I’ve had this conundrum in my head for as long as I’ve been with M, more so after the girls were born, and even more so since we began living this way – I feel as though I have to be available to them every waking moment. I can’t rest until all my stuff is done as well as all the picking up from all of them. I feel selfish and guilty taking time for myself, as if doing so denies someone else of something they’d rather be doing or as if it adds to M’s plate. The thing is…it’s me doing it, not M. He doesn’t mind. But when I weigh it in my head, what I’d like to do or even mentally need to do to recharge, against being in the same room with him or doing something for one of my girls, they always win. Always.
That’s what I’ve been grappling with for at least the last 14 years, some of the time managing it better than others. For many years, I expected M to read my mind, to see that I was overwhelmed and jump in to help, instead of asking for what I needed. There were even times I pushed him away because he didn’t live up to those unrealistic expectations, or because I was too depleted to have anything to offer him.
Over the years, there were times I’d ask for delineated chores and time to exercise, so that I could better manage my time. There were times that worked well in practice, but eventually I’d end up feeling guilty and just get up really early so as not to cut into anyone else’s time. Or, I’d just let it all slip away and keep going at 100 mph, stuffing away the hurt and pain from the stress, internally building regret and hurt and all sorts of ugly feelings and negative self talk.
In the last couple of years, I’ve struggled with it more than ever, over and over again. I have such an honor and deep appreciation for all M does for me and for our family, more than ever before. And I feel his stress or exhaustion, I feel when his body hurts, even if he doesn’t express it, and that makes it doubly difficult to ask for time for me – I don’t want to add to his plate. As we’ve grown, we’ve brainstormed numerous ways to try to provide time for the things we both need and it never seems to work. I end up making sure everyone else gets there’s, but not me. There’s been a lack of follow through from the both of us.
Now, I’ve hit a wall, my body is telling me so. My immune system has repeatedly told me so, and I recently had a serious anxiety attack that took me to urgent care and scared us both. I’d never had one before and it was a wake-up call.
My job is noisy, long, and demanding and on top of that I’ve felt like I’ve outgrown it for the past several years. It no longer fits, but I can’t leave right now. We have two daughters, both of whom have their own set of demands, and I feel like I’m ‘on’ every hour of the day. I ignore my body’s cues, put my wellness below other things on my priority list, and I get to a point where I get internally overwhelmed easily. I cycle to a place where I’m mentally and physically exhausted, below empty, all reserves depleted.
What I’ve learned is I am such that my physiological and psychological make-up requires quiet, contemplative time. My senses get overloaded and I need a time to have only the input of my choosing, without the pull of responsibility. That may be in the form of exercise, writing or reading, or even talking to a friend. But I NEED it – not tons of time, just some time set aside, but I very rarely get it. I also need time alone with M, time when he and I can set aside all our hats and just be us. This is something we do well, and I’m so grateful. It’s been my saving grace. It fills my well enough to get through each day, but there comes a time when even that isn’t enough, or it isn’t possible due to his work schedule, and there I go, back to that place of being overwhelmed and stuck, feeling terrible about myself and not knowing how to proceed.
Last night, M and I talked again. We discussed all the things we’ve tried that haven’t worked and why, all the flawed thinking and poor choices, all the possible unrealistic expectations and what may be realistic for the both of us, things we can try with which we can actually follow through. We talked about ways this dynamic can help to alleviate stress and work to our advantage. I’m hopeful – we may not always get it right the first time or the tenth time, but we seem to always get there sooner or later through trial and error, with continual communication.