Taking the First Step
Yesterday afternoon, I pulled out my cellphone and typed in, “What does burnout feel like?” As a retired school counselor, I have an objective sense of the term, but, when it comes to my own feelings, objectivity, by definition, goes out the window.
Long story short, full-fledged burnout was not the (self-)diagnosis but I saw enough of my own feelings in the descriptions to know I should take them seriously. Scrolling down further in the articles I’d pulled up, I found the same advice I’d give to someone who reported these feelings to me: take care of you.
Doing the search in the first place was hard – so hard that I kept it a secret. Jersey girl that I am, I’ve long prided myself on rocking the Superwoman cape, and, being constantly impatient, tearing up randomly, and having trouble getting started aren’t a part of that picture. But sucking it up, taking care of the clamoring tasks around me 24-7, and pretending to feel fine when I didn’t weren’t working either.
As a mom, I know I’m a member of a brigade of women who keep gamely donning that cape, no matter how tattered it has become, which I why I’m writing this piece in the first place. As sure as I am now that I needed to do that web search and need to get serious about taking care of me, I know for certain that I’m supposed to reach out to let other women know they aren’t alone. So here, in no particular order, are some of the things I’m trying to remember when that Superwoman cape is more of a burden than a declaration.
Don’t wait. If you’re feeling more overwhelmed than usual, or not like yourself, take action. Take a long bath or a short trip. Go for coffee with a friend or curl up with a good book. Talk to someone you trust. Yes, it’s hard to find the time to do these things, but they might just be the lifeline you need. Doing that web search was the first step toward walking myself out of this very uncomfortable place and it reminded me that, even if I’m not Superwoman, I’m capable of effecting a change – the sooner, the better.
Don’t compare. As the mom of one young adult, I kept thinking about all those moms out there in the trenches – the ones with babies, or a houseful of children tugging at them all day long. Who was I to complain? But every stage of mothering is different and brings with it different challenges. Each of us is equipped to handle some things better than others. Feelings are feelings and they just are. They aren’t for judging or for comparing. If you’re sad, it doesn’t matter whether or not you have a good reason. Trust the feeling.
Don’t judge. That Superwoman cape is a beast. It mocks us just as much as it lauds us. When we fall short of our own expectations, it’s hard not to be hard on ourselves or wonder what’s wrong with us but that is the last thing we need. My husband hates the phrase, “It is what it is,” but sometimes, that sums it up. If we’ve done our best and we’ve fallen short, tomorrow is another day. We can leave the rest in God’s hands. If we remember not to judge ourselves, it’s much easier to step back, look at the big picture and decide what we need, whether it’s help with the laundry, a compassionate ear, or a good night’s sleep.
Don’t forget to pray. When we are wrapped up in our own successes, failures and insurmountable challenges, it can be hard to remember that help is only a prayer away. Trying to do everything ourselves is often what gets us into this mess in the first place. We need to talk to the Lord and ask him to show us the path. The road itself may be foggy but, with prayer, the first step might become clear.
Don’t try to do it all at once. That first step might not feel like much of a solution when things are coming at us from every direction, but we need to remember that it’s not humanly possible to do everything, especially all at once. Set small, achievable goals with clear, visible outcomes (wash and put away the breakfast dishes, for example) and remember that it’s a succession of these small steps that takes us from where we are to where we want to be. For me, the simple act of transferring tasks to my calendar makes me feel more in control of all the stuff, even when there’s too much of it.
Don’t keep it all in. Find a trusted friend, clergy member, or medical professional and make an appointment. Set time aside deliberately to talk with your spouse, your sister, your best friend, or, perhaps, a counselor. Share what you are feeling and let them know what you need (solutions or just a non-judgmental ear, for example). Chances are very good that the right person will understand.
God didn’t mean for us to do it all, especially at once. He wants us to lean on Him and on each other, to seek Him out when we feel alone, distraught, or in need of comfort. Being created in His likeness doesn’t mean we have to do His job (thank heaven!), but it does mean we need to love ourselves as much as He loves us – or as close as we can come to that, at least.
The last, and perhaps biggest, thing I’m trying to remember is to be patient. I kept hoping that each step would be the one to pull me out of the muck, but the muck is persistent and, as it turns out, extricating myself from it requires more than a single step. As long as I’m seeing progress and that light at the end of the tunnel, with God’s help, I can keep going.
If your feelings are persistent and/or interfering with your ability to function in daily life, please see a counselor or medical professional qualified to diagnose depression.
Copyright 2020 Lisa Hess