There is a memory from my childhood that I have been thinking about a lot lately. My mom and I are fighting. I can’t recall what the fight is about – it was likely the result of me doing something I wasn’t supposed to, or not doing something I was supposed to, or the even more likely case that I was being an entitled asshole, which was pretty much my default state from the time I was 12 onward. At any rate, my mom has been pushed to her limit and she leaves the kitchen from where I am yelling, heads down the hallway to her bedroom and starts packing a bag.

“What are you doing?” I chase after her, demanding an answer.

She spins on her heel, stares me down and declares, “I’m running away from home!”

Now before you clutch your pearls and start casting stones at my mom, I want to clarify 3 very important points.

#1 – The human memory is incredibly unreliable. This is a fact that is well researched and documented. I would not be surprised at all if my mom read this and either a) had a completely different recall of the event or b) had no recollection of it at all and not because she didn’t remember it but because it didn’t actually happen. I admit that this is entirely possible.

#2 – I have an incredible mother. She paused her teaching career to stay home and raise 3 kids. She read to me every night when I was small and is single handedly responsible for my love of books. She coached my baseball and ringette teams, hand made every single halloween costume I ever wore (including a very memorable Oscar The Grouch), and kept my brothers and I, as well as all of the neighbourhood kids, filled with homemade cookies, buns and dill pickles. My mom supported all of my artistic endeavours – singing, playing the organ and the trumpet and acting in the community play – which meant that she had to listen to me sing, play the organ and the trumpet and act in the community play. I swear she was at every single basketball and volleyball game I ever played regardless of what podunk small town Saskatchewan she had to drive hours to get to. She also put up with a lot of my bullshit. Like, A LOT.

#3 – I did not start out writing this post with that particular reminiscence in order to point out where my mom fell short or to lament my childhood. I have been thinking more and more about this particular memory because now, more than ever, I identify with my mother’s declared desire to run away from home. In fact, it’s a sentiment that I have been fantasizing about quite regularly as of late.

Here’s a handful of stones. Fire at will.

The Truth

As I suspect was the case for my mother all those years ago, I don’t actually want to run away, nor do I have any intention of ever doing so. It’s just that sometimes I just really, REALLY want to be alone. I’m not talking about the kind of alone where you steal away to the bathroom for 20 minutes to scroll through Instagram or where you spend a Sunday afternoon on the couch, book in hand with a mountain of “shoulds” (and guilt) piling up in the background. I’m talking about being 100% alone, with no one around and with zero obligations or expectations. Some people fantasize about winning the lottery or becoming famous. Not this gal. My recurring daydreams involve a secluded cabin with no internet, no cell service, no neighbours and no one to take care of but myself. Realistically I understand that I would not be happy with this situation in the long term, but for a week? Oh GAWD that sounds glorious.

As luck would have it, I happen to own a cabin. It isn’t in a remote area, it is fitted with all the amenities of a 21st century home including the internet, and I can literally see my neighbour’s window from my kitchen table but it is a place where I can go to unwind and recharge. But I’ve never been there alone. In fact, this past week I realized that I have never been anywhere, besides my own house, completely alone for any extended period of time. I figure at 42 years old, it might be time to fix that.


When I was younger I would not have been comfortable with a couple of hours of solitude, let alone several days. In my early adult years the noise of crowds and parties were an in-effective tool I used to drown out the racket of my own self-doubt, insecurity and anxiety. As long as I was surrounded by people, I didn’t have to address some of the more difficult parts of my personality (see “default state” above). But as I have matured I have come to understand that simply drowning out uncomfortable noise with louder, more uncomfortable noise is not a recipe for a life of mental stability.

As a woman who has celebrated 42 turns around the sun, I have grown appreciative of the quiet moments. With each passing year, I continue to be more comfortable with who I am and the once excruciating silence is now a welcome break. My weeks are scattered with short stretches of solitude. An hour here or an afternoon there are usually enough to allow me to suitably recharge for another day but these occasions are typically undermined by the call of responsibility and the obligations of day to day life. This is most definitely not a “Janice” problem, it’s an “adulting problem”. Folks, we live in a wild and crazy world where there are a shit ton of distractions, decisions, obligations and where most of us spend a significant amount of time “should-ing all over ourselves”. We feel guilty about the things we don’t do while simultaneously feeling bad because the things we do do (yes, I said do-do) don’t seem like enough. Before we know it, we’re answering someone’s friendly “How are you today?” with “I’m fine! Absolutely fine!” in an increasingly louder and squeakier tone (Sure, Ross. You’re fine).

Maybe you don’t share my sensation to pack a bag and leave it all behind (the audacity!) but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one currently yearning for a little slice of peace and quiet. I spend a great deal of time working with and talking to small business owners and lately, when I ask them how things are going, the responding refrain often includes words like exhausted, tired, frustrated, stuck, overwhelmed and my personal favourite…SO BUSY! It is reasonable to expect that folks in their mid-life with businesses to run and families to take care of will always feel like this to some degree. Adulting is hard after all, right?! But I got to wondering about how a person might know if they need more than a night of falling asleep while streaming back to back episodes of Ozark (not knocking Ozark – it’s bloody fantastic) to suitably recharge their batteries. The website outlines the following signs that it might be time to seriously consider some quality solitary time:

  • Irritability
  • Lack of focus
  • Social anxiety
  • Loss of interest in group outings
  • Overstimulation
  • Feeling overwhelmed

If, like me, you just hit 6/6, congratulations! Not only have you retained your status as an overachiever, but it appears that you are living your life like you’re on fire and expecting not to get burned.

