It’s a balmy 22 degrees Celsius (71.6 Fahrenheit) at 8:00 am in Albufeira, Portugal. The rest of the guests are still asleep as I roll my towel out on the deck of our villa for morning yoga. The warm Mediterranean breeze whispers through the palms and the birds serenade the cerulean sky. One of the resident feral cats’ creeps up from the garden and sits on the stairs, watching me as I put my body through its daily ritual. After my morning exercise, my husband and I will sit down to a leisurely breakfast, do some reading by the pool, take a swim, then go for a walk to purchase some groceries for lunch and dinner. It’s another lazy day in Albufeira.
From the moment we arrived at this magical place, my RA took its own vacation from my body. The climate here is warm and dry, and there’s a special, almost healing energy here, that is far different from the frantic, manic energy back home. I have always known that warmer, drier weather reduces the impact of my RA, and I had no doubt that this was the effect I was feeling here in the south of Portugal.
I dream of moving to a warmer climate, not just for RA, but because I love the sun and heat, and find the beauty of a desert terrain intoxicating. Living in a lush rainforest climate has its own splendid beauty, but there’s no doubt the changeable weather and weeks of rain takes a toll on me, mentally and physically. I had always planned to move to a drier place in the future, where I believed my RA would be less present – but would it?
I assumed it was the weather that sent my RA packing, but my friend and writing buddy offered a different observation. During our weekly chat, she asked an interesting question: if I lived here in Albufeira, where the weather is more agreeable, would my RA really go on a permanent vacation? Or would it return once I had resumed a normal routine? It was a good question, and one I didn’t really think about. Does RA only go on vacation when you do? Is it the break from ordinary life that gives one a break from RA, and if your vacation morphed into an ordinary life would RA still have a strong presence?
When on vacation, I am away from the stress and pressure of deadlines and work. There is a certain leisure on vacation, which is missing from ordinary life. Stress is one of many stimulants of an RA flare and it’s usually the first thing to fade on vacation. So, for me the question becomes: how do I embrace the therapeutic energy of vacation and merge it into my everyday life?
We easily fall into that laidback relaxed space when we are away from home, but there’s no reason we can’t bring that same energy into our daily life. The first step in bringing that calming energy to life at home is to take breaks and recognize that you deserve those breaks. It can be hard to step away from family and work life when it’s always staring you in the face, but there are minutes in the day we can spare to take some time just for ourselves. Stepping outside for a few minutes on our breaks, carving out time for reading or watching a favourite show, spending alone time at a favorite café just watching the world go by, going for a walk – just 10 minutes a day has the power to revive the sparkle that nourishes our life.
RA may go on vacation when we do but by taking a few moments a day to put down the precarious plate that permeates our minds with the things we “have to do” and shifting our mindset to the things we love to do can make all the difference in how we feel about ourselves and our lives.
Take a breath, watch the sky, make room for the little things that bring you joy – weave the threads of a holiday retreat into the daily fabric of your life, and send RA packing without you.
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J.G. Chayko is a writer, actress, and international arthritis advocate who’s been involved in theatre for more than 30 years and has published poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.