After a month of Jimmy touring almost constantly, I was ready for a break. Four weeks of running the show had left me emotionally and physically drained. That’s just how I am. I’m fiercely protective of my emotional needs not because I’m selfish but because it doesn’t end well if I just keep going. I needed some space and some time alone. I need quiet (as opposed to my constant life soundtrack of ‘Mamaaaa’ plus screaming plus Paw Patrol), I needed to not be touched almost every minute of the day and I needed to know that I could sleep through the night with zero chance of being required to whip up midnight milk snacks or share my bed with a small but illogically sharp and pointy 4 year old.
I often feel fleetingly guilty that I’m not one of those mums that can get through this whole life thing without needing to remove myself occasionally. Maybe those mums don’t exist, maybe they do but they pay emotional taxes for it. I don’t know…I’ve long since given up beating myself up about it. This is me – and the ‘me’ without my time is not a pleasant thing.
So, with my parents safely ensconced in Spain for the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th week this year (oh, retirement!), I decided to head to Devon for a weekend at their house, on my own. This wasn’t a girls’ weekend or a couple’s getaway. This was a weekend about me being on my own. Entirely.
Jimmy was, as is his wonderful way, 100% supportive of my decision to escape life for a weekend. “Whatever you need to do…I think that’s a great idea. Go and enjoy it.” So, I booked a £30 bus ticket (5 hours on a bus is almost enticing when you don’t have to do it with kids) and headed off on my merry way.
After nearly missing my bus (turns out travelling on your own can make you a little erm, too relaxed), I landed dramatically in my seat across from two elderly ladies who were bemused by this ‘adults’ inability to get her shit together. One spilt water bottle, a dropped computer and a sandwich dripped down my top later, I was finally settled down and excited about my weekend off.
But you know what? I was also nervous. I was nervous about being all by myself. It’s what I’d craved but now that it was here I was worried that I’d freak out with no one to talk to, that I’d feel lonely, that I’d get anxious. The journey down was a mix of sighing with relief and twitching with worry. Had I done the right thing? Should I have just asked a friend to come with me? Well, it was too late now.
The thing is, we are never, ever really alone. Sure, there are occasions when we have the house to ourself, but it’s always coloured by the reality that any minute someone is going to walk through the door. There are evenings, when the kids are in bed, and your other half is out but again the kids are still in your psychic space, you’re still waiting for a possible wake up or a walk in from your partner. We often go away for the weekend without kids but mostly we are with our partners or our friends. I can’t remember the last time I spent this much time, entirely on my own.
I had visions of using the weekend to write, to catch up on admin and work in a quiet space. I deleted Instagram from my phone and in a misguided attempt to feel like some sort of slightly tortured, sophisticated creative, I bought a packet of cigarettes and imagined myself leaving my computer, taking my glass of red wine and puffing on a cigarette while I pondered my work. I was going to wrap myself in blankets and read books (while smoking again, obviously) and get early nights, take long lie ins and have lots of baths.
In reality, I got to my parents, poured myself a glass of wine, watched the end of Killing Eve and passed out on the sofa. I did however get into bed by 10.30 and didn’t open my eyes again until 9.30am but as for the work/writing stuff, I sacked that off for a rainy road trip instead.
I drove out to Croyde, found a pub, bought the papers and ordered a pint, some chicken wings and a fish pie. I spent hours just reading the papers, eating my food (and yes, smoking the odd fag which was feeling less sophisticated and more contrived by the minute). I met a couple, in their fifties, who had travelled from Nottingham. They were gorgeous and had a life story that would have left Jeremy Kyle shocked and we talked for a couple of hours.
I left feeling like I’d connected to life in a way that I hadn’t for months. The lack of Instagram, the conversation with a couple that didn’t include any chat of work, social media, my kids was liberating, life-giving. It reaffirmed my place in this world as a capable, sociable and functioning adult. Something that it’s oh, so easy to forget when you’re in the midst of the juggle struggle.
I got back to my parent’s place, ran a bath and threw in a bucket load of Epsom Salts I’d bought from a health store on the beach (I know, I know) and soaked for thirty minutes while I read my Kindle. Then, with fresh jammies on and my dad’s chunky cashmere cardigan to keep me warm, I poured a glass of wine and settled in for the Saturday night Strictly/X Factor combo. My heart was warmed by Graham Swan flossing and the gorgeous Stacey Dooley dancing her sock off. Still off Instagram, I spent more time on Twitter than I have in the last three years and went to bed at 11pm feeling more recharged and connected with myself that I had in months.
Today, as I write this, I’m conscious that my bus leaves to take me back to my life at 3pm. I could feel sad, or anxious about heading back to the ‘crazy’ but what I actually feel is ready. If I’d been with someone, if I hadn’t been entirely alone, I wouldn’t have been able to give myself over to my own needs in the same way. This time alone has left me feeling grounded. I’m no longer a Mr. Messy version of myself. Instead I feel sharp, clear and excited to hug my kids, snog my husband and kick ass next week.
I was lucky to be able to do this – not everyone can just get up and leave their lives for a weekend – but even a dinner by yourself, a movie, a brunch. Whatever you can do that puts you entirely by yourself, I encourage you to do it. It’s scary because it isn’t something we do very often, if at all, but it’s worth it. Go somewhere where you don’t have to talk to anyone and you’ll find that your own company is pretty damn healing.