Leading A Balanced Life Doesn’t Come Easy For Me

Image by Joie De Cleve via Flickr

Balanced is not my middle name. There are many adjectives that could be substituted for the middle name printed on my birth certificate–friendly, loyal, hard-working, honest, funny, impatient, shy–but “balance” isn’t on that list.

I have an all-or-nothing personality. If I have decided to do something, then whatever happens, I’ll do it. I like to think of this as fortitude and steadfastness, but the reality can be something else. Often I find myself questioning why I can’t let go of the trivial things, especially when my exhaustion levels are at an all-time high (which happens to be most of the time lately).

I don’t think I’m alone, though. We applaud people who “do it all,” especially women. We’re now encouraged to have fulfilling careers and a rich family life. And this is a good thing. No one should have to choose one or the other. For that matter, none of us should be forced to give up anything that provides satisfaction or contributes to our quality of life. I believe striving for what we want and what we hope to achieve is the only way we can reach our goals and will leave us happier when we lay our heads on our pillow at night.

The problem is around the time I actually go to bed. When I am pushing too hard, it’s not just confined to late at night. I look at the clock, and I know that the time I have between that moment and when I have to get up again is just not enough. Sometimes I can feel that I am wearing myself too thin with all of my commitments and the things I do. The same thing happens at work: The hours slip by, and I know that the pile of work on my desk will not get done, and I’ll just be adding more to it the next day. There are too many friends to see on the weekends and at night, too many errands to run. There is just simply too much to do.

My colleagues are experiencing the exact same problems: high stress, crushing workloads, demanding lives, and lack of sleep. However, when the candle has been burnt at both ends down to a puddle of wax, they recognize it and stop. I just can’t seem to identify when to say “when.”

Lately, though, I’m seeing signs that the time has come. I recently was turned away from a blood drive because my iron levels were unacceptable. Meanwhile, my big lug of a boss who hadn’t eaten or had a drop to drink that entire day was happily allowed to have a bag strapped to his arm, which was damn annoying I have to say.

People around me have told me I need slow down, scale back at the gym, and get more sleep.

That might be the euphemistic version. Two colleagues have said to me that I must not lose any more weight (I picked up a little over the last year and have dropped the excess over the last couple months). My mother has told me that I exercise too much and seven days a week is just unhealthy. A good friend has said to me that I am heading to complete collapse if I don’t get some more sleep.

I think they worry too much, but the truth, I have to admit, is that I am letting things get out of hand. Recently, I lay sprawled out on the couch, lying on the scatter cushions, wrapped up in a blanket for an hour-and-a-half. I was just too tired to go to my bedroom and change and wash my face and brush my teeth and then go bed. I eventually did, but it took too much effort for something so minor.

In the last two weeks, every time I see someone I haven’t seen in a while, they say without fail, “It’s nice to see you, but, you look…” Tired. Pale. Drawn. Worn out.

I thought the blood donation was a wake up call. Maybe that night that I was on the verge of collapse was it. But no. And now I’m sure that the fact that everyone I know thinks I look like crap will be the revelation that jolts me into change. Then again, this is the second… no, third… no, fourth attempt to write this article, because every start that I make on it I manage to run out of time.

I don’t want to make myself sick or burn out, and I know that I run that risk if I carry on this way. All those that held my job before me either burnt out or are still recovering. My odds don’t seem good.

But, and there is a “but”, I know what I have to do. I have a choice to make, and it’s one that will lead me to a better life. I have to stand up for myself and demand a place on everyone else’s list. I have to give myself a spot on my own to-do list.

It’s difficult to pull back when I have a compulsion to operate at 100 percent all of the time, but I know that no one can do that. I know that I won’t lose my job if I don’t complete my current project today, and my friends won’t abandon me if I don’t go out with them every single night, and my life won’t fall apart around me if that load of washing sits in the basket for another day.

I already know what to do. I just have to muster up the will to to do it.

So, I’m going to take the advice I have been given by my nearest and dearest, I’m going to address my work situation with the powers that be, and I am going to get some sleep tonight. Then I am going to get up early tomorrow to go to gym before work, because I am still me.

It’s all about finding the balance, and figuring out where the equilibrium lies is half the work. At least I’m sure of that part already.

