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The hardest thing about coming back after a vacation is getting the brain working again. It was only a week, and I’ve already forgotten how to type, spell, compose prose. What is punctuation? I gently slap my cheeks to wake up and remember how this thing is supposed to work.

But I’m back! It’s a slower, less productive, and slightly distracted pace. I’m going to ease back in so I don’t shock my body into performing another system shutdown. Why risk it? I’m not really in the mood to risk all that much right now.

It’s the opposite of jumping into a recently thawed mountain lake. Have you ever done that? It’s April, and the snowpacks are melting. The runoff mixes with water that still has patches of ice. It’s well below frigid, so let’s go for a swim.

Take a deep breath, run down the dock screaming, and cannonball into the glacial lake. You forget how to breathe. You forget how to think. You can feel every cell in your body rush through your veins. You’re on fire! Then you come out of the water, and you’re shaking uncontrollably. You temporarily lose all ability to control any part of your anatomy. 

Have I done it? Yes, it was an incredible experience, and I’ve never felt more alive. Do I recommend it? Legally, I should tell you to consult a professional before trying something so blatantly stupid. At least bring dry clothes. That’s a mistake you don’t want to make, trust me.

It’s a great memory, but I don’t want to do it again. More pertinently, I don’t want it to play out in other parts of my life. Like writing, for example. It’s been a while, and I need to ease back in. A couple posts a week instead of jumping back into my routine. Maybe it would be a good idea to let my mind wake-up, and wait for my life to calm down a bit.

Despite taking a vacation, life carried on with its shenanigans and hijinks. Despite my best intentions, it wasn’t all movies and hiking boots. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could put everything on pause? Ah, just because you take a break from life, it doesn’t mean life will take a break from you. 

If only it would give it a rest! But how would we learn anything? 

Oh geez, do you have to make a life lesson out of everything? Learn something? Not everything has to teach us something. Unless, of course, we’re open to learning, and then anything is a chance to grow. Besides, it’s kinda what I do here. Which means I’m about to turn this moment into a head-scratcher. 

Something happened recently, and it got me thinking about a valuable tool that I often ignore. Something we all have, costs nothing, but it’s one of the most undervalued resources we possess. 

Oh, the suspense! 

During my brief sabbatical, there was a medical emergency in my family. It wasn’t me! For once, I wasn’t the one rushed to the hospital in a panicked frenzy. And now that I type the words, I can honestly say that I’m not comforted by that fact. Actually, I would prefer it if it had been me. The only thing worse than getting sick is watching someone you love get sick.

It’s the worst feeling in the world! That moment of fear and complete helplessness is a gut punch. I’d rather be the one on the gurney, in hospital, with tubes in places. At least I‘d have some control over what’s happening. I would know what’s happening!

Sitting by a telephone waiting for news? Nope, give me the medical emergencies and leave my family alone, please and thank you.

It’s even worse now, with the pandemic. I couldn’t go to the hospital, and I can’t visit. Everything is done over the phone, and that means there’s even less I can do. If I could sit in the hospital waiting room, at least I could be there to do—Something. I don’t know what! But waiting at home? The distance is too far.

I get it! These rules are in place for a reason. There are a lot of very sick, incredibly vulnerable people in that hospital. We need to protect them at all costs. Their families need them to be protected. We all want our loved ones to come home so, I applaud the measures being taken to ensure a positive outcome.

It just sucks, and it’s hard to be so far away.

The story is long, but most of it isn’t mine to tell. I’m going to protect their anonymity and respect their privacy. But the medical team did a superb job— thank God for doctors, nurses, and all medical professionals— and they received the treatment they needed. It looks like everything will be okay, and I’ll get to hug this person that I love.

The last several days have been a rollercoaster of emotions that’s culminated in an overwhelming sense of relief and gratitude. I feel like crying, laughing, and falling to my knees, hands up in the air, “Thank you, God!” This situation could have been absolutely devastating, but we’re looking at a blessed outcome.

One thing that contributed to this chapter’s happy ending was a voice in the back of our minds that wouldn’t shut up. There were plenty of reasons to ignore it, and let them sleep it off. But that voice kept nagging, “This isn’t right.” It felt wrong. Something was off, but we aren’t medical professionals. We don’t know what we’re looking at. What if we’re overreacting?

But that voice kept at it, “This isn’t right. Go to the hospital. Now!”

Thankfully we listened, and it was a good thing we did, but if we hadn’t? Nope, I’m not letting my mind go there. My mind has other thoughts to chew on.

How many times have you ignored that little voice in your head? It could sound like a whisper or a gentle hum. It could be a bright flashing red light with a screaming air raid siren. It could be a twinge in your stomach or a lump in your throat. However it presents itself, one thing remains consistent. It’s telling you that something isn’t right.

