I’m on count down. Annual leave minus 10 days. If all goes to plan (no local lockdown!) I’ll be going away; an escape to the country, to the coast; a relatively unpopulated area that I’ve spent a couple of weeks exploring most summers for the last few years. A different place to stay this year, but the same familiar footpaths and sandy beaches, the same views, the same clear air and turquoise blue sea, the same wildlife to spot from the same viewpoint, the same coconut ice-cream, the same rock pools to explore and streams to paddle in, the same vibrant sunsets on the vast horizon out over the ocean. 

I love travelling; something that has been curtailed to a degree over the last few years with my children being small, and even more so the last few months due to covid. I love discovering new places, meeting new people, experiencing new and vibrant cultures and getting hopelessly lost in a new city. This year however, I’m longing for the sameness that my planned trip will give me. I’m desperate to be able to step in to the familiar, slowed down world, free from hustle and speed; to press pause on the rest of life for a week or two, knowing that the only decisions I’m going to need to make will be about ice cream flavours (if they haven’t got my favourite coconut on the menu!), which book to read next or whether to go for a swim now or later. Time to really ‘be with’ my rapidly growing children, to reconnect, listen and laugh together. Time to ‘be with’ my partner and my parents. Time to ‘be with’ myself; to spend time ‘doing’ nothing if that’s what I choose, or instead decide to push myself physically hiking the miles of coastal footpath that will be on my doorstep. 

I’ve thought long and hard about whether we should be going away this summer; whether we will be welcomed by the locals or whether there will be a gritted teeth tolerance as they silently worry about the risks of tourists bringing the virus to their towns and villages. This is a holiday we have had booked since the end of 2019 – way before the term covid became a daily household phrase. I’ve watched myself in dismay at news footage of crowded beaches and packed tourist hotspots. I don’t want to be one of those people; in truth crowded beaches have never been my thing anyway and I’d much rather spend my time exploring a desolate headland than queuing for a roller coaster at a theme park! 

Our plans will adapt, our daily routine will change, the tourist hot spots will be avoided. Taking our family dog with us for the first time this year means I’ve already worked out when we are allowed on our favourite beaches – before 10am or after 6pm sounds fine to me; we will probably have the golden sand to ourselves at those hours. Maybe we’ll embrace continental ways; a long siesta after lunch back at our cottage after an early morning of exploring before the days crowds descend, and then an evening ‘out’ once the majority have packed up their beach towels, buckets and spades and headed back home.  

The kids and I have started our packing list. More games and things to do, together and individually. Card games, art equipment, puzzles and books- those things we haven’t found time for over the last manic months; things we can do from a deserted cliff top path, far away from crowds and covid; activities to help us truly wind down and relax if that’s what the day requires, and activities to help dissipate pent up ten year old boy’s energy – although to be honest an intense ‘seaweed fight’ generally has the desired effect!

I feel guilty writing all this down. It seems indulgent, frivolous almost. A kick in the face to those who have had overseas trips cancelled, who can’t travel to visit relatives they haven’t seen for months, who’ve had to postpone weddings and family celebrations, who have had work trips abroad pulled from under them with no notice, have lost jobs and seen financial hardship. I know how fortunate I am to have this opportunity to get away. I also know how much I need these couple of weeks. Time to recover and refill the bucket; to recharge ahead of whatever the winter months in ED are going to throw my way. Time to turn off my brain from the constant thoughts of what next and what if. Time to be anonymous for a few short hours, uncontactable, invisible. Time to build back up my memory bank of happy times, ready to recall when times are tough.I know this time away will allow me to return to work rested and ready to enjoy my job despite the challenges that are bound to prevail. 

A recent tweet from Andrew Tagg, when he describes a talk on wellbeing he was asked to give to a group of new doctors, cautions of the tendency to speak in platitudes (yoga, green smoothies – you get the idea) and instead asks a question. 

‘What is the r0 for kindness? How many people do you need to ‘infect’ with kindness for it to be passed on?’ 

He describes ways in which we can transmit kindness; simple things such as using peoples names and smiling. He then states that if we really want to transmit kindness, we need to look out for one another; that wellbeing is not all about me, me, me, but in fact about us, us, us. He recognises that although we are all aware that incivility costs lives, there may be underlying confounders to an individuals behaviour and suggests that understanding these before casting aspersions is important if we truly want to ‘be kind’. Some would say that people should be able to leave behind ‘personal baggage’ when entering the workplace and act professionally at all times, but recognising that the below the line behaviour you may experience in a colleague at work may be confounded by their difficult home life, hunger, tiredness, loneliness or stress does make it much easier to respond with kindness rather than angst. To be able to do that isn’t always easy. The same can be said to how we react to the different behaviours displayed by our patients. Understanding the why, although not excusing verbal abuse, can help.

For me wellbeing is having a wide path to navigate each day rather than a narrow tightrope that I risk falling from.  The first is fun and exciting; wide enough to share with others with room to rest, the latter treacherous and frightening with room for only my own thoughts and fears. I know that for me to be infectiously kind requires a wide path, and that when my own wellbeing is in need of replenishment my ability to respond with kindness and compassion is severely curtailed. The wriggle room just isn’t there, and if I’m forced to use the little space on the tightrope I have to deal with work situations with kindness, when all I really what to do is scream wtf, then something else has to give. 

So, annual leave minus ten days is not just about me. It may be indulgent and frivolous, but it’s also vitally important; my way of making sure that my path stays wide enough to be able to navigate work with the kindness and compassion needed. Wide enough to stop me overbalancing, or even worse, come crashing down.