The old saying goes “wherever you are there you are.” However, as human beings we resist or deny this reality. We challenge this truth by finding ways to obfuscate the pain and discomfort of being with our unpleasant thoughts. Symbolically speaking, it is natural to avoid touching a hot stove, knowing that you can be burned. People take mini vacations from their mind for the very same reason――to avoid the pain or the sting of their mental lives. The unbearable sense that being with one’s own thoughts can be so overwhelming and they welcome the chance, even for a minute, to be free. Any chance to get away from having to face one’s internal angst is sought after.
Through practicing psychoanalysis, I witness the way that people want consciously and many times unconsciously to be free from their minds. Thinking and feeling are states of mind they would rather avoid. Obliterating one’s cluttered mind can take many shapes and form. The most widespread and fastest solution to numbing pain is the use of alcohol, drugs and other behaviors. Some use obsessional thinking, eating and shopping and others use cell phones, computers and television for a quick escape. I have seen self-mutilation like cuticle peeling, plucking hairs or obsessing about one’s health can also be understood as a way of self-soothing. These mechanisms can be thought of as locating the problem somewhere else as a way for the person not to think about what is really troubling them.
Sayings like “TGIF” and “isn’t it happy hour somewhere” speak to this culturally held viewpoint or fantasy that we can escape mental discomfort. Picture a woman named Kathy who was molested beginning at age 5. When the abuse was discovered Kathy was placed in foster care. Fast forward to Kathy as an adult woman. She has had serial relationships all ending in domestic violence and has difficulty trusting or forming strong attachments. Everyday Kathy contends with endless conversations in her mind about how she is to blame for her circumstances. The constant mental racket is unavoidable. She eagerly awaits quitting time so that she can check out with alcohol and a variety of drugs-anything to numb the noise. Picture Lindsay who was always a straight A student and head of the cheerleading team. In her sophomore year of high school her parents divorced. In her effort to deal with her pain she began restricting her food intake and became Anorexic. The counting calories serves as a mind-numbing exercise to replace feeling “out of control”.
So, you ask why a staycation rather than a vacation? Generally speaking, unwanted thoughts and pain catch up with us-one way or another. Sleep disturbances, relational problems, professional difficulties and physical health are some of the things that are affected by avoidance. It is inevitable that at some point in our lives we must face the pain, if we are going to grow. It is only through going “into your thoughts and feelings,” moment by moment that you can develop your strength. Pack your thoughts for your staycation and unpack your escape route. I encourage you to flex your mental muscles and to realize you have more resiliency than you think.