Just a few hours ago, my fellow writers and I returned from the Writers' Retreat, a four-day getaway to a surprise location that I've since sworn to keep secret. Without revealing too many details, our accommodation was set at one of the most picturesque, awe-inspiring, breathtaking places I have ever stayed. The day we arrived, our accompanying instructor gathered us together and said, "This is a place you can lose yourself. You can leave things behind that you no longer need."
It's a beautiful thought.
But I don't believe it's entirely realistic.
There are so many things I'd like to leave behind, far more than I could ever record and far more personal than I could ever share. A few (hundred) times over the span of the weekend, I found myself wishing I could return to Dublin a radically changed person, a better writer with a better mindset and better goals and a better lifestyle. I wished I could wash away each and every flaw, heal the broken parts of myself in just four days as if I haven't been trying to heal for years already. In a way, the instructor's words felt like a challenge: You're doing something wrong if you don't lose yourself.
On repeat in my head: But I don't know how. I don't know how.
I know the instructor had only the best intentions, and I'm sure they meant their words more as a suggestion to relax and enjoy the restful and restorative getaway as much as possible. But to immediately feel I was doing something wrong — to feel like a failure because I can't forget something like mental illness for a weekend, no matter how desperately I'd like to do so — was an experience I struggled with continuously throughout the weekend. More so than anything, I felt alone at first. I figured I could build the usual facade just a few meters taller for the duration of the retreat, and that way I wouldn't bring anyone else down.
But the facade is unspeakably exhausting.
And I was on the retreat to rest.
So I spoke up and shared my feelings, my guilt, my concerns. Despite my friends' constant and unwavering kindness, I broached the topic with my typical sense of nervousness, worried that by talking about a difficult subject I really would be a burden to those around me. Once again, however, my friends offered nothing but their utmost support. One even said they'd been feeling similar — in their notebook, they'd written, 'Lose yourself.' Why can't I do that?
In sharing, we weren't alone. My guilt dissipated. I became more restful.
It's easier to heal in a space where healing is encouraged, not expected. And it's okay not to heal at all, no matter how picturesque or awe-inspiring or breathtaking locations may be. There is something beautiful just in being alive to see them.
I don't need to radically change to experience beauty. I don't need to heal to be grateful for my life.
On our last night of the retreat, I went for a walk with my friends that quickly became less of a walk and more of a running, skipping, twirling kind of conversation that swept us along for miles. I lost count of the number of group hugs, lost my breath with how much I was laughing.
Maybe we left things behind that we no longer needed, or maybe we tried and failed, or maybe we merely dreamed of it.
For me, it's more about the things we take with us.
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<p>I am a second-year student from Saint Paul, Minnesota, studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa. I enjoy writing across all genres, especially within the focus of mental health, and I hope that my words can inspire education and awareness on the subject. Outside of school, I can often be found rock climbing, running, and spending time with my dog.</p>