trip will probably keep yielding new materials for you to use in the coming months. How wonderful that you took it!

  10. RobFos: You are so right about getting away to get some perspective. In my case, I think I am a bit of a slow learner, and I need time, too. ;)

    Doris/Helen: I'm glad you found the post interesting, and that it has given you both food for thought. You're right, this is the first step. More to come...

    Ersi: Oh I couldn't agree more! There is so much creative work that is done beyond the 4 walls of the studio. Thinking, feeling, flashes of insight and inspiration, and that all takes energy and time for sure.

    PC: Ah yes, cooking is very energy-sapping. Sometimes I really think we should just move into some sort of retirement place where you can go to a dining room for dinner (probably at 4:30pm!!!) but I know I'd not only hate living in that sort of environment at my age, but also I'm pretty sure I'd hate the food.

    I am lucky that chopping is "supposed" to my lovely husband's job. I say supposed because he isn't well either, and often isn't really up to it. Still, I wait till he can help to cook anything that has more than a couple of things that need chopping, and I do take it and sit down with my stable table (we don't have a dining table at present). Still, there's cooking, waiting for things to cook and keeping an eye on them, not mention the clearing up after.

    I am egg, gluten and lactose intolerant, but my major issue is with preservatives, particularly sulphur which gives me migraines. We're lucky here to have good Thai and Indian take-aways which I seem to be able to eat without a problem. I did find France was a challenge in that they eat so much bread, ham and cheese, and also omlettes, and in the UK so they have a lot of bacon and sausage, which is usually loaded with preservatives. It did make me realize I am lucky with respect to eating out here in Australia.

  11. Pacing myself is something I have never been very good at, but I am trying to give myself little breaks in this busy time. I should definitely take a leaf from your book when it comes to this. Burning myself or yourself out is not useful to anyone.

    It was great to meet up with you in the BL the other month, so glad we could both fit that in while you were in London.