Mental Health Matters: De-Stressed in Croatia

I want to show you how easy it was to de-stress and regulate my nervous system while I was in Zagreb, Croatia. I mean, that’s the social media way, right? But that’s not my way. I want you to understand this was a process. 

So, here we go. 

Day 1

I am angry with my husband because he doesn’t take the day off from work when we fly from Amsterdam to Zagreb. Instead of talking with him about it, I use a familiar coping mechanism: suppression. Consequently, I am overwhelmed with the thought of finding lunch for both of us and grocery shopping in a new country by myself. However, I must do these things; otherwise, I will not eat, so I use another familiar coping mechanism: hyper independence

Day 2

I am still angry from yesterday, but I say nothing. My husband found a food delivery service: it’s called Bolt, like Uber Eats or DoorDash. Due to miscommunication between us, he orders food only for himself. This causes meltdown number one. In this case, crying serves as a purifier for the stress I’ve suppressed. Our conversation yields resolutions: (1) he will grocery shop in the morning because he wakes up much earlier than I do; (2) I will take clothes to the laundromat; (3) he will wash white clothes and hang them on the line; (4) he will be more attentive; (5) I will ask for help. 

Days 3-5

It’s my birthday weekend, and stress won’t ruin it, this is my silent declaration. Dwight rents a car and drives us to Split, Croatia, where he’s planned birthday events in Hvar, an island you can only reach by ferry. We miss the ferry. But I don’t feel stressed. Maybe it’s because I declared victory over anxiety at the onset. Probably not. That’s not how anxiety works. We tour Split and arrive at Hvar late Friday night. It is too dark to see the water, but even in the dark, I hear the Adriatic crashing against the shore a few feet from our balcony. I’m able to engage in another coping mechanism: soaking up the sounds of the sea. The next day, the Adriatic helps to regulate my mood. Everything is okay. The resort allows me to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with ease. My body re-sets. 

I’m glad Dwight planned this.

Day 7

I’m overly excited about going to the laundromat. I head to the bank with a two-hundred kuna bill (the equivalent of twenty-eight dollars). I need change so I can use the machine, which only takes one hundred kuna. 

“I cannot do that,” the bank teller says when I request two one hundred kuna. 

Her reply sends me over, and I start crying—mini meltdown number two. I didn’t anticipate the bank would be a place where I couldn’t change money. Tears fall. The teller looks surprised. She tells me where to go. I can do hard things, I tell myself, while dragging a suitcase full of dirty clothes through downtown. I scan the corner store and choose a Sprite.

“Do you have anything smaller?” the cashier asks as I hand her the two hundred kuna bill, now wet and crumpled.

“No,” I lie.

I successfully wash clothes in two hours. This seemingly small feat makes me proud. 

Day 8

I’ve been eating oatmeal for breakfast. Its thick sliminess helps to move my bowels. I practice virtual yoga, amused that I can join the six AM class, because in Zagreb, it is noon. In a couple of hours, I Zoom into a work meeting. They’re still not taking my suggestions, but I do not feel the urge to cry. 

Week 1

I have a schedule. Three FitOn workouts one day. Virtual yoga the next day. Rely on the eighteen thousand steps we accumulate during our walking tours for added exercise. Eat thick slime for breakfast and ramen for lunch four times a week; these are easy meals that do not require thinking. Make dinner four times a week. Laundromat on Thursdays. Write everyday, even if it’s gibberish no one will read. This regimen isn’t perfect, but it is predictable, and that’s what I need…predictability. 

My bowel movements are regular, and sleep has returned—all signs that my nervous system has returned to “regular.” 

Laundry day number two, a German man put too many kuna in the machine and doesn’t need them. He gives me his tokens, enough to last two weeks. It’s the kind of event that makes you believe someone beyond the veil has your back. 

Week 2

All is well. An Uber driver tells me there’s an electronic music festival beginning on Friday. I grew up on house music, so I’m ecstatic. 

