Friday, July 20, 2012

Standing Still, Still Standing

Ed. Note: My great, great friend D. A. Wolf creator of the  Daily Plate of Crazy is back today with yet another poignant observation about us. As always, she offers pertinent information distilled with her signature style and panache.

I hereby admit that I’m dreadful at the following. 
  • I struggle with single-threading (doing one activity at a time). 
  • I struggle with sitting still (I have the proverbial spilkes). 
  • I forget to eat, I steal from my sleep, and I rarely stop to take a deep breath and relax.
It isn’t that I don’t understand the value of slowing and savoring.

I do.

But my habit of running ruthlessly is well-ingrained. It was extreme in my married years - juggling job, kids, and the hubby when he was home; it’s been a whirlwind (and dare I say a necessity) since raising my boys on my own and keeping our household going.

I thank my lucky stars (and knock on wood) when it comes to familial energy. Apparently, even on my worst days, I possess it in abundance. But my schedule – and habits – of taking on too much and requiring myself to perform at uber-utmost levels are, I know, unreasonable.

The Busy Trap and Consequences
Generally it takes some incident – shattering a glass (and finding myself surrounded by shards), running into a wall (literally!) – in order to bring myself back to my senses. Then I realize it’s time to stand still – that is, if I want to find myself still standing tomorrow!

As to that frenetic pace, I read a wonderful article on the New York Times recently, "The Busy Trap," that deals with the issue of being busy – overly busy, "crazy" busy – which seems to characterize a particularly American affinity for activity taken to levels of excess.

The fact is – we're stressed to the max. But we don’t have to take on everything we deem "necessary" (because it's not), and a bit of (so-called) boredom can assist in allowing the mind to rest much as we rest the body.

If the mind unwinds, we sleep better. And sleep, as medical news continues to inform us, is critical to physical health, to memory, to learning, to mood, to weight control... and the list goes on.

When we sleep, we restore ourselves and prepare for diving into the next experience – or task – with renewed energy and focus. And let’s face it, we look a good deal better when we’re rested, too!

If you have any doubts, this brief article from the Harvard Women’s Health Watch sums it up nicely: sleep is an absolute must.  

Patterns of Behavior

We all have good habits and bad habits. We may think it’s terribly difficult to shed the bad and acquire the good, but the fact is – it takes less time than we think to dump those nasty routines and replace them with saner (healthier) ones.

Our good habits?

Oh, there are many, and the women I know don’t give themselves enough credit for them. They may include regimens of self-care, patience with children or aging parents – often the result of practice – and discipline in all sorts of endeavors.

We may have relationship patterns – good or bad  – that we’re trying to improve or to build on. 

Bad habits?

They may be as simple as biting our nails or slouching, annoyances we can train ourselves to eliminate in fairly short order (if we pay attention). They may be more problematic – something like interrupting (which can cost us friendships), not listening (which can cost us relationships, or worse), or habits to do directly with health such as one too many glasses of wine after work, chain smoking, or emotional eating. And yes, there's a fine line between bad habits and excesses that land us squarely in the heartbreak of addiction.

Is Busy "Bad" Behavior?

But what about the state of being busy? Or rather, the constant flux and shuffle of multiple activities, dashing madly from place to place or task to task, not to mention, incessantly checking our communication devices?

Do we use our “busyness” to obscure issues we don’t want to deal with – lack of purpose, loneliness, other emotions that hurt?

I am not a psychologist, but like many of us, I’m a woman who has dealt with life events that set us adrift – the sort of losses we might expect as we grow older, and those we never anticipate at any age. I understand that activity – working, writing, exercising, cleaning – can be therapeutic for awhile. But never standing still, when it’s taken to excess, may leave us burnt out or worse.

We may not face our underlying problems (and thus, have a shot at resolving them). We may damage our health, when STOP could turn things around.

Taking a Break

I am about to make two gross generalizations, in full recognition that I’m doing so. 

First, French culture is more amenable to reasonable apportioning of time – at least, more reasonable than America. One needn’t feel guilty when taking a weekend with family (and not working); one needn’t justify a vacation.

My second generalization?

In my lifetime, I’ve seen men know when to say “enough” in the work arena, in the domestic arena, and in the relationship arena. They take their breaks. They refuel. They step aside long enough to regroup, reassess, and refocus. Without guilt.

And the women?

