After the Adventure, the Rough Landing
So I’m fresh back from a long-anticipated trip to Universal Studios and Disney World with one of my best friends.
Did you know you can request a pixie-dusting when you’re in the Magic Kingdom? It’s free, relatively not well known and it’s the souvenir that keeps on giving. I still have glitter in my heart and also in my hair, literally, because that stuff gets everywhere.
I’ve been home since Monday, which, if I’m being honest, I was ready to do, even though I simultaneously wish I lived in the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse and/or Hogsmeade in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
What can I say? I’m a fickle beast: I yearn for travel and adventure when I’m at home, and I long for the comfort of my home, my shower and my dog while I’m away. I am ready to eat some clean, homemade food again, and also find that I have a hankering for the richness of eating out.
Whenever someone’s been away, we tend to ask them how the trip was and what were the highlights. We’ll joke that we’re living vicariously through them, even though I suspect we’re mostly not really joking all that much.
What we don’t talk about as much is what comes after the vacation. In my circle of friends and colleagues, I can probably count on one hand the people for whom asking “How was the trip?” is almost always followed by, “How is the re-entry going?”.
Because here’s the thing: returning to “normal” life after an exciting, adventurous or enjoyable excursion can take some settling into, physically, emotionally and spiritually. After any heightened experience, there’s an adjustment period that follows in which we may find ourselves feeling bored, disappointed or deflated with our normal, day-to-day lives, even if our lives seemed pretty great before we left.
The post-travel blues are a real thing, even if we tend to ignore it until it slaps us in the face, which, in my experience, it merrily does.
And it feels extra tricky, because I don’t know about you, but I feel like no one wants to hear me whine about my sad-to-be-back feelings when I’ve been fortunate enough to go away on a trip that I know for a fact many others wish they could have taken.
I’m not just making this up, or projecting a fear that others don’t have space for my post-travel blues. When I’ve shared my re-entry struggles, or post-adventure sorrow (yes, a part of us grieves what we no longer are experiencing), I’ve heard a lot of, “Well, at least you got to go…” or “But you’re so lucky that you get to…”.
That’s not so helpful to me when I’m feeling that way. I don’t need to be chastised. I need to be heard and understood where I am and as I am.
Generally, I find it’s the ones who haven’t a lot of room for their own emotions who tend to not have much room for mine, either.
So I keep my not-perfectly-cheerful-and-awesome-and-therefore-not-welcome-to-me-or-to-others feelings in, hiding them away because they feel wrong to have and I feel wrong to have them, which then leads to feelings of guilt and shame, on top of the sadness and disillusionment I’m feeling.
What a nice welcome home. Imagine that banner strung across the mantle.
Just because you have some post-vacation blues doesn’t mean you’re not grateful for the life you have, or that you’re selfish because you are missing the luxuriousness of your time away, for which you should only and evermore be nothing but grateful and eternally satisfied.
Uh, no thanks. If you’re having a rough time landing back in your home life, this just means you’re a human. And it means you likely had a really great vacation or experience. The more we were anticipating the trip, looking forward to it and luxuriating in the planning of it, the more stark reality can seem on the other side.
The thing is, this is the way of life. Most highs are followed by lows. Most expansions are followed by contractions. Mountains are joined by valleys and plateaus. Even positive experiences that are charged with emotion can leave us feeling bereft or even depressed on the other side. Not very much in Nature is unchanging and neither are we. Even the mightiest mountains are in a constant state of growing and shrinking away, in their time (and sometimes simultaneously).
Think of post-partum depression, or Baby Blues, if we want to pretty it up a little and make it sound more palatable and less serious, which I think is a sign of our unwillingness to allow the full spectrum of our or anyone else’s emotional experience. Life after graduation: what happens now? Isn’t something amazing supposed to happen? Getting back to real life after a wedding or honeymoon. The week after Christmas, or the months of January through April, for that matter if you live somewhere where winter is cold and wet, like I do.
Adding to all of this is the fact that it’s likely that after a big trip or big change, it’s likely that your well-being is at least a little depleted. We often joke about needing a vacation after a vacation, but in every joke, there’s a shred of truth. Between all the excitement and disruption to our normal routines, plus the energetic costs of traveling, let alone jet lag, fatigue is totally normal. You’ve been out of your normal structures, adapting, learning, discovering and experiencing a literally new world of stimuli. This takes energy, even if it’s fun and exciting in the moment.
And it’s made worse by our feeling like it’s not okay to be feeling a little down when we’ve landed. We think that we should be happy and grateful. That we have no right to be feeling the way we feel, because we’re privileged and that should be good enough.
I don’t know many people who don’t feel a little (or a lot) low after an exciting, fun, or transformational experience.
We humans are capable of holding a wildly varied basket of thoughts and feelings at any given time. You can feel grateful for the experience you have had, while feeling sad that it’s over, relieved to be back home with your own shower (I mean, isn’t your own shower The Best?), while also wishing you were still away adventuring, probably to the theme song of Indiana Jones.
There is no rule about you being allowed to feel only one thing at a time. There is also no universal rule about which feelings are The Right Feelings. And other people’s discomfort with your emotions (including your own discomfort with your emotions) does not have to dictate how you should be feeling, or cause you to repress whatever emotions are there for you.
Repressing feelings doesn’t work, anyway. What we resist will persist, so avoidance isn’t usually a great tactic if you’d like to move forward to feeling anything else. We can get mired in the emotions we try to quell, because they start to fester and get louder as they attempt to escape the rooms we try to lock them into.
What does work, then, to ease what feels like a rough landing back in “real” life after a vacation or any other heightened experience?
Here’s what I’ve learned helps me:
- Rest and space, and more of both than you’d probably naturally give yourself.
- Grace. Grace. Grace. Grace for the full experience of your humanity and everyone else’s, too.
- Sharing how you are really feeling with people you trust, or letting yourself journal it all out.
- Letting structure empower you, following routines and letting your well-being be a priority (this is never not a good idea, for what it’s worth).
- Finding ways to relive and enjoy the experience you just had. Look at your photos, share memories with loved ones, revisit travel journal entries or create new ones.
- Finding and creating moments of beauty and adventure in your day-to-day life. Sure, adventure is out there, but it doesn’t always mean you have to go far and wide to be struck by novelty, beauty, awe and wonder.
And remember, this too shall pass, like it has before. Everything in its time, not ours.