With two employees out, it was another night of working late. The other staff members, working short handed and getting on each others' nerves, were snipping at each other, and two of them were in tears, and as their supervisor, I had to listen to their complaints and try to end the fighting. I had a pile of reports still to complete before I could go home. My daughter had a band concert, and I (once again) would have to miss it. My husband was complaining he never got to spend time with me. We were getting to see each other a few minutes every day in between work and sleep. Our relationship had been suffering for months. Weekends were spent trying to catch up, or de-stressing just enough to get back to the rat race on Monday.
Eating healthy? Cooking at home? Exercise? Right. Not a chance. And the thought of taking time to exercise created a stressful sense of guilt. How could I possibly even consider it when my job was already stealing so much time from my family? My hours were so limited? The stress and frustration were building to unsustainable levels, my weight was growing along with my frustration, I was tired, angry, sad, and most of all, feeling guilty all the time, because I couldn't give any aspect of my life the time and attention each deserved.
We as modern women struggle with a lot of guilt.
The tension between work, family and social life seems to be tailored to create guilt whenever any piece of the triad falls out of balance.
Feeling guilty for not being able to give everything we have to our work, family, and friends, we can easily feel like we are spinning out of control. Breathless. Out of oxygen.
You've no doubt heard the airplane analogy that when the cabin loses pressure, you should put your own oxygen mask on first before helping those around you. But as women, our first instinct is to take care of those around us first. To give until we have nothing left. To deplete the oil in our lamps, and therefore extinguishing our own light, giving oil and light to others.
Until we find ourselves stressed out, burnt out, done.
It's an impossible situation. And it's a situation that cannot be allowed to continue if we are to be healthy and able to continue to care for those we love.
We have to put our own oxygen mask on first.
As I've entered my fifties, I still have a busy, stressful job that requires long hours and long commutes. I still have teenage daughters and a husband who need my time and attention. I still have a home that needs cleaning.
I also have a life that needs living. My job, my family, my home, my friends - I won't be able to take care of any of them if I fall apart. So if I am going to feel guilty about anything, it shouldn't be that I'm not giving enough to any of those pieces of my life. I'm giving them all I've got.
If guilt is to be useful at all, it should be to let us know that there is something in our lives that we need to change.
And in my life, my guilt really meant that I need to change my priorities. I need to put my oxygen mask on first.
I need to take care of myself. Taking care of myself is not a luxury. It's a necessity.
That means a thoughtful re-assessment of how I'm spending my time and what is important for my health. A re-assessment first of my morning routine. How can I change my morning routine so that I include exercise, a nutritious meal, mapping out the priorities for the day, and a brief meditation to set a positive focus. That's my me time. That's my oxygen mask time.
Because when I can take care of myself, I can take care of those I love. And I can stop feeling guilty.