My unexpected gap year – Lori (63)

Guest Blogg by Lori Reynolds, Oliva, Espana

After a traumatic few weeks last summer I felt I needed some time to rest and regroup. At that point I had no intention of staying in Spain longer than the couple of weeks I’d arranged in Oliva, near Valencia. Friends had offered me their apartment whilst they were away themselves and during that time I got a flavour of what it would be like to live here as opposed to being on holiday. During this time there was plenty of time to reflect on what had happened, where I was in my life and what the future might hold and so a germ of an idea was sown, how could I have a longer period in this wonderful place? I returned home recharged and ready to turn my ideas into reality. I was determined to shake my life up and see what happened. 

My story 

This story starts with my lovely daughter being rushed to hospital in July 2017 with a stroke. Working full time in a responsible and stressful job, with a family, friends and busy life, and only 45, this bombshell was totally unexpected. 

By chance, a contract I had been working on finished that very day so I was able to give my time and support over the ensuing weeks of her recovery. The first few days were fraught and she spent six weeks in three different hospitals before being discharged to continue her recovery at home. She worked so hard on this and was able to return to work part-time after six months. She’s in a different role now and will be back to full time working next month. I’m so proud of her. 

It was on Christmas Day, when spending a wonderful day as a family, that it really hit me just what an impact this major event had had, on not just my daughter’s life, but the whole family. We all know the cliches - ‘you only get one life’, ‘live each day as if..’ and it’s so true. 

January 2018

So, back to my plan. I had a further three week break in January 2018, this time renting a friend of a friend’s apartment. I was on a roll. There was much to think about and plan not least how would I finance an extended time away? 

With some creative accounting and the support of my son I moved to Oliva at the end of March for three months,and I’m still here five months on with no firm plan for what comes next. I have also been able to return to the UK every couple of months which helps keep the home sickness at bay. 

A new culture and rhythm of living

I’ve settled into a new culture and different rhythm of living. I knew the town from many holidays over the years which helped. As luck would have it, I was able to rent out the apartment I’d stayed in before on a very flexible arrangement. 

It’s not been easy in terms of making friends when you don’t speak the language, but I was determined to mix with the locals. It’s also been great to have some friends here already and they have included me in all sorts of social events over the past few months. 

It’s also not been easy for some of my family and friends to understand why I’m doing this. Some assumed I was having a ‘Shirley Valentine’ moment and that a man/sex were involved!  Some assumed I must have won the lottery and could therefore afford this lifestyle. ‘A mid-life crisis maybe? I prefer to describe it as a long-yearned for and worked for ‘gap year’. 

But overall most are extremely supportive. I’ve had some visitors already and more to come after the heat-wave dies down. I’m just about surviving myself! I can’t wait for my daughter to visit and see how well I’m doing here. 

I have simplified my life

So there is no man (yet) and it’s actually possible for me to live here on a very modest budget. I have simplified my life. I don’t run a car, I eat fresh local food and have reduced my alcohol intake! I get plenty of fresh air walking, swimming and exploring this wonderful country. I’ve also detoxed my life by taking a break from 24 hour news and tv. Watching old episodes of CSI soon get me reading and listening to music instead. 

Reflecting back on my life, and soon to be 64, I realised I wanted some time to myself, for myself. I’ve had a very busy life - juggling work and home like so many others. I adore my kids and family and I have a marvellous group of friends, many I’ve known for decades. I’m also a trustee on the Board of a health and social care charity and a listening volunteer for the Samaritans, both of which have enriched my life. So few complaints. 

I have made some new friends (from Romania, Ireland and further afield) and am learning the language albeit slowly (I know learning new things is important for the grey matter as we age!). 

Old ways of thinking

Sometimes I feel myself slip into my old ways of thinking. Just the other day Christmas was mentioned and my first thought was well I’ll have to be back home by then. I then stopped and thought why will I have to be back home?, because my family expect me to? Maybe they don’t. Sometimes I just adopt this mindset without really thinking about it. 

Putting myself first

So I don’t know what comes next. I’ve started to tentatively investigate work that I could do from Spain, or even somewhere else in the world! I am very much keeping my options open. What I am determined to do is put myself first, for a little while at least. That means questioning ‘is this what I want to do?’ and not just saying yes to please others. For me this year truly has been transformational.