Perhaps it's our culture of women taking on too much, with insufficient support and too damn much (misplaced) pride. Perhaps it’s my circle of friends and acquaintances and our particular responsibilities. But I know this:
  • We don’t say “enough.” 
  • We don’t slow down in the work arena, the domestic arena, or the relationship arena.   
  • Our expectations of ourselves are sky high, and I’ve seen only small improvements as we grow older.
We tend to take breaks when others insist we do so, or we take breaks when we actually begin to break – ourselves.

I’d like to believe that if we are thoughtful, if we join together with our women friends and gently remind ourselves to pay closer attention, we could lighten up on the sense of self-esteem we derive from our attempts to “do it all” - and do it all perfectly.  

Instead, we’ll know that common sense – and health – require us to stand still, even briefly, if we hope to find ourselves still standing over the long haul.

© D. A. Wolf 


kathy peck said...

What a perfect post for me right now. I'm leaving NYC for LA after a 2 1/2 day trip here. And less than 2 weeks after moving homes in LA. I'm totally burnt out and yet before I read this post, I was planning on what I needed/wanted to accomplish this weekend. After reading this, I'm taking the weekend off! There's so much truth to everything you've written, and I have been giving a lot of thought to the whole overdrive way of operating that has been my habit I'd like to change. However, in spite of this busyness I have NEVER forgotten to eat!

Jennifer- The Adventuresome Kitchen said...

Beautifully put and SO true! Thank you for reminding us to take some moments to just BE!

BigLittleWolf said...

Overdrive. That's the perfect way to put it, Kathy. And Jennifer, I have to remind myself (constantly) to take it down a notch, like the women I see and admire (who are so tired).

"Just BE." How often do we actually do it - and not feel guilty?

Thank you for your lovely remarks.

Elle from Elle's Picture Book said...

great post!!

kabayoz said...

Well said, thought provoking and if taken to heart, better than any pills the doctor will prescribe. A triple AMEN!!!, for another truth telling post.

Tish and D.A. Wolf, merci beaucoup!

Chicatanyage said...

I do find that when I am in France the pace of life seems a little slower and everybody seems to stop for lunch.

mette said...

A good post.
I strongly think that all the fussing is done to avoid facing the unpleasant in front of us.
For some, it is a way to show how important I/ my work is.
Luckily, I think I am able to stand still.

Chris said...

The je ne s'est quoi that drives us Americans is not amenable to tranquility, enjoyment of leisure, personal communication or commitment. You have written eloquently about the need for the Euro ways here. Great post!
xoxo, Chris

Jill Ann said...

Good post for a lot of people, but not something I can relate to...I am mostly retired now, but even as a working mother of small children, I never had trouble finding time for lunch or vacations! Maybe I would have risen further in my career if I had put in more "face time", which was a big thing at my primarily male engineering/construction company, but I did pretty well in spite of that.

So many people I know really do not know how to say "no" to anything, which seems like a symptom of a different problem. As my kids once told me, I have never had trouble saying "no"!

Terri said...

This reminds me of a time in my single mother years where I was diagnosed with clinical depression. My physician made all sorts of suggestions about how I could slow down and when I complained that if I didn't do it, there was no one else to do it, she firmly explained that if I did not take time out, there would be no further "doing." I relaxed, per doctor's orders to for a good 3 months.

Valerie said...

Thank you for your sage understanding on what is missing in so many women's lives. Not mine any more - have grown past it but your philosophy applies to my three daughters one of whom led me to your blog! Her name is Francesca.

I live in France south of Paris and have been in this gorgeous country now for 12 years - everything you have observed is spot on. Very best wishes Valerie

BigLittleWolf said...

@ Jill Ann,
Saying "no" really is so important; you're right. (Why are so many of us trained to be people pleasers to such an extent?)

@ Terri,
The single mother years certainly do challenge us in many ways... So glad you were able to arrive at an admirable balance!

@ Valerie,
The cultural differences are often subtle, but nonetheless considerable. I believe American women could take a lesson from he better harmony which is struck among the many responsibilities that women shoulder - so a bit more "life" can be enjoyed.

Tish - as always - lovely being here! Et merci !

MulticoloredPieces said...

Hi, Tish. Thanks for featuring this article. Once I was on a plane going from Tunisia to the US, and while doing some hand appliqué, a Spanish woman sitting next to me said "Ah, Americans are so BUSY that they don't DO anything."
best, nadia

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