I made the decision recently to make some changes in my workaholic lifestyle. Don't get me wrong... I'm still spending as much time as ever being a human "doing" instead of a human "being" (something I'll work on another year)... however, I have made changes in what I'm spending my time working on.
I like to think of my new "free time" in the evening hours when I used to be with patients as "hobby work." I'm doing things that I hope contribute in some positive way to the world, but in ways that fulfill the "Connie - you've got to take better care of yourself" message I get rather frequently from friends, mother and husband.
One of my newfound guilty pleasures is a website I had heard of some months ago but never made time to pursue on a regular basis. Basically, the site is for reporters looking for people to contribute to articles they are writing. If you qualify and are interested in the topic they are writing about, you can submit information to them; if they want to interview you, they pursue it from there. Sometimes I respond as a psychologist, and at other times simply as a person. I recently responded to a query for people who have an aging parent living with them. My mother lives with my husband and me so I sent in a few lines. The woman responded and sent me a list of questions to answer about the topic.
Poor reporter... she got a lot more information than she was looking for, I'm sure. What happened was that I found the questions incredibly thought-provoking. I took the opportunity to "journal" in my responses to this woman's questions. I literally thought to myself a number of times as I was responding that she really didn't need all the information I was supplying, but rather I needed to process my own thoughts and feelings related to having my mother living with us. In doing so, I refreshed my own memory about some lessons I have learned over and over in my life, and which I preach to clients all day long:
1) Taking time to journal IS such a great way to work through your own thoughts and feelings about things. Just formulating the thoughts into sentences and putting words in front of my eyes helped me to gel these idea fragments that keep flitting through my mind into a cohesive whole. It was like defragging my brain!
2) One of the questions was related to what suggestions I would give others who are taking care of their aging parents who live with them. Two of the things I recommended were really advice for myself. I said that it is important to give yourself permission to have someone in your life that you can just vent it all out to without having to add the "pretty words". In other words, I need to be able to say "The way my mother repeats the same stories over and over and over is driving me crazy!" rather than feeling like I have to say "I know the day will come when I wish I could hear my mother telling her stories over and over... however, today it's driving me crazy." We all need one or two people we can say what we need to say in whatever tone of voice we need to say it in and they won't think we're horrible people for not adding the "pretty" words that make it all nice. These people know us well enough to realize that we're just venting.
The other advice I gave to "others" (ha!) also had to do with permission-giving. I said that caregivers of aging parents also need to give themselves permission to be human and allow themselves to have whatever feelings they have about the situation - in this case, permission not to feel guilty about getting frustrated about things the aging parent does (or does not do - like flush the toilet). Give yourself permission to have whatever feelings you have in relation to the situation. What's important is acknowledging and accepting your feelings (hence, having that good friend to vent to) and making sure you deal appropriately with whoever is involved.
This applies to everyone in any situation: allow yourself to experience whatever your feelings are. It's not having feelings that gets us in trouble... it's if we deal with them in unhealthy or inappropriate ways that lands us in trouble. So give yourself permission to have all of your feelings and take responsibility to handle them in appropriate ways.
3.) I also reaffirmed to myself one of my favorite sayings: Work Smarter - Not Harder. I am a fantastic multi-tasker and combining my "me time/hobby time" and using it as a way to get some work done as well, is a great way to sustain my workaholism! Sort of like this blog - I get to process things and share it with others!
Ironically, it turns out that my over-responding to her questions turned out to be a win-win. I bragged about my kids in the responses; her son is pursuing a similar job as my son has and she asked if her boy could contact mine! A God thing, I say...
I gotta get to bed... !