More often than not, I watch people complain about the previous year from the sidelines. But, 2022 really tested me. It tested my ability to trust people, my intuition ― and ultimately, myself. I won’t say it was a year where nothing went right, but it was undoubtedly a year of disappointments and catastrophes. And it remained on brand, ending on a less-than-favorable note.
I could have let myself slip into a dark space, but that’s hard to do when you live on the beach in Mexico. Distractions had kept me from that beach the entire time I had stayed at this RV park, so I decided to change that on New Year’s Day.
I wanted to build a healthy self-care habit, so I challenged myself to walk the beach for 21 consecutive days ― no matter what. I made it to 26 days before I finally stopped. Here’s what happened.
I forced myself to spend a lot of time facing uncomfortable thoughts without distractions.
I travel alone, so you might think I wouldn’t need two-hour walks on the beach to get in touch with negative thought patterns. However, I have had an incredible skill for compartmentalizing my thoughts for as long as I have known myself. I file negative thoughts away into a box, and I only take them out when enough time has passed that I can examine them without them triggering me.
After 33 years of using this as my go-to coping mechanism, I wanted to try something different. I confronted those negative thoughts head-on. I am not, by nature, an emotional person, so there were no tears or depression. Even so, there were moments of deep regret and maybe even a tinge of self-loathing.
I learned to become comfortable with my discomfort.
When you live as freely as I do, you have the fantastic privilege of only doing what you want. I have no husband, no children, and I exchanged employers for clients. It has been a long time since someone made me do anything, particularly something I didn’t want to do. Consequently, when things become uncomfortable, I am free to walk away. I can leave and never set foot near that trigger again.
These beach walks were free of distractions, so I had no choice but to live with the bad thoughts of disappointment and wasted time. After 26 days of embracing that discomfort and my healing process, I developed a skill I never had. I learned to become comfortable with discomfort ― without packing it into a box for later.
I learned that I am an incredibly unemotional person and that I don’t like it as I much as I used to.
I don’t know what made me the way I am. I have often asked myself this question and puzzled over it in therapy. Both therapists I’ve had told me there is absolutely nothing wrong with me and that the world needs more people who act based on logic. But there is a part of me that wishes I felt as deeply as others did. And, I recognized that on these walks.
Sure, I felt something, but nothing compared to what I think I should have. Within a week, the pain behind the shield wall had subsided. I confessed to my therapist that I was disappointed and that a part of me desperately wanted it to return. Because, for a moment, I felt something, and I recognized how unbelievably numb I have been to so many things in my life.
I built deep and vulnerable relationships where it mattered.
Before my last Great Disappointment, I reconnected with one of my friends from Jamaica. Like me, she has immigrated to another country and planted some roots. I initially reached out to her because she seemed like the opposite of me, and I wanted advice from someone who was the least likely to agree with me. I wanted to talk to someone who wouldn’t be afraid to tell me I was wrong.
Well, the joke is on me. We are certainly different in many ways, but we have marveled over how much we have in common. We have shared some of our deepest and most vulnerable thoughts, which I don’t believe I have ever disclosed to anyone else.
And, throughout our deepening friendship, we have rubbed off on each other. I have encouraged her to vocalize her needs more often, while she has taught me to find peace with not always having the answers.
I became more productive and finished work two hours early despite the additional two hours on the beach.
I finished my work by 10 PM almost every night. Before this, I would be up until midnight or even 2 AM working. How did this change happen? Sometimes, our most significant distractions are our thoughts. Even when we compartmentalize them, they often leave a faint echo that pulls at our attention when we need to focus most.
Some people meditate to control their thoughts. That doesn’t work for me. Instead of meditating, I gave my thoughts room to roam. I had no desire to reign them in. After a while, there were days when the only words in my head were the lyrics to the songs in my headphones ― nothing else.
It’s easy to concentrate on work after that.
I learned that I can be awfully stubborn and headstrong when committing to something.
I know what you’re imagining when I tell you I’m taking long walks on the beach in Mexico. You’re probably envisioning white-sand beaches and turquoise waters. The beaches at Ensenada are anything but that. To make matters worse, it rained for days on end in January. There were days when I would look outside and see the rain and wonder, should I sit this one out?
Yet, day after day, rain or shine, I asked the guard to open the gate leading down to the beach. When the tide came in too far, I would pace the balcony overlooking the beach for 45 minutes to two hours. Sometimes more. I don’t doubt that they questioned my sanity a time or two. They could, after all, see me in the cameras, pacing on the balcony in the rain.
What sane person does that? Maybe not many, but that was my commitment to reaching and eventually surpassing those 21 days.
It took physical illness for me to break my commitment.
So, if I felt so committed to my goal, what finally got me to stop walking for miles each day? On the 26th day, I woke up with sniffles. I had walked in the rain for hours the evening before, but I had done that so often without consequence that I thought nothing of it. I took to the beach that day, and my symptoms worsened. Soon, not only did I have a terrible cold, but I was losing my voice.
I skipped my first day at the beach but felt so bad about it that I went back. Returning to the beach robbed me of all my progress, ditching the cold. I couldn’t go back for a week. During that time, 80 people moved into the villa next to the park, ruining the tranquility and privacy I enjoyed.
Now, it is time for me to leave for Spain, where I might revisit this habit along the coastline of Andalusia. Will it have the same profound effect it did in Mexico? Only time will tell.