I held my first Writers Wellness Retreat two weeks ago on March 12, 2017. I was going to write a post about it but felt so relieved and gratified afterwards that I decided to let it go for a while. Plus, Marcus and I were busy preparing for his dad’s memorial.
Then, a few days after Mr. Mark’s memorial, I saw the latest post on Black Cloud Reflections, a blog by Jeanie Boawn, one of the writers in my retreat. I was floored after reading Jeanie’s post and almost cried. She had encapsulated everything I wanted to say about the retreat and more. I read it aloud to Marcus and after, I said, “She got it. She really got it.”
I realized that I didn’t need to write a post about the retreat; I just needed to see if Jeanie would let me share hers. Thankfully, she said, yes. Here it is.
My planner this year did not list writing as a major priority for me. I also didn’t intend to take last year off from writing, but I did, whether to avoid dealing with tough emotions or just to focus on getting more things done around the house and yard (both, I think).
But then I felt called back to it, literally and figuratively. Literally by Peg Cheng, as noted in the post linked above, and figuratively because it felt right and good again. I’m not trying to escape anything, nor am I trying to solve all my problems, or decipher all of life’s riddles; I’m just seeing where the process takes me. That’s a big step forward for me.
To celebrate this progress and to push myself a bit outside my comfort zone, I signed up for Peg’s Writers Wellness Retreat, which took place a week ago. Getting up early on the first day of daylight savings time to attend a writing workshop – you know I had to be excited. This was my first writing workshop ever, but I knew it would be a rewarding experience with Peg running it, even though I don’t really see myself as a “writer.”
(I actually had a laugh talking about this with my therapist a few days ago, when I described how I introduced myself at the retreat, that I occasionally blogged about being a stroke survivor caregiver as my entry into the writerly club, but that I wasn’t really a blogger, just someone who posts things on a blog. After pointing out the illogic of what I’d said (in a kind way, truly), my therapist said it’s a very common tactic to not see ourselves as [fill in the blank] until we are being paid to do it. Her suggestion was to do what actors in Hollywood do, introduce yourself as an actor who is currently employed as a barista. I’m not quite there yet, but will keep thinking it over.)
During the workshop, Peg read to us from books on creativity, self-care, and writing (it was amazing to sit in a group and be read to, something most of us haven’t experienced since we were kids). After listening, we did 10 minute meditations, followed by writing based on prompts Peg gave us.
We only got 2 minutes to write on each prompt, and it was interesting how some of these intervals went by like a flash while others seemed to drag on. The draggy ones tended to raise issues I really didn’t feel like thinking about, like what it means if I focus only on my needs. After writing on four or five prompts, we had the opportunity to share our responses. I typically find this a completely horrifying idea, but there was no feedback involved, we all just listened to one another.
There were three cycles following this format throughout the day, with each segment having a different focus: self-care, fear & creativity, and priorities. Toward the end of the day, we all did qigong together (led by Kim Ivy), another first for me, which I really enjoyed.
So it was a wonderful and fulfilling day, and I can’t thank Peg enough for organizing it and doing such a great job of leading it. Oh, and she gave us stickers and chocolate bars with pop-rocks in them, both of which my inner kid just loved.
After reviewing all my responses as a collection later, I realized that having introduced myself as a caregiver, I mostly wrote about my caregiver life and responsibilities. Obviously, this event and its aftermath changed our lives dramatically, but I realized how much I’ve allowed it to define me and our lives. It’s not that I shouldn’t talk about such a momentous part of our lives, but that I need not let it be THE focus, as though it’s the only thing about me and us that matters. Doug’s health and my changed role have created new limitations, but not necessarily boundaries. It’s as though I reached the shore of a river and decided there’s just no way across, so might as well stay on this side forever.
Taking that in was hard. It opened up a lot of emotions that took me several days to process. I found myself missing our dogs in a physical and palpable way – I swear I could close my eyes and smell their doggy smells. Going to work on Tuesday was hard, because I wanted to stay in my shell and not have to engage with others. But part of my promise to myself this year was that I would stay open, be curious and have compassion for myself, try not to allow myself to shut down completely. So I made notes in my planner, found things to be grateful for, went for walks in the very rare moments without rain, emailed friends, and had a relaxing happy hour with some of my colleagues one evening.
One of the greatest takeaways from the retreat was not just how important it is to take care of yourself and nurture your creativity (and put fear in its place), but also that self-care doesn’t only mean getting a massage or taking a bath (both wonderful things, of course), but that self-care can mean paying attention to your emotions and how you handle them. By paying attention to what I wrote last weekend, and how it made me feel, I realized that I want to broaden my definition of myself and what is possible.
Now I just need to figure out if I jump in the river, hop from one boulder to the next, or find a log bridge to balance my way across.
Thank you, Jeanie. You have what it takes to traverse this river. Wellness and Self-Care for Writers was originally posted on March 19, 2017 at Black Cloud Reflections, a blog that features Jeanie’s beautiful, thoughtful essays on life, writing, and more.
Photos by Marcus Donner.