I’m no superwoman

I always have a mixture of feelings and reactions when someone else refers to me as a superwoman or supermom. First, to be honest, I’m a bit pleased. I mean, who wouldn’t be when called super? It’s a compliment. It’s an affirmation that all that I try to do for myself and my family is recognized and appreciated. And in a tough, unrelentingly demanding job like mothering, there’s just never enough appreciation along the way.

Plus, I’m a bit of an overachiever. I won most of the academic awards I could possibly win throughout my school years and was valedictorian. I had my academic career pretty well mapped out, and I got the full-tuition scholarship I wanted to the university I’d wanted to attend for practically my whole life. I even got the best internship in my field that I could get. I got a job out of college. I suppose it wouldn’t be wrong to say I had been accustomed to being rewarded and recognized for the hard work I did for a long time.

That is, until I got married and started having children. I decided to be a stay-at-home mom, and I haven’t worked outside the home full time for about 17 years. The overachiever part of me has been starved. The accolades have shriveled up, and I have found myself seeking some kind of positive feedback for what I’ve been doing, which has been much more difficult than any academic work I ever decided to undertake.

So, yeah, my starving little inner overachiever has gobbled up any little morsel of recognition, any kind comments. So if someone says I’m a superwoman, I enjoy it a bit.

But I have to admit that it comes with a price. First, I have to have a week like this: sew four items of clothing, fix homemade breakfasts and dinners for my family, wash seven loads of laundry, shop, help my husband lay tile in the master bathroom, get my high schooler signed up for an online summer class so she can take art in the fall (since she’s unbelievably talented at it), make phone calls for the band booster club (since I’m secretary), play piano at church, tell the newspaper daily editor about a great photo opportunity at our church’s area youth activity (since I volunteer in public affairs), plan for a family vacation, plan a new-student gathering for my university’s local alumni chapter (since I’m the chair of the chapter), get the paperwork together to refinance our house (since I’m the family financial planner), do some editing work, and keep my book review website and blog updated.

Pant, pant. Whew!

Yep, my superwoman status takes its toll. First, I’m exhausted and sometimes at the end of my rope. Second, I end up losing a grip on a few things, such as my memory. (What was I writing about?…) The worst thing, I think, that I’ve lost hold of these past 9 months or so is my health. I love to exercise, and I go to the gym every day. But I also like to bake, and eat. Unfortunately, when I’m stressed (super-stressed, shall we say?), I tend to eat. And eat. Not carrots or celery, of course, but junk food. Ice cream, cookies, cake. The problem that has now developed is that I’ve gained about 30 pounds in the past year, pounds I worked hard to take off a few years ago after another year of super-super-stress. I no longer can wear the cute size-8 dresses that have been exiled to boxes at the top of my closet; I wear size-16 pants and size-14 dresses. It’s super-depressing.

Those are kind of obvious things. Another side effect of being a superwoman that I and others don’t often think about is that people expect it from me. They expect me to continue doing the things I already do — AND they expect I can just add in MORE things! If I can do all this, I can apparently just do more and more and more, ad infinitum. I come across as endlessly capable and a bottomless pit of energy and ability. The problem with this, obviously, is that I am NOT endlessly capable, and my energies are most definitely limited. Others don’t see the price that comes from my superwomanhood, but I do. My family does. What I want when I get this ridiculously busy and overwhelmed is for others to stop asking me to do things. But what happens instead is that others CONTINUE to ask me to do MORE. Logically, it makes no sense in a way to ask people who are really busy to do more.

What I’d like to do right now, in the middle of a superhuman year, is to retire like Superman did in the second movie. He fell in love with Lois Lane, she knew who he really was and loved him back, and he decided to forgo his superpowers and become a regular man and be with her. Most of you will probably know how that ended up. But I certainly understand what he was looking for, a little peace and quiet and a normal life. I can’t relinquish my powers or my responsibilities, nor would I want to. But I would like for the requests to stop coming in for a while. I’d like some genuine and heartfelt affirmation of what I’ve done and a pass on doing more for a bit, until I catch my breath and catch up on my to-do lists and am able to take care of myself a bit (like lose 30 or 40 pounds for my health’s sake).

No, I’m no superwoman. I have a super family and super friends, though, and my life is mostly super. But I really am going to try to lay aside the cape for a while and enjoy what I have.

An ordered mind

So I wrote yesterday about how I like things in my home neat. I have thought about this a great deal over the past few years because it at least in part directly correlates to my state of mind. I find that I must clean and organize when my brain is in two different modes: overloaded and in high gear.

I have times when I’m full of ideas and just raring to go, and I just get moving. My mind is spinning but not so fast I feel completely overloaded. Then there are other times when my mind is spinning so fast I can’t possibly keep up and I feel like my circuits are going to short. These two slightly different speeds in my brain (which are separate from my “normal” and “slow” speeds) lead to two different outcomes and emotions, too. When I’m spinning in a “good” way, I’m excited about all the ideas that seem to be popping up out of nowhere. It’s exciting to experience that rush of inspiration, of creativity, and I rush around a bit to try to keep up. When my mind is spinning out of control, though, I can’t possibly rush fast enough to keep up; I also find that this latter situation, which leads to anger, frustration and exhaustion, is also induced by busy-ness that’s outside of my brain and outside of my control. So if my life isn’t too full of appointments, expectations, to-do lists that are foisted on me by others (including my four children and their schedules), and I am free to let my brain spin and give me ideas, it’s all fine. But when the outside expectations and to-dos pile up and I feel, especially, that I have no say in them, my brain just spins like about 100 caffeine-dosed hamsters on 100 wheels, and I short out.

