I’m Not Really Here: Taking a Ghost Vacation to Refocus

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by Brianna Albers |

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“Sometimes I pretend I’m dead.”

This sounds like the lead-in to a particularly macabre joke. But in actuality, it’s a personal practice with the potential to revolutionize our approach to self-care. My friend Andrea Hannah calls it a “ghost vacation.”

“Sometimes I pretend I’m dead,” Andrea likes to say. The cornerstone of a ghost vacation is telling the people in your immediate circle to act as if you’re dead. Not in the mourning, wake-at-a-funeral sense, but in the “I’m not really here” sense.

Her kids are told to go to their dad for whatever they need.

Her partner knows to give Andrea as much space as possible.

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There are, of course, unavoidable obligations — you can’t really play dead, not without consequences. But the heart of the practice is to act like a ghost to the best of your ability. You don’t talk to people. You don’t post online. You are, in essence, invisible, and it’s that invisibility — that lack of responsibility — that leads to freedom.

Every time I’ve heard Andrea talk about the ghost vacation, it’s been in reference to self-care. Sometimes you need to disappear for a while. But when I recently found myself in the spirit realm, it wasn’t because I needed to prioritize meditation. No, it was because I needed to figure some things out.

I talked last week about how this year’s Cure SMA conference transformed my relationship with advocacy and social media. By the time I got home, recently repaired van in tow, I was buzzing with ideas. For the first time in a long while, I was excited — about my life, my career, even my currently in-flux future.

I was ready to take initiative, and it showed.

But the more I committed to my sparkly new life plans, the more I realized something was wrong. I hadn’t changed my mind. I was still jazzed about my new direction. While I was emotionally ready to do the work, the infrastructure of my life wasn’t ready to sustain change in any meaningful way. I couldn’t just jump in with both feet.

I had to take things slow. I had to reflect and, more importantly, design a new way of living that would better support my sparkly plans.

If you know me at all, you’ll know how much I struggle with moderation. When it comes to grand life plans, I am my mother’s daughter, complete with color-coded spreadsheets and quarterly key performance indicators. I love schedules. So the fact that my intuition was telling me to do away with everything but my unavoidable obligations for an unforeseeable amount of time?


In many ways, the ghost vacation chose me. I took a break from my novel. I let go of my newly minted content schedule, full to bursting with posts for Disability Pride and SMA Awareness Month. On a whim, I undertook the treacherous goal of redesigning my digital workspace. It was a time for a change.

In the words of my friend Andrea, it was time to let go of things that were no longer serving me.

So I pretended I was dead. I stopped posting online. I took a rain check on everything but my unavoidable obligations.

I entered the spirit realm and started to dream.

By the time you read this, I’ll be at the tail end of my vacation. I’m starting to plan again. I’m remembering how to be a person in the world, with everything that entails, the magic and the mess. I’m still not “here” — but I’m getting closer.

People ask me how to be online as a disabled creative. My answer varies depending on the situation. “Being online” looks different for everyone and can change in an instant.

But I will say this: Don’t be afraid to take a vacation. Play dead if you need to. As Elise Blaha Cripe says, “Everything will be here when you get back. There is no rush.”

Thanks for reading! You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram, subscribe to my newsletter, or support me on Substack.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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