11 Sep For the capable and over-committed carers: why you must love you first.
Eight years ago
I entered the cafe and waved to the woman I had arranged to meet. She was barely more than an acquaintance but I knew she had some experience of counselling people dealing with grief. I was hopeful she would be able to give me some wisdom about how to help my friend who was suffering.
I grabbed my coffee and pushed aside the feeling of frustration that this was how I was going to be using my short amount of kid-free time. It had seemed like the right thing to do last week when I had made the arrangement.
The counsellor listened to me and my request for wisdom. She told me she had a book I could borrow.
Then she stopped, put her head to one side and, looking me right in the eyes, asked,
“And, how are you doing?”
I was taken off guard.
I didn’t know how to answer.
I momentarily considered giving her the standard answer, ‘I was fine, busy and tired, but fine.’ Or maybe the joking answer, ‘I’d be fine if it wasn’t for those pesky kids’ (cue Scooby-Doo style laugh.)
But quickly realised, this was not going to cut it. I was going to have to be honest.
I paused for a moment.
I bit my lip.
(Where were these tears coming from, how were they already streaming down my face and dripping off my chin onto the table?)
I started to talk slowly then couldn’t – didn’t know how to – stop.
I was exhausted. Life was too much and I wasn’t up to it. I found the kids hard work and I knew I was meant to find them a blessing. I had just returned from a trip to direct something in London and felt it had been a disaster. A waste of time, energy and money. I was barely sleeping. I didn’t know how to switch off or relax. Life felt relentless and everyone always wanted something from me. But I was sure everyone else was coping better. They seemed to be thriving while I was barely surviving. I was frustrated with my own limitations. I had lots of responsibilities that were meant to feel like gifts but felt anything but. I was drowning in everybody else’s needs. I couldn’t meet them. I let everyone down. I felt like a failure.
What poured from me took me by surprise.
I had hidden these feelings of inadequacy and inferiority for a long time. I was ashamed of being and feeling this way.
And I had no idea where to go from here and how to recover the person I was sure I once had been; adventurous, fun-loving, opinionated, energetic.
A lot has changed since then.
But if I could tell that overworked, overcommitted and overwhelmed girl three (true) things which would give her hope, this is what I would say:
- You don’t need to do anything to be loved. As you are, here and now, messy and vulnerable, good days and bad days: you are loved. You are accepted. You are a human being with the divine spark within you. You have a place here. You are loved.
- You don’t have to do it all. I know it feels as though life is chasing you around and there is never enough hours in the day, but don’t have to do it all. You don’t need to be pushed around by everyone else’s demands on your day. You don’t need to take on everyone else’s burdens and stress. You can choose, and will learn, to make time for you.
- Your health is more important than anything else. It is more important than those people you don’t want to let down, or the home-cooked meals you feel you must make. It is more important than the appearance of success, or having it all together. It is more important than the responsibilities you don’t know how to say no to, and it is more important than the ridiculous expectations you place on yourself. Your health comes first. Your physical health, yes, but also your mental and emotional wellbeing. You need to secure your own oxygen mask before you attend to anyone else. Love you first.
I know I am not alone in feeling overworked, overwhelmed and overcommitted.
I know I am not the only one who struggles to think about her own needs because everyone else’s needs seem to shout so loud.
I know I am not the only one who finds saying no difficult and wants to please all the people all the time.
But this is no way to live.
It ends in despair and stress and anxiety.
Living the life you think you should is nowhere near as fun and fulfilling as living the life you could if you freed yourself from the expectation and comparison game.
Let’s be brave and love ourselves first.
To help us remember the truth that we have needs and ideas and dreams and hopes and that these are not just valid, but vital, I have made a 60 second meditation for when we forget. (And trust me, I forget often).
If you would like to download this meditation please fill out the boxes below and I will send it directly to you.
(You could even print it out and stick it somewhere you will see it daily).
Let’s take this first step together.