I absolutely hate going on holiday. Hate it. It’s one of my least favourite activities of the year. Spring, summer, autumn or winter, it makes no difference to me. Whatever time of year; wherever we go; how ever long we are away, I dread it, endure it and loathe it.
There, I’ve said it. Exposed another one of my inner – until now mostly hidden – thoughts. And during the half term break of all times. What heresy. What a weirdo.
The reality of holidays for me is a near perfect storm of anxieties, uncertainties, unfamiliarities and discomforts. It brings together so many of the things that have dogged my sense of being settled, content and safe and as a result has impacted my mental health for as long as I can remember. Long before I knew that I had depression and anxiety – as long ago as being a primary school child – I knew that I hated going on holiday.
It was everything about it: the build up; the travelling; the new surroundings; the stress of others (people very often are more than a little stressed when travelling, even if only for a few minutes as they battle through the airport security or as they lift their cases into the overhead luggage racks of the train following the deeply uncomfortable “I’m sorry, but you seem to be sat in my seat” conversation); the homesickness; the loss of routine; the fears – often crippling fears – ranging from the plane is going to crash, to we are going to be murdered in our hotel/apartment/hire car, to we will miss our travel connections back and be stranded for weeks and then of course return to a house that had been flooded/burgled/burnt to the ground etc. All in all, it was far from a holiday. More an ordeal.
I know that many people reading this may have experienced some or all of that growing up – it is not unusual for children to fall into those bogey man mind pits and wildly elaborate imaginary scenarios. It is however unusual for grown adults to continue to be occupied by them into their forties, especially when breaks and rests from work are a much-needed, anticipated and savoured part of vital replenishing, recharging and being ready to go again routines. I really enjoy taking time off. I really loathe using it to go on holiday.
Why? Why do I hate it so much, even now, years after shaking off some of the more irrational fears of childhood. Why do I still want to do anything but go away? The simple answer is in what I associate going on holiday with and how that makes me feel. It is because being on holiday takes me out of my carefully constructed, content, happy, safe, day to day life. This – some may say – is the whole point of a holiday; to break with the normality and monotony of day to day life. But for me, normal day to day life has taken years to establish and much design, trial and error and practice to get right. And getting it right means removing most of the sources of stress and anxiety from my life – including being away from home – something I associate with working too hard or being somewhere I don’t want to be. Getting it right means being surrounded with the sights and sounds (or quietness) that make me feel safe – the security of my own environment, with the people I love.
Holidays remind me of long, hot, tetchy queues in airports; drunk, loud fellow passengers; mini-panics over someone misplacing tickets, passports, addresses for apartments and the like; being surrounded by people in the airport, station or on board the plane or train, who I would not normally see, behaving in ways I do not like (yes, that is a very unsubtle, unguarded comment that reveals what some would say how middle class and elitist I have clearly become but it also reflects my aversion to unpleasantness, rough edges and micro aggressions); being in big crowds – the only exception being at a Liverpool game in which all the rules of my anxieties do not apply, because I have always felt and feel safe amongst that part of my extended family; not knowing where I am going or where everything is where we arrive in the dark, in a strange place that I haven’t seen before; jet lag and tiredness and a struggle to find food that will suit everyone (especially since Miss J arrived on the holiday scene); not sleeping well (I never really sleep well but sleeping worse than normal); not being able to get my newspaper – this was always a big deal for me when much younger, less so now in the days of iPads and downloads; as a child in the days long before mobile phones, the daily trip to the telephone shop or kiosk to call home to see how my nan was and to hear my mum and her inanely ask each other’s about their respective weather; the sheer awful, gut-wrenching nervousness of flying and the jumpiness that accompanied every change in noise or movement of the aircraft; counting the number of nights I was away and counting them down each day, wishing them away and grouping them into patterns to make it seem quicker (e.g. in two days there will just be two nights left) – I still do that; just being in a place that no matter how cool, how warm, how beautiful, how luxurious, how amazing will never be as good as being at home. Safe. Secure. In control. In my happy place. My comfort zone. Home. Where the heart is. Sweet, sweet home.
The irony of this post is that I write it whilst on holiday. Not just taking a break from work for half term but away from home. Yesterday, we went from Birkdale, via Manchester airport to Paris and then by Eurostar after a long day at Disneyland Paris to London, where we are staying for a few days. I am a hypocrite, no? No. Well, maybe.
I have developed better strategies these days for managing holidays and they follow some key themes. Go to places I know and like (with the support of the rest of Team Jones). Stay in the same accommodation – this is our third time in the same apartment in West London – round the corner from where we used to live. Familiar. Write when I am away – this is such a settler for me. Let the train take the strain, avoiding flying and airports where possible. Bring as much home stuff as possible for comfort – this sometimes includes my own tea pot (I know weird!) and tea bags. Keep as much day to day routine as possible, including exercise, getting the newspaper from the local shop and listening to Radio 4. Recreate as much of home whilst away as possible and don’t get down on myself for being down and missing home.
All that said, I would have given you a week’s wages, a big clock or all the tea in China to have not gone away this week and just stayed at home. But life isn’t just about me and what I want. I am part of a team. I am not an island, like High Grant in About a Boy. I am lucky to have this time with my two wonderful life partners; my amazing wife and daughter. I am embracing the time with them; trying hard to reduce my anxieties and stresses and managing the situation in my head.
I am also helping myself by counting the days. Just two nights and three days to go. In one day, there will be just one night left. Then home. Then safe again.