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  • Writer's pictureKristin Leeper

Taking the Scenic Route: What I Learned About My Life - and Health - After a Year on the Road

There were a lot of reasons why we chose to sell our house in Ottawa and spend the better part of 2023 driving throughout Canada and the US in our travel trailer, but chief among them was the hope that it would improve my health.

I was convinced that a winter in Florida, coupled with time off of work, lots of hikes, and the joy of exploring new places, would be the final push I needed to recover from the burnout that I just couldn't seem to shake at home.

I pictured myself in the sunshine, with my meal prep on point and doing yoga every day, with my menstrual cycles finally fully regulated and my digestive health at the best it's ever been.

Unfortunately, reality wasn't quite what I'd hoped.

Before I dive in, I want to start by saying that our trip was an incredible experience that I'm exceptionally grateful for. It was an ambitious dream that was years in the making and it was a goal that helped carry us through the hardest parts of Covid lockdowns.

I have some great photos, even better memories, and a trailer nicknamed Murphy because "what can go wrong, will go wrong" ended up being a little too on the nose.

But when it came to my health on the trip, I ended up learning three very important lessons the hard way.

The first is that life doesn't stop when you choose to take a break, or even if you're on an extended vacation.

A month into our trip, I lost my grandfather, with whom I'd always been exceptionally close.

A month later, I unexpectedly had period cramps so severe that I fainted, and a month after that, my partner needed urgent surgery.

And in the second half of the year, during the Canadian leg of our trip, my partner lost his grandmother, and our geriatric cat's health steadily worsened until we had to put our travels on hold to provide him with palliative care.

I had hoped that our trip would finally be a respite from the constant stress of our life in Ottawa - from the daily grind of being a military family, owning a home, and navigating the highs and lows of running a virtual business - but I neglected to consider that stress is an inevitable part of life. I absolutely believe that it's possible - and necessary - to reduce stress where we can, but there comes a point where all we can do is manage the stress we encounter rather than try to avoid it altogether.

So it's not so surprising, in retrospect, that I didn't make the headway I'd anticipated in healing from burnout while we were navigating so many chronic and unanticipated stressors. Nor is it strange that I experienced intense menstrual pain given the direct role that stress plays in the inflammation that triggers cramps, and no amount of Florida sunshine was going to mitigate that.

My intention is not for this to be a depressing post - quite the opposite, actually. Because the second lesson I learned is that I didn't need to be set up in "perfect" circumstances to start getting better. Of course, some situations make it easier to implement changes that will benefit our health, but in reality, no situation is perfect, no matter how gorgeous it may look on Instagram.

I took beautiful photos at a campground that had arsenic in the drinking water and neglected to tell us until we'd arrived and begun our non-refundable reservation. We had a blast taking selfies at the Lincoln Monument in D.C., but that was also when my partner came down with a wicked cold that left him almost too sick to drive.

We were lucky enough to enjoy beautiful weather when were in Tampa, Florida for a week, but our first activity there was to bring our geriatric cat to the emergency vet (after which he peed all over himself and his carrier).

Each of these stories brings a smile to my face now, and I'm not sharing this to complain, but rather to illustrate the not-so-perfect moments that someone's social media highlight reel will never capture. Fantasies are usually better than reality simply because they're missing the pitfalls of everyday life that keep us grounded.

And we don't need to be living an idyllic life to start making headway on our health (especially when that idyllic life is probably not quite as rosy in reality as it is in our heads).

So despite what I might have believed when I was dreaming about swimming in the ocean in February, spending a winter by the beach didn't solve my health issues because it's just not realistic to believe that there's a magic, instant solution for them.

(I love the beach, and I'd certainly rather have my problems there than anywhere else, but the point still stands.)

And this brings us to the third lesson I learned: there are no shortcuts to truly achieving your health - and especially your hormonal health - goals. Because at its heart, holistic nutrition is founded on root cause interventions, or solving a problem from the ground up.

This means that, on the one hand, holistic interventions can offer lasting relief from and long-term management of chronic issues - but on the other, they often require painstaking, consistent work to succeed.

So while increasing my vitamin D levels by living in a warmer climate might have helped improve my mood and mental energy, it was never going to be the panacea for burnout that I'd naively hoped for - because the only genuine cure for burnout is rest and nourishment, ideally coupled with tailored adrenal support.

I couldn't adventure my way through it; no matter how fun and exciting it might have been, and even if I was technically out of office, I still wasn't taking the steps I needed to remind my nervous system that I was safe - or doing the hard, uncomfortable work of examining what was making me so burnt out in the first place.

And the regular cycles and digestive wellness I was hoping for are totally achievable - but reaching those goals was going to take a lot more work than a relocation, no matter how favourable the new climate was.

This is not to say that I won't continue making changes in my life when I recognize a removable obstacle to my health goals, but I know now that there's no possible substitute for doing the work, and that even when a change feels huge, it's still just a step in the right direction rather than a direct route to the final destination.

And conversely, I realized that I was doing myself a disservice by waiting for the ideal situation to begin changing the habits that I knew were holding me back. Of course, it's easier to go outside and exercise when the air doesn't hurt your face (and I will be doing my absolute best to avoid as many Canadian winters as I can), but the truth of it is that I lost time in waiting.

I thought that I was creating the optimal situation and that once I was finally there, everything would fall into place, but I lost sight of the fact that life was likely going to keep throwing me curveballs regardless, and that cultivating resiliency and adaptation were just as important as building my dream life.

I couldn't see the baby steps when I was so focused on the big one, and there was a lot I could have done (and a lot I can do) before we get back on the road.

We're definitely not hanging up the trailer keys any time soon - but I know now that my health doesn't depend on it. It is - and has always been - in my own hands, no matter where I might be.

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