I've been trying to write this post for a couple of weeks. A neighbourhood friend recently expressed some misplaced admiration that I never seemed to lose my shit...and wanted to know how I did it. She felt alone and freakish when a brutal week came calling and getting out of the house intact seems impossible. And when it did she felt like a failure because she thought that everyone is able to do 'it' all without cracking.
I don't know anyone who parents, partners and works without cracking up regularly.
Before you read this post, if you don't already know me personally, I need to warn you that I am an almost neurotically high functioning, extroverted woman; I am the wage earner in my family; I am a community activist; I love being busy and I feel lost without a number of different classifications of to do lists. I am also physically and mentally healthy (mostly);and maintaining this health is sacrosanct to me. I know I am lucky to have a healthy baseline and I try super hard not to take it for granted.
I believe in my heart and mind that life/work balance is a myth that makes most of us feel like failures 90% of the time. My days are a series of triage decisions all of which must be based on a host of changing priorities but built on a foundation of solid values. If I'm not good in my own skin; functioning well is super super hard.
How can we all go through this life thinking that the inevitable meltdown/bad week/temper tantrum is anything but a learning curve and hiccup; a necessary inspiration to live better and force us to evolve.
Before I came to terms with the understanding that my paid work runs in direct competition with a family's needs; that all compromise relating to work and family - impacts either the quality of my work or the quality of my parenting. I was driving myself around the bend trying to figure out how I could dedicate 60 hours a week to work, and still be a killer Wife and Mom.
Turns out I can't; so some weeks I do one and some weeks I do the other...triage.
When I break down, it is almost always a direct result of overextending myself, I find myself in this "sneaky hate spiral". It's a super unpleasant cycle for everyone and when I'm that wound up I'm a fucking barrel of jelly beans.
So here is what it looks like when I lose my shit. It looks different for everyone, but here's my world. I've included pictures because they really help me gain perspective when shit gets rough. They also act as clear proof that my inner critic is a complete crazy dick bag! Super helpful.
The clear impression that my brilliant, gentle introverted PIC is not being a contemplative quiet person but is in fact silently judging me and seething at some insult that I have delivered loutishly and thoughtlessly - thus proving once again that I am that insensitive and hurtful extrovert Partner in Crime and co-parent AND HE IS A PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE ASSHOLE THAT WON'T BE OPEN WITH ME.
No, he is not. He is a super quiet thoughtful no bullshit guy. I test this regularly and he never fails to call me out when I overstep...surprisingly rare given how tenuous my grip on personal boundaries is.
Clearly, this is a picture of said abandoned and abused baby, I wonder if maybe she has a role model baby carrying Mother....perhaps she is tired and frustrated at 5:00 pm like we all are..
Witness a clearly rejected and unloved child. Notice the atrophying interest in the world and the way she is retreating into her shell...
My parents and siblings have finally isolated the real reason that I'm so difficult to be around (see: strong opinions on feminism, parenting, politics, the weather, pet ownership, personal responsibility, environmentalism, urban planning, gardening, nutrition, and possibly, breathing)
This might be true but at least I know I am an apple not far from her family tree. Besides we seem to be the kind of family that I admire - loud, passionate, engaged, argumentative. We are not alone.
A desperate need to fight to the death on such critical mountains as: shoe lace tying techniques, dust accumulation on the top of pictures, the proper way to stir a soup stock, ...you see where this is going.
Apparently, not everyone stirs their stock in a figure eight. CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? It's hard to imagine their souls aren't dead, and yet, these people seem to be full of love and laughter.
The suspicion that my best friends in adventure have decided finally, after decades, that I can barely be taken seriously on adventure; never mind be trusted to do something as simple as hooking up for coffee.
But then...I hate not being challenged by people I love and who love me...
The realization that my career is based on my ability to fool everyone into thinking that I am a competent, never mind excellent, consensus builder and facilitator
The community garden I worked hard with a group of very different women to found after generating enormous support from our diverse neighbourhood.
My inability to engage in a discussion without being emotional or taking an emotional pot shot at my 'adversary' when normally I think that without 'warm' discussion the best possible ideas never come to light.
My day is filled with creative ways to influence coworkers, clients and children. If they were all enemies of mine I would think that world peace would be as mythical as the Unicorn Pegasus. Note, that I did not in any way suggest that the Unicorn nor the Pegasus were mythical because I am the GREAT mother of a SIX YEAR OLD GIRL
Sometimes I think maybe checking into rehab would be a sweet ass vacation.
I'm so goddamned lucky that after I crash and burn. I get to take stock of what's important and rebuild on that. I don't want or need a "do over". Working to manage and prevent these little meltdowns is what I'm fine tuning. I surround myself with people who understand and respect boundaries when they need to be set. I plan events, adventure and parties weeks in advance because as a working mother there is no time on a daily basis to do volumes of work - it's gradual over days...
Otherwise, I have to sacrifice quality. Life is just too short to be happy with anything less than the best possible everyday- right?
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Here are some things I try and do to prevent my hate spiral or dig me out of a spiral once I'm in. They work for me, maybe some might work for you too, or you might have some tools you could share in the comments.
I draw strict boundaries between work and family.
I exercise in the morning.
I surround myself with people who inspire me in a million different ways.
I break up with people who hurt my feelings on purpose - zero tolerance.
I eat more vegetables than anything else.
I try not to drink during the week. and lord knows I love my wine.
I try to cut myself a whole lot of slack - this is hard.
I apologize when I've hurt feelings.
I stop scheduling. Boredom is a requirement for better living for us at home.
I try and go nuclear with my family. Stay home and find some magic with Jason and the girls.
I work hard daily to manage group of breakdown factors: sleeplessness, over scheduling, poor eating, overspending and self-criticism.
I cancel all plans to be at home for at least 7 days so I can get used to it again, play games with Jason (Sequence!) and the girls, go to the park *together*, put out blank paper and pencils, turn off my phone when I am not working, turn off the internet, sit, cook whole food with Jason, slow down, start each day with a State of the Union with my family, knit, write short to do lists, walk or be alone somehow.
I invest in my own inspiration - podcasts that turn my brain on, books that turn my feelings on, pictures that make me juicy, food that feels good to make and eat. Anything that makes me feel good in a normal, free, healthy way - not an exhilarating sky diving way. The key to this is that everything has to be normal and free.
It can't cost money to feel good about day to day life. We're broke so I keep it basic.