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  • I think that (at least) part of the reason people try to accomplish so much within a very short time-frame is that we are aware of the very limited time we have on this planet, that life is soo very short, and passes us way too quickly, and so we struggle to make the best of it and sometimes end up overloading ourselves with “to do” stuff. Now if we take into consideration the various things that waste/steal our time (from relatively minor things like traffic, waiting in lines etc. to major stuff like a bad job) it’s only natural that we feel pressured to try and accomplish as much as we can in as little time as possible.
    The irony is that when trying to do too much we end up not properly enjoying it, because truly enjoying something implies taking the time to… savor it, as it were (think of eating ice cream in a hurry, as opposed to slowly chewing it, letting it melt in you mouth, enjoying the taste, the flavor, the texture(s)…).
    Also, the pressure to do so much is (quite obviously) a huge source of stress, which has a big negative impact on our health. This adds up with the lack of sleep, so, by trying to get “the most” of our lives, we’re actually actively shortening them! (life is full of little ironies like this…)
    Also, sleep deprivation, people. It’s effects are a lot like a light inebriation, subtly sabotaging both your efficiency and your ability to enjoy stuff, and it slowly eats away at your sanity. I’m intimately acquainted with it, and while I can function while not getting enough sleep, it’s just that: “functioning”, instead of “living”. E.g.: last week, because of the shift change and me choosing not to get enough sleep in the week-end so I can enjoy a little more of my free time, I ended up screwing my bio-rhythm and thus getting an average of only 4 hours of sleep per night. It. Sucked. Big time. And it was all my fault.
    I’ve noticed stuff like this since I was little, and saw parents (all parents, not just mine) coming home from work and being too tired to properly enjoy their free time, their spouses, their children. I hated it. When I got older and started working, I finally understood them, and I hated it even more. It’s just SO WRONG.
    Life IS short people. However, it’s not the quantity of stuff in it that makes it worth living, but the quality. We should just take it easy, loosen up, and have more fun, no matter what we’re doing. Overloading it with work, chores, or even entertainment, will not make your life fuller, but rather it will pass you by faster, and you’ll be left wandering what has happened to it. Allow your activities their proper time-frame. We WILL die, no sense in blindly rushing towards that end, not taking the time to enjoy the road.
    Also, a sense of humor makes everything SO much more bearable… 😉
    Then again, just like you noticed Lady Bee, knowing this stuff isn’t a big deal. Taking an active action about it is, and the hardest thing is cutting a healthy balance between work and play, between intense activity and relaxation. It’s easy for me to say that we should take it easy and have more fun; practicing what I preach is “a little” more challenging, but I keep trying nonetheless… 😉

    • Hmm, I wonder if I’ll ever make a reasonably long comment without any typos… Not “it’s effects”, but “its effects”!*shakes his head* Oh well…
      In connection with today’s theme, worrying about a small detail like this IS a waste of precious time and energy. And I’m not even a grammar nazi… *sighs*
      I guess we all have our little compulsions and obsessions that eat a part of our lives; the best way to fight them is by making fun of them. Maybe enough of that will make them so ashamed that they’ll go away and leave us alone? Worth giving it a shot! 😉

    • I fully agree Andrei, when one does too much one loses out on the enjoyment of life.
      I try to have a sense of humour about everything if possible. I’d rather laugh a lot at almost anything than hardly laughing at all. I have to say it has helped lately. 😉
      Knowing and doing is the difficulty and work is work, and my commute is my commute (and it’s a mean one too!) and eventually you have to make the shortcuts to enable you to enjoy the downtime when you get it.
      I have to say the sleep deprivation is the killer. I have sort of gotten used to managing on 5 or 6 hours a night but things have gotten out of hand lately and I am getting by on 4 or 4,5 hours a night. And this has been going on for about 3 weeks now, close to a month I guess. Which results in a walking zombie.

      Not able to let the little things go Andrei? Join me here in the realm of perfectionism, it has its pitfalls but the company is good. 😉

  • Then I am going to get up early tomorrow to go to gym before work, because I am still me.

    Well, hey, baby steps! Glad to hear you’re balancing your life better now….

    • Thanks Dennis! You will be glad to hear that I had a lovely relaxing weekend, other than this fellow bothering me about some writing I did for him… 😉

  • I just finished up my first year of grad school……..and man, after crashing at the hospital for a solid week, I realized how hard I’d been pushing myself. The thing is, you keep pushing yourself so hard that you become used to being so tired all the time.

    Adaption is superb, it’s allowed us to evolutionarily survive for so long……..and if you don’t believe in evolution, you can at least admit humans are decent at adapting. But that same adaption….your body and mind adapt to a lower level of energy and start acting like that’s normal.

    After getting out of the hospital, I told myself, never again! Well….I know I’m going to overcommit by a little bit this fall, but now I understand it’s okay to prioritize what you value in life and drop things if they get to be too much. If I don’t want to attend a meeting because I’d rather get some shut eye, well……..screw you, I’m going to take a nap!!!!

    haha, but yea, humor is such a fun way to deal with this. I think it’s hilarious that you compare yourself to a zombie. I run into stuff when I’m sleep deprived and almost feel half baked but I laugh it off.

    But….I feel there is a difference in why you’re working had. I try to push myself not because I want to achieve infinite amounts of things in a finite lifetime, but because I just look at those less fortunate than me and my parents. I guess I feel I have to work very hard to not let opportunities escape.

    If it was up to me? I’d rather be living in a cave with a bear or up at a monastery. But I like people 🙂 Hope ya’ll have a relaxing and wonderful latter half of the week!

    • I think that you also demonstrate that getting that balance right is so very difficult. I wish you luck in trying not to overcommit yourself again, just don’t crash! And I agree tell people “screw you, I’m going to sleep” – I wish I took my own advice more often.

      Yes, we humans do tend to adapt, but I don’t like living this way. I hate being this tired, I think too slowly and stupidly and I loathe that feeling of diminished mental capability.

      I have to laugh about it… or I’d cry. 😉 Bumping into things? Boy, I do that when I am not tired or tipsy, I must be the clumsiest person alive. It’s just when I’m exhausted I look like a zombie too.

      How about we both join a sleep study? That way there are people and we can rest…

      Thanks for the wishes. I have enjoyed my week so far but it has been non-stop and full of events and it doesn’t look likely to stop until … um next weekend? Oh well…

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