This summer we had a family holiday abroad. As a family of four it was the first time we have gone on a package holiday to chase the sun in 6 years. Over that time we have been camping or stayed in holiday homes and the nearest we have got to leaving England was getting on a ferry and going to the Isle of Wight.
My eldest son, who is now 13, has been asking for years for us to go abroad. ‘All my friends go abroad, why do we have to go camping?’. I have to admit, we had tough days with him on our most recent holidays, tough in the sense of getting him to engage with what we were doing. All made worse because we weren’t abroad, I’m sure.
I said all the things you would expect a mum to say, ‘You may not think you’re enjoying it now, but you will look back at these holidays fondly one day’. That maybe true but really didn’t help in the moment. I also highlighted that he sounded very ungrateful because the fact is, staying in a luxury holiday home for a week on the Isle of Wight doesn’t cost that much less than a holiday abroad would. But, again, a difficult argument to understand when you’re 12.
The last time that we had been abroad, as the four of us, our youngest son was just 5 months old (he is now 7). A combination of PTSD symptoms, anxieties and maybe even postnatal hormones contributed to it being a real struggle for me. I had been nervous on previous holidays that we had had when it was the three of us but having my baby to be responsible for too made it worse.
Leading up to the holiday that year, I prepared myself to pack up and take my two children away to die. That is how I perceived holidays. I couldn’t see any positives. I genuinely didn’t get it. Why would people look forward to, be excited about or see a holiday as a good thing. To take your family away on holiday, to die, it just made no sense to me. I just couldn’t see past that thought and so would have no involvement in the arranging of the holiday or look forward to it in any way.
That said, I was fully aware how irrational those thoughts were but knowing it and believing it were two different things. My mind was telling me that the rational thoughts could no longer be proved, that my irrational thoughts had more weight to them and therefore overwhelmed any kind of logic. Even if I looked at facts it didn’t help. The main thing that I would focus on was the chance of a natural disaster happening. I would look at the world map of the tectonic plates to see what the chances of an earthquake would be. I would Google ‘natural disasters in….’ to see if any had happened before in that area. Any slight chance and I mean slight, would confirm that I was right to be thinking what I was thinking. When you have been so closely affected by an event, no facts or statistics can out-whey the chance that it could happen again. People would naturally say ‘nothing is going to happen’ or ‘the chances of that happening are very low’ but all I heard was ‘there is a chance, as small as it may be, that something could happen’ and I simply couldn’t argue, in my own mind, against that. I had seen how such a small chance could devastate lives and that memory was way stronger than the rational way in which I thought prior to that event.
I was the same leading up to our honeymoon but when we headed off to Croatia leaving our two children at home, as fate would have it, I was OK with that. We got married on the Saturday but didn’t leave until the Tuesday. Our wedding day did something quite remarkable. It counteracted my PTSD symptoms by showing me again that I could experience the opposite of trauma, I could feel weightless again and I deserved the feeling of happiness, love and contentment. And that stayed with me for a few months. When we went away I had those feelings and they were strong enough to allow me to be in the moment with my husband and actually enjoy the honeymoon.
It’s all about state of mind. What thoughts overpower others. The thoughts that shout the loudest are what you believe. For years, I fought them with all my strength but when you believe them and have an experience to back them up it is a battle that you can’t win and it’s exhausting.
The key to winning the battle is to retrain your mind. Learn to see them in a different light and from a different angle. As you start to see them differently you start to feel them differently too and then you begin to realise that your thoughts were controlling how you felt and actually, if you were thinking THAT it’s no wonder you were feeling like you did.
I still had some of the same thoughts as I did before, on my recent holiday but the difference is I’m OK with them now. I don’t try and fight them. I accept that they are the things that will always go through my mind.
I asked my eldest son, whilst we away if he knew why we hadn’t been abroad for so long. He thought it was his dad’s decision! I told him it was me and explained why. He remembered me showing him a blog I had written a while ago and so just said ‘That makes sense. So does that mean we’ll do this again?’ I nodded. That is one happy teenager!
**Don’t tell him but this week, after seeing the 9/11 posts on social media, for the first time ever, I want to go to New York. So, on Thursday I made myself say it out loud and said to my husband, ‘I want us to take the boys to New York’. I still get nervous that my positive thoughts towards travelling will pass but I hope that if I keep going with it it will become my way of thinking over time.