Growing up, my parents always told us to trust our instincts. If something feels wrong, it probably is. If you don’t feel safe, you probably aren’t. If there’s a little voice telling you to run away, run away. The best survival tool we all possess is something we all have: intuition, instinct, the good old gut.

Knowing better and doing better are two different beasts. I still ignore my instincts and shrug it off. It’s nothing. I’m fine. It’s fine. We’re fine. Stop saying fine! No one believes you. 

I assume I’m overreacting or catastrophizing because it’s my go-to move. My mind automatically goes to the worst-case scenario. You say it’s raining, and I picture flash floods. You say the store was out of eggs, and I wonder if we’ll all starve to death. A lit candle coughs out an ember, and I want to grab a fire extinguisher and blast my entire apartment.

Trust my instincts? But my gut is a bit dramatic. I’m not sure it’s the most reliable source of intelligence. Besides, I’m a cold hard fact kinda gal. Show me your sources. Give me the stats. Prove to me that it’s right, and I’ll concede. 

Trust my gut? My gastrointestinal system is as reliable as tea leaves. No offence if you believe in that sort of thing. I’m a skeptic in all areas of faith and spirituality. It goes back to my need for proof. If it doesn’t feel solid enough to stand on, then I need to reinforce the ground with something I can substantiate. 

I’m hyper-rational so, I easily dismiss the emotional voice as nothing more than an overactive imagination. Which I also have, and it seems contradictory. How can you be so rational with such a vivid dream life? No idea. I’m a contradiction, wrapped in an enigma, tucked into a bundle of WTF.

Trust my instincts?

But it could be anything! I’m just going to the worst possible scenario because hoping for the best takes too much effort. That nagging whisper is nothing more than paranoia. If I ignore it, it will go away, and everything will be okay. If it sounds like I’m sticking my fingers in my ears and sing na na na? Sure, I might be doing that, but what if this gut feeling is wrong, and nothing bad is happening?

And sometimes it does go away, and nothing goes horribly wrong. I walked through that dimly lit parking lot late at night, and I got into my car safely. That strange man following me? Nope, he’s cool, we just happen to be going in the same direction. That numbness in my big toe? It’s not falling off! I laced my boots up too tight.

Sometimes it’s nothing, and sometimes it’s everything. I was travelling overseas in uh… Let’s just say I was in Europe. I don’t want to offend or discredit any nation I’ve visited because I’ve enjoyed every trip. One hiccup doesn’t speak for the incredible people of this unnamed country.

I was in a European nation, enjoying their spectacular historical and cultural sites when my spidey senses started to tingle. A large group of people were gathering in the city square. They were coming from every direction, but there was nothing overtly hostile. Still, something felt off. The air suddenly felt heavy, and a sticky heat came out of nowhere. It was April, spring was just getting started, but it suddenly felt like August.

That voice started off as a whisper. Get outta here. It’s not safe. Go now! At first, I shook it off, but it only got louder. A bus pulled up a few steps away, and I grabbed my friend’s arm. Let’s go, now. How do you tell someone something’s wrong when you don’t know what’s happening?

Maybe she felt it too because there wasn’t much of a discussion. We got on the bus, and as we did, riot police got out of a van. That’s always a great sign. The bus pulled away from the curb and rounded the corner. We were half a block away when the first gun shot was fired, followed by another. 

When we were in that square, everyone looked peaceful, and they seemed to be in good spirits. There was no reason to trust my instincts. There was no evidence of angst. Just a feeling and a quiet voice in the pit of my stomach. If I’d ignored it? That vacation wouldn’t have gone to plan.

Here’s what I struggle with. If you’re an anxious person, how do you tell the difference between anxiety and instinct? They often feel the same. It’s a blurry line and it’s hard to distinguish fact from fiction. Do I trust it? Do I ignore it? Can I trust the voice in my head?

The only answer I have, for me, is one meagre difference. Instinct brings a call to action, and anxiety traps me in that moment. I obsess about the future. I feel like I’m stuck, there’s nothing I can do, and life will always feel like this. It’s hopelessness and dread wrapped up in a weighted blanket. 

My instinct is telling me to do something, take action, and move forward. Get on that bus. Go to the hospital. There are actionable steps that I can take right now. The future? It doesn’t factor into the equation. It’s all about the present moment.

It’s not a perfect tell-all, and it lets me down on occasion. It has saved my life a few times too. Still, I wonder if I can trust that voice in my head, and I’m trying to trust myself. Which is harder? Now, that’s a head-scratcher.

Do you trust your instincts? If you struggle with mental health issues like me, how do you tell the difference between anxiety and intuition?

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