“Are you going to be able to wake up?” Dwight asks because we’re scheduled to ride the Flixbus to Venice the next day and also because he’s showing attentiveness. 

“I will,” I say. “I have a plan.” 

Drinking and dancing for three hours in a park releases toxins from my body, and I feel free.

When we return late that night, I follow my plan: shower and pack clothes and the popcorn Dwight bought me for the trip.

I don’t lose it when we almost miss the bus to Venice because neither of us knows the exact departure location. I don’t lose it when I find out there are no Ubers in Venice, only taxis that cost fifty euro. I don’t lose it when we get lost in the 150-canal maze that is Venice. I…am…calm. I almost lose it when my husband implies he could have found closer accommodations than I did—almost—but I don’t. 

Week 3

“I feel good today,” I write in my iPhone notes. I’ve been keeping track of my moods and activities, so I know what to continue and what to discard. It’s working. I’m sailing. Even though Dwight works from one to nine at night, I realize that is his schedule. I am not bound to the apartment. This is a revelation. I plan a “me” day: Zagreb Zoo and Evergreen Sushi. A conversation with my goddaughter, someone who simply listens, without offering judgement or advice, is appreciated. 

Week 4

The past few weeks have been steady, but I am ready to go home. Dwight has listened: he makes dinner that lasts two days and finds breakfast for us. This is important. The food is nourishing and so is his attention to my wellbeing. The morning we go to breakfast is perfect, except…I’ve left my phone in the Uber. I’ll spare the details of how it was recovered, but Dwight’s help was imperative. The important part is now, I am really ready to go home.

We drive to Pula, Croatia on our last Saturday. Once again, I pay my respects to the Adriatic Sea, which in my mind is a perfect ending to an imperfectly perfect extended vacation.

Now that there’s some context, I can share what I actually learned on this trip.

54 thoughts on “Mental Health Matters: De-Stressed in Croatia

  1. Pingback: Mental Health Matters: De-Stressed in Croatia – BBQDAD Survival Every Day
  2. That was a big trip, a long time away from home. You and Dwight seem like exceptionally wise travelers, flexible and open to new experiences but self aware enough for the need to regulate to keep a good personal homeostasis. but it’s such a long time (well, for me it would be) it seems inevitable there will be some spikes of internal deregulating, for anyone. I think I usually have at least one meltdown per big trip, haha The way you recount it makes it feel like an out of body experience, like you were trying to swim through the current back to your “center”. I hope it has been good for you to be home, again. Sounds like you have another trip coming up in not too long. I saw in some comments on one of your posts that you and your sister are traveling. Where you headed?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jason, you have no idea lol This was just what I could put into a cohesive few paragraphs!

      I’m much better now and lol at your one meltdown per trip. I don’t feel too bad now.

      My sister and I postponed our trip to next year, but we’re hoping for Curacao. Our trips are never stressful, because they’re of the beach variety. We literally plan to do nothing.


  3. Many people find it difficult to create any sort of free time for themselves. With hectic schedules that last the entire day and heavy responsibilities to take care of, it’s not easy trying to balance everything in your life. However, those precious free hours that you do have can easily be ruined if you don’t have a kind of plan or way of using them effectively. In fact, many of us can wind up wasting our free time because we’re tired from work or feeling depressed and stressed from various life issues.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree with this. I’ve found that I do better when I can do what I WANT to do, like write first, and then, go about doing what I have to do to generate income.

      Thanks for this comment.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I did have a nice trip, overall, and we made some great memories! I’m glad you recognized that, because that was one of my fears: people would think with all this stress, I didn’t enjoy myself, and that’s not true.

      I’ve found that intentions are important, Ann, not only with this, but also other aspects of life 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I can only say from the Netherlands. So from the Netherlands to Croatia was like 200 euro for a one-way flight. Our Airbnb was costly…close to 2K for 30 days. I wouldn’t suggest flying there, though.

      I suggest taking a cruise or something, so you can see the coast, which really is the most beautiful part of it.

