Sometimes, Getting It All Done is Not the Important Thing
My parents are in their late 80s, and my mother is descending into dementia. It’s been a slow fall, over more than a decade now, but it’s speeding up these days, and managing the challenges that rise from it is getting more and more… challenging.
I am also the primary care-partner for my disabled partner, our breadwinner, the manager of all household tasks and the doer of most of them, and the person responsible for my “self-care.”
And so I find myself feeling perpetually like I need to be in three places at once, or doing five tasks at once, always “behind,” always doing triage.
Many of the people I work with are people like me - super responsible, passionately committed to the things they care about, with high standards for themselves across many roles.
We nearly always feel like we don’t have enough time, and that we aren’t giving as much as we want to give to the many people and goals in our work and lives.
And, all too often, we find ourselves bringing our overwhelmed, frustrated, stressed-out, impatient selves to situations where we want to be bringing our best.
We feel like we’re failing.
And then we spin deeper into self-blame and shame, or into rage at the situation we are in.
Maybe this describes you, too.
I’ve been thinking about what I - we? - need in these times when we are always going to feel like we are not giving enough – to the people we love, to our work place, the world, our own hopes and dreams, our health…
I certainly don’t have the answers, but…
Last week, I was talking with my Mom on the phone and discovered that she had not yet used their new, safer, tub and shower. She was intimidated by it, not sure she could figure it out, and afraid of getting soap in her eyes.
I offered to come over the next night to help her try it out, despite my overwhelming to-do list.
And I decided to try to just stay present, and be playful with her.
We had fun. She managed to shower, with some help. She discovered that the new bath mat felt nice under her feet. I discovered that her toenails needed clipping badly, so we did that, too. And we listened to an old Pete Seeger record I remember from my childhood, and danced a bit in the living room together.
By the time I left, I was feeling calm and happy. I had not spent that time worrying about all the other stuff I needed to do. (Yes, it was all still there waiting for me.) I had not been focused on all we’ve lost to Mom’s dementia.
I had focused on connecting, and being in the moment.
Now, I’m trying to apply this practice to other things:
🌱 Letting myself be truly present to what I’m doing (like writing this blog post);
🌱 Trying to appreciate whatever I am managing to accomplish, rather than continually focusing on what’s still on the list;
🌱 Letting myself be playful and have fun; and
🌱 Trusting that my showing up in my life and making the best choices I can in the moment about how to spend my limited time and energy, given unending needs, is what’s most useful.
I can’t be enough. But I can be useful. And I can be present. And maybe that is, in fact, enough.
What helps you feel less overwhelmed and less discouraged when what’s being asked of you is too much? I’d love to hear in the comments.