Two Weeks of Isolation in Nature: What I Learned
Updated: Sep 15, 2020
To start I would like to note: I had to take a break this August with my blog. I was not listening to my head, heart, or body and I faced the repercussions by experiencing burn out. From COVID to our recent political climate, I tapped out of doing what I needed to do to keep my physical and mental health afloat. The only thing that I could wrap my head around come July was going home to where I felt safe and disconnected from the world.
That being said, I had the privilege to make my way back to Nova Scotia for the summer and of course, because of COVID, I had to self isolate on arrival.
I had the opportunity thanks to my soon-to-be in-laws to self isolate in a little camper trailer seconds away from the ocean on the West side of Cape Breton Island. I had minimal cell service (enough to send a text/short call here and there if I was in the right spot), no electricity besides a port in my car, and no running water. By definition I was isolated, except for a few safe visits from friends and family to restock food, water and to enjoy some distant chats.
The last few months building up to my trip to NS I realized I was filled with pent-up emotion and feeling as if I was not growing regardless of my efforts. There was also a looming feeling that I needed to solve every injustice I witnessed and that I needed to continue educating and advocating at times when my gas metre read empty. I felt like my foot was stuck on the gas and there was no way to steer.
Okay, so, let's bring it to the start of my isolation. Reflecting back, I cannot remember being this physically alone in my life. I caught myself on my first full day alone, staring at the ocean for an hour almost crippled with how uncomfortable I was being with myself and my thoughts. Because of my mental state I felt like there was nothing to distract me from negative internal dialogue, no social media for shamefully-admitted self-gratification, and no one to help me keep my buzzing mind occupied.
At the start, I had no clue what to do with myself beyond organizing my supplies in the camper, eating and doing chores I constructed for myself. Within my first few days, I even wrote out a 'To Do' list to ensure I would keep myself moving and busy at all times. The list consisted of things like: wash face, prep meals, paint, read, write, wash dishes, and some form of low-stress exercise like getting in at least 6000 steps. Keep in mind everything took twice as long with no electricity, running water, and only a small propane stove to cook on.
By day 5, the isolation really hit. I sat in the sand and cried alone for the first time in a long time. I realized I was doing exactly what I did to get myself in the head space I was in originally. Attempting to pack my day, scheduling and organizing with a false hope that if I stayed busy and 'on top of things', I would not have to deal with my thoughts or maybe that being 'productive' would make me feel better. I laid there for an hour in the sand. I realized I was completely and truly alone for the first time. It was just me and my thoughts with no distractions in God knows how long (I am thinking years). No technology and no one in sight. I almost forgot the world existed and all that came with it.
I woke up on day 6 with some clarity - "slow down, be present" were my thoughts. I remembered the day before feeling a level of 'imposture syndrome' when trying to declutter my mind. I was like: "girl, you have a business advocating for mindfulness in nature! You preach about how it can be applied to your day-to-day life... Yet here you are in your happy place but have you physically took time to smell the wild roses around you? Why are you structuring a day that does not need planning?". I realized because of growing up feeling cluttered, disorganized and at times vulnerable, I compensate as an adult to be the opposite. As if my preparation could prevent bad things from happening in and around my life if I just did "this" or "that".
I write this because I have denied myself of accepting my declining mental health and there is a lesson I would like to share from that. I was able to respond/have an open ear to those who are hurting, but I had forgotten to have the same level of compassion for myself and in the end I was helping no one. I write this because I did not grasp for a long time how much energy has been taken from me over the last few years when advocating against systems of oppression on a daily basis. I was tired.
I know I will not always have the privilege to just up-and-isolate alone for two weeks without facing repercussions financially or socially. I have been fortunate enough that I got to refresh my browser instead of having to completely shut down and reinstall all my software. I take this as a lesson learned that in order to do the work I wish to do, I must make sure my cup is full enough to ensure others around me can fill their cups too. If my cup is empty, what good am I to anyone whose cup is dry?
I believe I am on the 'other side' for now. I'm finding joy again among ugly times. I understand life's journey is not linear and the hard work must be done. To me, that hard work looks like balancing all aspects of my life, from my academics to my relationships.
To wrap up, here is a poem I wrote around day 9 or 10. I watched an intense storm roll in from P.E.I. At first it was enjoyable from a far - I witnessed the repeated lightning strike the island with my binoculars. The thunder and lighting slowly made its way towards me and my campsite. As it approached, the thunder was booming, almost as if the ground shook. I have to admit, the once enjoyable show in the clouds became very unpleasant, stuck in a small camper with paranoia of being struck by a bolt. Regardless of the unease I felt, I found the whole ordeal metaphorical to my situation and here is the product:
"Watching the storm come in makes you think about where you fit in the world.
Wrong place at the right time or right place at the wrong time?
A spark of light from the sky could hit and you are now the chosen one.
Watching the storm come in makes you think about how you are just a speck of dust in this universe.
Born at the wrong time or die at the right time? Like a storm, you live, you do your best, then you are on to the next one.
Watching the storm come in makes you wonder, what is next.
Wrong way on the right path or right way on the wrong path?
You pick, you choose, you hope it works out.
When the storm comes, will you be prepared? Could you ever be prepared?"
- August 2020