As a human being, one needs to get away from one’s daily life, no matter how fulfilling and happy it is, or how stressful and difficult it is, and recharge one’s batteries. One of the most important things my supervisor/teacher ever said was, “As a therapist, you need to take vacations, and make them long enough so you don’t burn out.” As actions speak louder than words, he also always took the summer off, granted, part of it involved him teaching in other places and travelling to Europe to work and teach workshops, but a good chunk of it involved going somewhere with his family and making a lot of his own art.
So as a supervisor myself, I am now modeling to my supervisees how important it is to take a good long enough vacation. (And of course modeling the same thing to my patients, but as a supervisee of other therapists, I have the unique opportunity of giving them the same anti-burnout message that my supervisor gives me annually.)
One of the most important facts about taking a vacation is knowing the difference between visiting versus having a real vacation, whether you go somewhere far, near, or right here. A staycation is adequate if you absolutely cannot afford to go anywhere. However, when you take a staycation, it’s a good idea to act like you went away. Check your emails and social media at most once a day at the beginning of the day so the rest of the day is internet free. Try taking a vacation from TV and Netflix. If you want to watch a movie, go to a movie theater, or better yet, if you live in NYC, go to one of those outdoor movie nights they now have here in various neighborhoods or to a drive in movie, or to theater outdoors. Take a picnic to the park. Go on outings without your cellphone or with your cellphone turned off. Catch up on all the cultural events and shows that everyone thinks you go to all the time because you live in NYC, the capital of museums, theater, etc. but of course when you are working, you are too busy or tired to catch up on culture. Take the ferry to Governor’s Island and rent a bicycle for a day or half day. Go to the beach. In short, do vacation-like things that you can actually do right here in NYC. Take yourself out of your comfort zone and go to the far ends of boroughs or areas of NYC you are not familiar with. Never been to Coney Island? Get your towel and an umbrella and spend a day out there on the beach. The water is cold but clean; I just went there this past weekend! There is something very vacation like about taking the subway to the very last subway stop on one of the subway lines, and my favorite last subway stop in New York is the Coney Island stop. So those are some basic rules or tips about having a “Staycation” that feels really good and relaxing.
Another big vacation tip: Going to weddings or family reunions or other similar events outside of the city in which you live absolutely does not constitute a vacation. Ditto visiting any family members, no matter how close you are to them, unless they lives somewhere exotic, and you are primarily going there to have your vacation in that location and stay with them for convenience sake. Sounds cold, but visiting family, at least 80% of the time, just is not the same thing as taking a real vacation. Indeed, many people report that visiting family members helped them realize that they needed a vacation upon their return!
Contrary to what some of our patients think, (ie. It’s August in NYC, doesn’t that mean all the therapists are away for vacation?), therapists often have a great deal of difficulty taking a vacation, even though it is great to model for one’s patients and supervisees that vacations are essential to being a good therapist and avoiding burn out. Often we are in jobs that only give us a few weeks of paid vacation a year. If we are in private practice, it is often a hardship to take an unpaid vacation as one loses that income and still has all the same bills to pay, plus extra vacation expenses.
I admit that for many years, I have avoided vacations and used my dog as an excuse, as it was hard to find anyone with whom to leave an old dog with various medical issues, daily medication and lots of other complicated requirements. Eventually towards the last year of his life, I was able to leave him with trusted relatives with several pages of instructions around how to take care of him, and even take him with me on vacations that involved driving to destinations. By then I had gone many years without taking any real vacation. Last year, over the summer, I took one week of vacation to go to a lovely cabin in the woods upstate. At present, this is the ideal vacation for me: to go somewhere where the auditory stimulation consists of frogs croaking and other nature sounds, and the visual stimulation in the environment involves seeing the sky with only trees in the way, and nightly staring for several hours at a big lovely crackling fire. Basically, as a native New Yorker, my current requirements for a real vacation involve getting away from urban life altogether and being somewhere in nature without much to do besides the basics. That constitutes a real vacation for me, and I confess, it usually takes a few days for me to settle into vacation mode and relax. Last year, I learned that one week away was definitely not enough, so this year we are going away from June 28th until July 16th late afternoon. That is 18 days! A big first for me. I don’t think I have taken such a long vacation since I was in college! It results in about two weeks or so of lost income, but of course it is worth it. And it is very timely, as I notice in little ways that I really need a vacation… I won’t go into details, but about at least a week ago, I started counting down the days until vacation with my young daughter.
It’s never too late to have a more healthy attitude about vacations, as my example proves. (ie. It is not ok to skip a vacation; one must plan at least one vacation per year, ideally at least two weeks long, but at least one week if you absolutley cannot afford more than that.) I am planning to do what we did last summer for one week, but just have so much more time to do it, and more time away from everything else in my life!
Also a small note to all creative arts therapists out there: I think a vacation also involves bringing your art supplies or musical instruments or whatever you need to feed your creative self. As an artist, I try to do some form of art making daily, but life sometimes gets in the way. A vacation for me always means pack a lot of art materials, more than you expect to use, so you have lots of choices of media. It’s the perfect opportunity to do whatever you want and straying from your current series of work or media is a great thing to try to do…
A vacation is a time to recharge one’s batteries, spend time with people one lives with and loves, or if you go alone, a time for enjoyment of solitude and even adventure. Having a family, I know the vacation will be good for me to have time to really appreciate my family and not have the usual daily routine and time away working, etc. What would I rather do right now than, for example, set up a table in the backyard near the pond with lots of fun art supplies and make fun art projects with my four year old? And make fun projects of my own alongside her, as that was also what we did last year, and I definitely believe that there is no substitute for making your own personal art. Making art with other vacation companions is just icing on the cake. Even when she was only three, I modeled for her that we could do art together but she could also have her own canvas to do whatever she wanted on it and so could I.
Or all go together on the paddle boat on the small pond to watch very small frogs. You need to stop the boat and look really hard as the frogs can recede into the green grass, reeds, but once you get adjusted you can see them as well as the odd crayfish. Or watch my daughter tend to the garden she planted last year by the pond and add more flowers and plants to it… And of course, the fire watching and star and moon and sky gazing. A great big dose of nature, quiet, peacefulness, away from all the noise, stimulation and crazy energy of New York City.
It will be interesting to see how it is to stay an extra ten days or so. I’m assuming when I come back, I will not feel that dissatisfaction of having had just too short a vacation, the “I just got used to being there and relaxing and suddenly had to come back,” feeling. And when I come back, I can take with me the vacation feeling and apply it to my life over the summer, so that I go to the beach on Coney Island or somewhere nearby at least once a week and find other fun inexpensive ways to remind myself that the summer is not over just because it is July 16 and I am back in downtown NYC. Another important lesson learned from taking a good and long enough vacation. Year round, it is important to get that same feeling in smaller doses, and contrary to popular belief, New York City, including all boroughs, has a lot of vacation stuff to offer for day trips etc.!!!
So goodbye until I return. I imagine I will not post on this blog during my vacation, as I am not even sure how much internet access I will have, and maybe a vacation from blogging is a good idea. I may still write ideas for this blog and posts that I can work on when I come back. I trust all my old and new readers will still be there mid-July when I return to my life as an art therapist and artist and New Yorker!