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Chattahoochee greenway trail

Everyone Needs a Moment of Escape

When I was a child, I used to have a simple, recurring fantasy about escaping from my mundane life.  I would imagine walking down a long dirt road or an abandoned railroad wearing nothing but the clothes on my back.  Even my feet would be bare as I dangled my sandals from two fingers and let the ground wear away my soles.

If I was having trouble expressing myself to my family (as you do when you’re six or seven), I would sit beside my bedroom window facing the backyard and think, “I could sneak through the sliding door, over the fence, and down the hill to the main road.  Nobody would notice me.  I could disappear into the night, and I would be…free.”

Of course I never did it.  My plan never formulated beyond reaching the main road.  Beside that, I feared my father and respected my mother too much to believe I would actually get away.

As I grew into adolescence and my introversion solidified, the need to escape intensified.  “Cool” high school parties called to me; though I felt compelled to attend them, I found the elements that made them up unexciting.  The long hours exhausted me.  The endless conversion stressed me out.  Even the loud music and the drinks would slowly drill me into the ground.

The whole experience was beyond my comfort zone.  Or maybe I was too immature for it.  Perhaps the parties (and everyone involved) were part of a melody whose music I couldn’t hear.  Regardless of the reason, I wanted to leave within ten minutes of arriving–and if I’d had the means to do it, I did.

Why The Need to Escape?

The urge to escape is not a new one, for myself or a lot of individuals.  According to sources like Psychology Today and Anxiety Centre, there can be many causes to prompt wanting to leave everything behind:

  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Burnout
  • Boredom
  • Frustration
  • Over-stimulation
  • Stress

Any combination of these, of course, can further exacerbate the urge.  In my case, my childhood self wanted to leave frustrating situations.  My adolescent self was over-stimulated by my environment.

And my adult self?

Let’s just stick in the rest of the above.

Heck–let’s say “all of the above”.

Is it Healthy to Leave Everything Behind?

When attending the aforementioned parties, the urge to escape would bolt itself into my mind without any warning.  It became a demand, then a command.  I would rise from my feet (if I was sitting), murmur a generic “I’ll be right back” to whomever was most likely to hear me.  Then, I would walk away.

Sometimes, it was to an empty corner inside the house or building of said party.  Maybe a guest bedroom no one was supposed to be in, or a sky bridge connecting two hotels.  Once, I walked through a neighborhood whose roads had all but lost their paving.  None of the streetlights worked; each path lay in a heavier darkness the further I traveled from the party house.

I would be too emotionally overwhelmed to comprehend how my behavior would appear to others.  Days later, however, recollection would leave me mortified, and I would apologize to my friends and family.

I began to practice preventative meditation and learn other ways to prepare for all scenarios that would delay this “flee and flight” response, hoping that I could reduce the urges and the probabilities for embarrassing myself.

Nevertheless, my shame never dimmed the images of the dirt road or the sounds of my feet as they crunched the gravel beneath them.

How to “Escape” Appropriately

Despite my research and pre-party prevention, the desire to escape continues to return.  There have been many times when I’ve walked out on friends and family to find a quiet spot to collect myself.  When I returned to the  group 10, 15, 30 minutes later, friends would peer into my eyes, their countenances awash with curiosity, worry and fright.  Sometimes anger would flash through, and justifiably so.

I learned I had to be even more preventative to not only give myself time and allowance to step away, but to give my loved ones time to anticipate my removal from the grid.  Case in point, this vacation.

Other options to utilize escape time:

  • Plan regular vacations, including random three-day weekends.
  • Take walks in nature (parks, botanical gardens, etc) where you can’t see or hear the sounds of the civilization.
  • Embrace the silence after arriving home from work or after you put the kids to bed.
  • Leave parties when you want to–not until you feel obligated.

I think half the battle is giving ourselves permission to escape, if only for a moment.  If we don’t give ourselves that chance, then we remain stuck in a loop where we believe we don’t deserve peace.  And we do.

Peace of mind = peace of soul.

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