It’s been a manic few weeks in my world, as I am sure it has been for many of you. September, with it’s new ‘opening up’ and ‘returning to normal’ strategies has seen lots begin again and anew for us. For me, it meant, one child embarking on college, two others returning to school, patient advocacy projects start to take off again, patient support work resume, medical appointments, postponed for so long, finally be re-scheduled, after-school activities crank up, and so much more…
Now for the record, I love all that I do, being a mother, fighting for patients’ rights, supporting patients, writing, public speaking, interviews, the lot, but sometimes the schedule is mental. Add to this that I live with heart failure (where my heart muscle struggles to pump blood around my body, thereby meaning I tire and need breathers more often than most) and that I now live as a single parent in the home, and I can get overwhelmed and very exhausted trying to keep up with the demands.
I am not suggesting for one minute that I am unique in the world of having a demanding schedule. I see it all around me, all the time… parents on the run constantly between work and family and everything in between. Life is this manic jumble of ‘too much to do’ for most people these days, pressure to pay huge mortgages or rent and other bills and deliver to employers and kids and activities and so much more, ever present in 21st century living.
But what happens when it all becomes too much?
As it did for me this week.
The tiredness I was trying to keep at bay from the upscaled pace of September and its ‘stuff’, with the odd catnap here and there, to compensate for the heavier workload, and less support than usual, hit me with a vengeance.
The trouble is that even in that moment of sheer exhaustion, the needs did not stop coming in. The lift requirements of kids, the zooms, the overflowing laundry baskets, the whatsapp requests for confirmations for this and that, the food shops to do, the cooking, the emails, the print deadline too.
I needed to take ‘time-out’ to say ‘NO’, but I was avoiding it, because all the needs, I recognised, were valid, and my delivery to them, beneficial to someone somewhere, and I didn’t want to say no to anything that could make a positive difference to anyone else. I’m not a saint or a martyr, but I do have passion for the causes I give my life to, and my kids, my parents, or a group of patients somewhere that can benefit from something I might do, are all, for me, the very reason I live and breathe these days, so when the requests come in, even when they start getting seriously demanding, I say to myself, ‘I’ll just squeeze it in’ because I know it could make a big difference to someone else.
Yes, I’m aware of the importance of ‘self-care’ and ‘time out’, especially as a heart patient, but when it’s pouring with rain and your kid needs a lift instead of getting saturated on their bike, or there’s a chance to help a patient in a tough place, or someone announces that we’ve run out of loo roll, ‘self-care’ seems like some floaty thing that’s just not practical for that moment.
So my usual way of dealing, or not dealing with it all, is to keep going, until the moment where physically I feel like I am about to drop. My parents, in particular, go nuts over this approach. Naturally they care about me and are always going to want the best for me, and if I was them, I’d probably be giving out to me too. But the question I always ask them in return is, who exactly do I say no to?
Nonetheless, I couldn’t deny I was in fairly bad shape from all the saying yes, this week. The tiredness that hit was that magnetic type, where my bed, a chair, the seat in the car, felt like they were suctioning my being like a Dyson. I’d linger everywhere, telling myself an extra minute would do the trick, but it didn’t. My head felt like cotton wool balls were replacing my brain matter more and more by the day. And yet, the requests kept coming… the repeated school runs, food shops and cooking, the emails kept pinging, the whatsapps ringing, the zoom calls growing, the deadlines looming, a patient here, a medical appointment there, and my own needs were calling too; the walk, the shower, the bill paying, the plumber to call… I felt almost dizzy and had a vision of Humpty Dumpty having his fall, only this time, he was wearing my face.
Before the inevitable tumble, I announced to my Dad, who was visiting, that I had to go to bed at 9.30 am one morning, after I had dropped the kids to school, but instead of any form of shock or surprise to this announcement, he said, “THANK GOD!” with such relief, that I guessed I must have looked in that moment every ounce of what I felt.
But it took more than one sleep and one day… in fact it took a lot of sleeps and that was only done by pausing everything for a while. But pausing I know, only means a resumption is on the way, and that’s the bit that scares me.
The truth is there is more on my plate than I am able for, but I know it’s not a case of just wiping out any one area. My kids, my parents, my patient work, running the house, doing my exercise, having my rest, they all need to be part of my future, but it’s more how I figure the amount I can deliver to each area, without feeling near to collapse from trying to do it all.
And that’s going to involve saying ‘No’ to people and things at times, when I really will not want to. That’s going to be a struggle for me, because me saying ‘no’ to someone in need, feels akin to getting a cheese grater to my entrails. It’s not even because of guilt, or fear of not doing the thing, but because I genuinely want to be able to do all I can to make that difference for the better to someone else’s life, if I possibly can, because that’s what I think is the point of our lives, to bring as much good as we can in the world.
But the thing is, there’s a limit to what I ‘can’ do and the truth is, cheese grater to the entrails or not, I have to learn ‘No’, or, as a book given to me by a friend called, ‘The Art of Extreme Self-Care’ by Cheryl Richardson (ah yes, the Universe always delivers!), says, I have to learn to ‘disappoint’ people, not because I want to, but because the grand cake that is me, only has so many slices and I’ve been surviving on the crumbs.
So, if you come to me with a request and I pause before agreeing, or say no, know that it’s not because I don’t want to help you, but that I am just following Cheryl’s advice, because I have come to the point in my life, where I have to start disappointing a few, just to be a less precarious Humpty Dumpty on that wall.
Yes, I’ll be out of my comfort zone with ‘no’, and yes, you may be irritated when I say ‘no’ to you, but know that unlike Humpty, I’m just trying to invest in some good harnesses to keep me on the wall… that way I might be able to help everyone I care about for a bit longer, instead of needing the Kings horses and Kings men to try to put me back together again.
To be continued…
© Pauline O’Shea
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