I am what you might call a driven person. I have to be doing something, I have to be achieving something, I have to see progress, I have to see results. I am a person who lives with lists of to do items. My world is formless, and empty unless I make a list every morning. Then my day has substance and boundaries around it that I can see and understand. I don’t always have to cross everything off the list – I just have to have the list. But…. I am driven to get as much off the list as I can.
I feel like I can’t waste a moment of time. Watching TV ( I mostly watch the news) has to be watched while doing something like flipping through a magazine, or updating my budget, or writing another list. I love reading but I have a terrible time reading fiction. I can’t allow myself the luxury of just reading for the joy of it. I mostly read non-fiction where I will learn something. Then I feel I am being productive. I am working on this.
I worked in the school system for 33 years as an Educational assistant with special needs kids. I worked all day, then often did things in the evenings, on weekends and holidays. I go overboard with almost everything. I love it this way, I feel productive, worthwhile and accomplished. When I retired 2 years ago, the first year was hell. Not having the routine of going to work every day was so disruptive for me and foreign to my way of life for so long. I had lost a big part of myself. My saving grace was getting a job at the public library and at a Teacher’s Resource Centre. I also took over the library at my church. These things kept me busy and feeling like I was still productive. I also delved into doing projects around the house. Anything to keep me going.
Of course, looking after my Mom was a huge part of my daily routine. As she started failing more and more, my stress level went higher and higher. The physical duties of looking after her were not as overwhelming as the emotional stress of dealing with the fact she was failing and could leave me at any time. I got more and more exhausted. I tried to ignore the exhaustion and keep up a rigorous schedule. I became more and more anxious and depressed and the exhaustion deepened. I fought back with just upping the ante. More jobs to do, more tasks to carry out. Stay up late, get up early.
About a month ago, I had an issue where I spiraled downward emotionally. I withdrew from everyone, locked the front door, closed the curtains and did not answer the phone. I basically curled up in my rocker-recliner with a blanket over me and hid from the world. This went on for over a week when I finally surfaced and felt I might just be able to face the world again. The curious thing though that happened was that even though I was back being with people and engaging in the world around me again I still found myself curled up in my easy chair a lot of the time. When I wasn’t directly involved in looking after Mom or having to go out to work or run errands, I would retreat to my chair with a cup of tea and just rest. At first I thought I was maybe getting depressed and I was worried but then I realized that I was actually feeling better. I wasn’t zooming around at top speed and I didn’t seem to be distraught about it. I was seeking out my chair more and more and relishing the time spent doing nothing. This was so foreign to me but a relief somehow.
I know that I am totally exhausted both physically and emotionally. I know I am in a critical state of overload. I know that if I am to continue to care for Mom something drastic has to happen or else I will not make it. Yesterday while talking to a friend about my resting so much in my chair I blurted out words I never thought I would hear myself saying. I said to my friend, ” I am giving myself permission to do nothing!” I think I shocked myself as much as I shocked her. I have never voluntarily given myself permission to do nothing without dealing with the fallout of anxiety and self- hatred. But when you are at the end of your rope, your world view can change drastically in order to survive. And for me to survive looking after Mom, I need to do a lot of NOTHING. It’s very freeing to give yourself permission to do something even if that something is nothing!
I feel a bit like an earthquake just hit my world view. Things are shaken up for sure. This is new territory for me and certainly not completely comfortable yet. But I want desperately to be able to continue to look after Mom in a healthy way so as the dust settles, I am going to continue to settle into my easy chair or my hammock chair, sip on a cup of tea, maybe flip through a magazine or enjoy one of my cats on my lap and I am just going to rest. And maybe, just maybe I can get through this time in my life without disintegrating or collapsing.
I challenge you to say those words, ” I give myself permission…..” and fill in the blank with something in your own life. It will be a challenge but I believe it will be a positive experience for you, a ticket to move ahead in your life and leave negative patterns behind. What could be better than that?
I look at my cats and see how they live without a care ( except when their next meal is coming and are they going to get their treats today?) I want some of that serenity and bliss I see as they snooze in a patch of afternoon sunlight. I want that ability to give myself completely over to relaxation and rest. I wanna be a cat, but since I’m not – I will take a lesson from them and do my best to find a way to enter into a rest that will keep me going on this difficult and exhausting journey with Mom.