Like I said earlier, I would not expect to never feel overwhelmed or irritable but I have noticed these feelings becoming more and more persistent as of late. I have been struggling to be engaged and stay focused and I have also been growing increasingly unsure of my ability to quell the storm brewing just under the surface of my well composed facade. Younger Janice would have pressed on, refusing to quit or admit she needed a break, which would have resulted in a meltdown, weeks of guilt over said meltdown, and then a self-imposed call to “put on my big girl panties” only to start the whole cycle over again. Older Janice, on the other hand, is much more self aware. Older, wiser, and dare I say, better looking, Janice knows her triggers and has the wherewithal to recognize when she is struggling and to ask for help.

So, in the spirit of keeping my business, family and mental health in tact, I shoved my guilt way down deep and made a plan to take care of myself. Armed with a stack of books, my laptop and a brand new sweat-pant onesie, I embarked the First Annual “I Think I’m Alone Now” retreat where I spent two whole days completely alone at my cabin.

The Retreat

There’s a growing sentiment that alone time has to look a certain way. You must meditate, journal, take long walks on less beaten pathways, reflect on and improve upon your shortcomings, and return an entirely new person that never yells at their kids or snaps at their partner. Remember what I said about “should-ing” all over yourself? This is not a time to make a laundry list of things you must do in order to effectively reap the benefits of your solitude. Current research supports that doing things like meditating, reading, exercising, and journalling are good for your mental health but it doesn’t mean you have to do all of those things. My completely unscientific opinion is that you should do something that makes you feel good and exactly what that looks like is different for each individual.

At the start of my two day hiatus, I put a question out on my Facebook page. I asked my friends to answer the following question:

If you had two days completely alone with no obligations or expectations, what would you do with your time?”

Here’s what people had to say – rest, eat, clean, spa, read, sleep, walk, workout, spend time outside, relax, order food, sleep in, go to the mountains, drink coffee, make art, nap, self reflection, set goals, stretch, yoga, paint, shop, watch movies, sew, run, drink bevies on a patio, get a massage, garden, watch hockey….there were many variations of the same theme (ie. sleep was a very popular choice) but also some things that were unique to each person.

This very rudimentary survey confirmed my thoughts on the whole “what should you do with your time” topic…do what makes you feel good! Making jewelry or working on remote control cars would not be my chosen methods of relaxation but it makes absolutely no difference for you what I would do. All that matters is that when you emerge from whatever form your solitude takes, you feel a renewed sense of energy, peace and the ability to re-engage with the world around you.

Here’s a quick rundown of what I got up to over my 48 hour retreat:

Day One – Sleep in, eat breakfast, drink coffee, read, journal, run 12 kms, write, read, eat lunch, drink coffee, write, read, walk, watch Stranger Things (I told you I wasn’t exactly roughing it), eat dinner, watch more Stranger Things, write, read, decide not to watch more Stranger Things because it’s kind of scary when you’re alone in a cabin, sleep.

Day Two – Sleep in, eat breakfast, drink coffee, read, watch Stranger things, body weight workout, snack, read, BNI meeting (it was the one obligation I just couldn’t let go of), eat lunch, watch Stranger Things, write, read, nap, read, write, eat popcorn for dinner, watch a movie, read, sleep.

I want to acknowledge that I did scroll through social media and I also indulged in the odd game of Toon Blast (I’m so addicted to this game that it’s embarrassing) but my screen time was significantly diminished. It’s no secret that spending excessive time on our devices is not great for our mental health but I decided no to set any hard and fast rules for what my two days would look like in this regard. This is because as a somewhat mature/somewhat self-aware adult, I have come to understand that I struggle with absolutes. Basically any deviation from “the rules” (however arbitrary they might be) is the equivalent of failure in my brain. Had I told myself I would have zero screen time, then allowing myself a quick scroll in a moment of “weakness” would have meant that I am complete and utter trash (side note – I reserve these special judgements only for myself. I would never think this about anyone else). Coming out of this experience feeling like a failure would completely negate any of the benefits I hoped to gain, so I simply decided to do what I felt like while evaluating my thoughts and feelings regularly.

The Outcome

“But I need solitude – which is to say, recovery, return to myself, the breath of a free, light, playful air.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

There is evidence that experiencing periods of voluntary solitude (not to be confused with being unwillingly isolated) can help to increase empathy and productivity, spark creativity and build mental strength (

You may also find that you will:

  • Show up better for the people in your life
  • Get smarter
  • Improve your health
  • Solve problems and optimize your life
  • Get creative “aha!” moments
  • Have more energy
  • Feel calmer and happier

(Psychology Today)

I can affirm a perfect score on this checklist post retreat (Yes! Still an overachiever)! Not only did I emerge from my solitary sanctuary mentally rested, but I was also more productive and more focused in the days that followed. Even as I write this, two weeks after my return, I find that I am still showing up better for those around me and feeling much more calm in general. Most importantly, on the days where I sense the low tremors of a scream building deep within my belly, I am able to identify it and evaluate what I might need in that moment. Instead of pulling up a seat at the bar next to my friend Overwhelm, I can give her a genial slap on the back and just walk on by. What I’m trying to say is that the entire experience, from the 48 hours away to the immediate and long lasting effects, turned out to be everything I hoped it would be.

I am calling my anti-adventure the First Annual “I Think I’m Alone Now Retreat” because it is most definitely something I plan to do on a semi-frequent basis. It turns out that for me, running away from home (for a very short period of time) is, in fact, exactly what I needed. If you’re still here you might be wondering if you should plan something like this for yourself. I’m not going to tell you what to do but I will say this….if it is something that you’ve felt like you’ve wanted to do for a while and all your other methods of self-soothing are as effective as a wet band-aid, then yes, you should absolutely treat yourself to some solitude. I wholly believe that you will not regret it. I sure didn’t.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s