Every year or two I take a week out by myself, not to a spa or on a walking holiday where there will be others. I go away solo. Unaccompanied. On my own. And I stay that way. A few times I’ve been somewhere adventurous, like Alaska, but often it’ll be somewhere much closer to home.
As women we’re not encouraged to spend time on our own. The stereotype of the sad spinster cum village witch still holds sway. Even now society values women more as wives, sisters, mothers, daughters than for themselves. Perhaps that’s why, just for a few days, being out of reach of all the commitments of relationships is so necessary to my mental well-being.
I don’t miss my family and friends, partly because I’m never away for very long, and partly because I’m living every minute very intensely, even those I spend stuck in some shabby motel at night watching TV. Solutions to problems I haven’t been able solve at home suddenly present themselves. Ways of being kinder or more generous to friends and family. A sense of which direction the path might take next. The time away from loved ones is the best reminder of how lucky I am to have them.
That’s not to say I always enjoy these adventures. I’m often lonely or feeling lost and sometimes a bit scared. I habitually overeat or drink too much and either don’t sleep enough or do little else. Occasionally I’ve found myself in nasty spot, once in Alaska coming face to face with a wolf, another time in a remote part of Scotland in the middle of the night with a broken car and no mobile signal. More than once I’ve called my partner howling with self-pity and threatening to cut the trip short. But I never have. I’m aware how fortunate I am to be able to take these trips. I know that each trip will call on my mental and emotional resources and that’s why I always return feeling that bit stronger, more alive, more grateful for the life I have.
That’s why I made sure Cat, the protagonist of my psychological thriller, Give Me The Child, is left alone for the greater part of the book with no one to solve her problems but herself. As Cat gradually learns to overcome her anxiety and fear, a new clarity emerges, a sense of her own power and competence.
I think every woman should spend at least one week in her life on her own. To have time and space to feel your edges, explore your limits and listen to your soul. You won’t be guaranteed a great time but you will have a time that’s all your own.
Mel McGrath is the author of Give Me The Child out on 27 July. You can find out more about her at www.melaniemcgrath.com