Have you ever had a year that just threatened to overtake you? That you look back on and say, good riddance and don’t let the door hit you?
For me, that year was 2018. And it was a doozy.
Settled my dad’s estate. Cleaned out and sold his house. Cleaned out and sold our house. Moved into a rental. Built and moved into a new house. Helped plan our daughter’s wedding. Participated in a leadership program. Served on some committees and boards. Managed to hold up my end in a marriage and a business.
And some other stuff, both good and bad, some self-inflicted, some not.
It was all normal life. Absolutely nothing happened to me that hasn’t happened to anybody else, but like canned orange juice, it came in concentrated form. (The wedding was splendid, by the way.)
Being well acquainted with my limits, I put some pursuits on hiatus to deal with my priorities, and writing this column was one of those pursuits. The understanding folks at The Mercury told me I could crank it back up when I was ready, so here I am.
I got all my responsibilities taken care of — if not perfectly, at least adequately — and I felt like a sure-enough grown-up most of the time. And just about everybody understood my need to re-prioritize.
However, a couple of acquaintances expressed worry when I didn’t attend this or that meeting, or when I declined a social invitation. They repeatedly prodded me to do things I didn’t have time to do, and were “concerned” about not seeing me at some event, when I had already told them I wouldn’t be there, and why. They didn’t seem to hear me when I explained why I was busy, and there was a subtext of inadequacy in their remarks.
“Are you coping all right?” was the unasked question.
These conversations made me wonder if I should worry about myself, too.
I mean, I had given up doing some things that had previously been important to me. Did this mean I wasn’t “coping” properly? Was I, unbeknownst to myself, depressed or otherwise struggling more than I realized?
I certainly know these things are possible. We’ve all known and loved folks who haven’t realized quite how bad things had gotten, and who needed a nudge, or something stronger, to get some help.
The thing is, even after I explained to these well-intentioned worriers what was going on with me, they still hinted that I should be managing my new obligations just fine, without putting aside any of the old ones. As if a person’s capacity should be limitless.
How is that even possible, without running yourself ragged and probably failing? Why doesn’t it look healthy to realize when something’s gotta give?
Oh, I know we gals are supposed to be able to do it all, with just a little help from some farmhouse-style inspirational wall art, the wisdom of Marie Kondo and a gluten-free, vegan, yoga-intensive lifestyle. If you buy into this perspective, my hiatus from a few activities meant a failure of some sort, perhaps even a mental health crisis.
Ironically and conversely, it’s not lost on me that we women are also constantly being told to “take care of yourself before you take care of anybody else” and reminding us that “no is not a four-letter word” and admonishing us to “nurture your spirit” and “just breathe.”
These maxims are our “permission” to do what we need to do for our own wellbeing. How nice. I see an unhealthy disconnect between these two unrelenting messages — “She-roes, you can do it all with just the right phone apps and, of course, a strong meal-prep plan,” and “Hey, little lady, you’re probably struggling, but all you need is a mani-pedi and a nice candle.”
Looking back, I realize I made (mostly) sensible, responsible decisions. We can’t add more hours to the day, nor can we walk away from our obligations. Despite the year I had, I (mostly) feel that I did “do it all” because I took care of my priorities — my family, my business and the activities I care the most about.
And I also “gave myself permission” to sleep and veg out and spend time with people I love.
I don’t think it’s unhealthy to let go when something’s gotta give. I don’t think it’s indicative of a mental health crisis, or even just “coping.” I think it’s called “doing life correctly.”