      Also, it’s one of the least expensive places. For example, we ate out one time and spent about $50 for a nice dinner and two drinks apiece.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow I love these emotionally juicy details! And I feel like I’m getting to know you a bit better, which I love! I’ll share a travel anecdote that might sound relatable. I traveled to Italy by myself to join a group tour of strangers. Getting there I had multiple meltdowns I was so scared to travel to a foreign county alone. My stomach was in a tight knot the entire flight. Flew into Madrid and I freaked. Thought I’d miss my flight. Tried to ask airport workers for help and they put their hands up in my face asking me to wait while they finished telling each other funny stories. I started crying. They finally noticed and helped me. I didn’t bother trying to speak Spanish. They told me I was actually 2 hours early and didn’t miss anything. So I then sat on a crowded airport floor for 2 hours humiliated and exhausted. Landed in Italy fine. Had a headache and apparently no one gets sick in Italy and there were no pharmacies so I asked the Americans staying next to me for Advil which thank god they had. Got in the shower and cried some more. Then I met up with the group the next day and the rest was good. But wow, traveling can be intense and scary I know! Thank u for sharing all of this I can’t wait to hear more!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m laughing at your description “emotionally juicy details” lol but that’s definitely what they are.

      Ummmthat Italy story sounds amazing and terrifying at the same time. I’ve always thought I would/could travel overseas by myself, and I’m sure I could, but what you’ve described would piss me off. I think, though, the only option is to be resilient…like you were 😉

      And I totally get it about no aspirin…there were so many things I was looking for when I was away, that I thought was basic, but each country just didn’t have.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Loooovely! It is wild that de-stressing is a process for so many, not just something we can do quickly or automatically! I know too many people that define their overdoing it as just doing.

    And I feel like you’re throwing up deuces to anxiety in that photo!!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Right! So, for example, my husband is a dandelion. He can literally de-stress in a matter of minutes, almost like nothing even happened.

      Overdoing “as just doing.” Yeah. Kind of like the other comment, I wish we’d learn this, too. In this capitalistic society, overdoing it IS just doing, and that is insane.

      LOL I guess I was 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Ana! I wasn’t sure this format was going to work, but it was the best way I could literally show what was happening.

      Thanks also for your kind words ❤


  6. It was great to read this follow-up from the Netherlands, Cathy. Honestly, I can see how having a partner makes a huge difference. I know of friends who travel alone and I couldn’t imagine doing that. But I loved all of your details, You turned things into an “upward spiral” – as your mood stabilized, your gut improved, and that probably helped to lift you back up, too.
    I am wondering when you’ll be traveling again. Taking a little break for a while now?

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Having a partner can be helpful, but what I learned is only if you’re willing to open up and say, “hey, I’m struggling here,” and then work things out. It takes a lot for me to ask for help ( due to some residual childhood stuff and in part, personality), so this was a big deal.

      I mean, define traveling lol We’re taking a road trip next month, and I’m headed out of the country with my sister in October, but our trips usually consist of sitting on a beach for hours, so the stress is nonexistent.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It is scary how similar we are, Kathy, though you are more self-aware and adept at figuring out the reset button. It’s taken me more than six decades to understand what I need. Thank you so much for sharing this! ❤️

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Girl, I HAD to learn how to figure out all the things because I don’t like feeling wonky. Thank you for reading/commenting!

      On Thursday, I share how to re-balance your nervous system, which I think you’ll probably like.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Ugh my husband and I have always wanted to visit Croatia! The only reason why we didn’t is because we had to drive through the war torn country of Bosnia and at the time they were going through quite a bit of a crisis. I am so jealous! And I’m really glad that you got into the swing of things and were able to enjoy yourself and even have a moment to miss home 🥰

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Really??? So, they still have some residual effects in terms of how you can move about. For example, we weren’t able to take the rental car to specific places, like Bosnia.

      It’s a really beautiful country, especially the coast. The Adriatic Sea is stunning. It’s so weird. I NEVER miss home when I go away, but with this trip, I was counting down the days lol

      Liked by 1 person

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