My house benefits from both situations, my family, not so much. When I’m full of ideas of how to make my house more organized and I’m not walking around with those hamsters in my head, I am eager to just get to work and make things nice and neat. When the hamsters are doing their thing, I do some work, but I mainly order my husband and kids around and/or complain about how the house is messy and it’s contributing to my overwhelmed state. The mess in my head is so all-encompassing that any mess in my physical living space just exacerbates the inner clutter a hundredfold. Clutter inside means clutter outside is unacceptable.

So I’ve wondered a bit if I would be so organized and neat if it weren’t for my brain’s tendencies to go into high gear so often. But I think I would. I’ve just always been neat and clean. But that concept brings me to another one: is it even possible to tease out my personality traits from my brain’s chemical issues? My brain simply is who I am. And THAT is a discussion for another day.

Let’s just leave my post here today with this thought: SPIN SPIN SPIN HAMSTERS HAMSTERS HAMSTERS. My house is looking pretty good.

Balancing act, part one of many

It’s pretty common for women to talk about the tricky proposition of balancing the many elements of their lives. In fact, I know few women who don’t worry about getting a proper balance, let alone maintaining it. But having mental health issues just makes that balancing act that much more difficult. I can say from years of experience that it’s a razor-thin line; right on one side I might feel a little overwhelmed but still OK; on the other side, I’m far past overwhelmed: I’m stressed, I’m drowning, I’m angry and lashing out at whoever comes too close. The latter is not a pretty picture, and I don’t like thinking about the times I’ve been pushed too far on that side of the line.

What my psychiatrists and I are currently calling bipolar II or atypical bipolar disorder causes me to experience a kind of hopeless feeling in which I rarely feel that kind of depression that makes me not want to get out of bed. It’s more of an angry depression. I feel isolated, alone, abandoned by all who should love me and somehow care and know me well enough to be able to see what’s happening and help. When I feel that way, in the very extreme times, I feel that life won’t possibly get better, that I can’t take the psychological pressure that seems to be pressing in on every side of me. I just feel angry at everyone who could possibly be blamed, including God. When the anger kind of dies out, I feel depleted and in despair. So I “swing” back and forth between a sad, hopeless depression and an angry depression, if that makes any sense. I’ll try to explain further in later posts. Suffice it to say, yes, I am a type-A personality, but I’m also typically a fairly cheery, happy person who always has a smile on my face. So when I get backed into these corners where I feel trapped and angry, the rage that almost flares up out of nowhere feels so at odds with who I feel I AM that it upsets me even further.

That brief introduction to my moods is just to somehow try to explain that I can quickly get out of balance. After years of this kind of yo-yo-ing, I can feel when I’m getting close to the brink, and I start feeling desperate. I know I need some down time, alone time, unwinding time to try to swing myself back to a more stable self. The problem is when I feel I don’t have the choice to just say no to activities or pressures or expectations from others.

Some people are more sensitive about this than others. Again, finding balance is always a delicate proposition, and many people understand this for themselves and that it’s the same situation for others. Some are just more empathetic about others’ needs as they bump into their own needs. I admit I get a little irritable when I say, “Well, I can only do ___ because I am pretty busy.” In my mind, that’s me being responsible enough to know my limits and exercise my personal choice to lay down those limits and work around them. When someone else responds, “Well, yes, sure, but we’re ALL busy,” I know they’re not really going to be too respectful of whatever line I’m going to draw for myself. Or they may say, “Yes, well, but (____ organization) really NEEDS you.” Sure, every organization that relies on volunteer help of any kind always needs help and never has enough. But I cannot possibly do enough to fill in those gaps, for that group or any other. Or I might just say flat-out, “No, I simply don’t have the time and energy to do that right now,” and rather than saying, “Oh, of course, don’t worry about it. We’d love your help, but we understand that” they keep pressing on in some way. These responses essentially tell me that these people value their needs above mine. And sure, we tend to be selfish beings and that’s natural. But I certainly appreciate it when someone else rises above those human tendencies and tells me, “That’s fine. You do what you need to do.” I so greatly value when they have the kindness to respect my choice, my right to make decisions for my own life and that of my family.

You see, I know what my limits are, and I’m constantly doing the balancing act. I am a softie at heart, and I want to give my money and time to a whole lot of worthy causes, worthy people. My heart goes out to them. I may even sometimes foolishly say yes or maybe when I should have said no because I’m biting off more than I can chew or even get in my mouth at one time. But when it comes down to it, my mental health must stay intact, so I can be happy, so I can take care of my family (which is paramount in my life above all the other things that matter to me), and so I can in the future continue to give to others. Simply, it rankles me when others don’t respect that I should know best for my own life and my own well-being and continue to push me when I say no. It ticks me off. Big-time. But on the flip side, I feel respected and cared about when someone is kind enough to take me at my word and wish me the best. Perhaps I expect too much out of people, but I would love to see more sensitivity in how people treat each other. There’s just no way of knowing what someone else is going through. I’m being open here on this blog so I can help others understand what I’ve experienced, but I simply can’t go through my whole personal history every time someone demands justification for me saying no. Thank you for being understanding, those of you who have been and continue to be so with me.