Having lived my life at breakneck speed – always filled with lots of energy and for the most part managing to escape the feeling of being overwhelmed (and low) – to say the last five weeks have been a shock is an understatement.
I’m not yet out of the woods… but I am out the woods enough to be able to start to reflect on the eye-opening lessons I have learnt from this period.
Four and a half weeks ago I had a major operation, which was very frightening to me in the lead-up and debilitating in the recovery period. The hospital said it would take 6-8 weeks to recover, I arrogantly thought, “Sure a couple of weeks will do it!” How wrong could I have been? Willing healing to speed up has no impact on it speeding up; mind over matter is fairly useless when you cannot walk. What you are left with is being utterly dependent on other people.
I have a busy life. I run my own business, I have two daughters of primary school age and I am married to a man who also runs his own business. My family works based on me being the primary caregiver and the energetic part that keeps everything going. Not to say that my husband doesn’t play an important role in the mix, but he does play a different one to me.
The last five weeks have taught me some important lessons.
The age old saying that you know who your friends are “When the shit hits the fan” is really true. It is surprising how few people take the time to show empathy and to be there when you really need it. When you are four weeks in and depressed because – not only can you not drive, or walk – you must work all the time to keep business commitments… and then your youngest becomes extremely unwell with chicken pox. Factor in a mentally ill relative whose current angry episode is targeting you, your children are changing schools and you have a major infection from the operation – it is hard not to feel incredibly low. When you are at this point you realise whom in your life are there to pass the time with, and who are there because they genuinely care and you have a friendship with substance. They are the people that when they ask, “How are you?”, they actually want to know the answer. They are the people I will be eternally grateful to for getting me through this very difficult period of time. The kindness and compassion that has been shown to me by family and friends has humbled me and balanced out the hurt – not sure if that is the right word – but the sting from those that have shown little empathy. And really, what does it matter? You can’t force people to fake care, and more importantly, would you want them to? It just helps you understand more about what part that relationship plays in your life.
The first lesson I have learnt is that I am certainly at fault of people pleasing, but, if I have learnt anything it is that people pleasing and caring for the right people is a good use of energy. People pleasing and caring for people who do not reciprocate is not. For those of you running yourself ragged: stop a moment and give yourself a break. Take some time to regain perspective, as this will help you to prioritise who you want to spend time with. That is not to say people outside of that list don’t play a part in your life, but it does mean that it’s ok to give yourself a break and an out from keeping all commitments going. It’s ok to say ‘no’. It’s ok not to go for coffee with that friend who doesn’t make you feel good.
Pleasantries and surface relationships make for a happier life overall and that’s what makes a community. It’s just knowing and being comfortable with who is a surface friend, and who is one of a substance. Neither is wrong, but knowing the difference will protect you from feeling let down.
The second lesson I have learnt is that I am my own worst nightmare. The strengths of my personality that work when I am well are virtually impossible to live with when I am not. I have a relentless drive to succeed for reasons too personal and long-winded to go into now. I put ridiculous expectations on myself and am a borderline workaholic. I say borderline because my children (and family as a whole) are without a doubt my number one priority, but certainly, the hours I work each week are far from healthy. Taking the time, or rather being forced, to reflect on what we find difficult to live with ourselves is very difficult. I treat myself in a way I would never treat anybody else. I am just packaged up in a very confident package. If I feel like this I wonder how many other people do the same. So really my second lesson is kindness to myself. If I can learn to treat myself with kindness not only will it be better for my family, but also hopefully it will help my daughters do the same. If you are reading this and it strikes a cord with you, the next time you open your mouth to make a joke at your own expense, or talk to yourself in a derogatory way… Stop. The more times you stop the easier it will be to break the habit.
The third lesson I have learnt is that I have a greater insight than I thought was possible into how hard life can be. I am fortunate that I will recover and get my health and my love for life back. For others, it is not that easy. For some, they are living day in day out with a debilitating illness, whether it is mental or physical. This can come across as rudeness that can be masking shyness or low confidence. Abruptness that can be a mask for depression. If we can all just reach out to that person who is struggling and show some kindness, I cannot tell you the difference it will make.
I have been blessed to have a hotline to somebody I love dearly who will take the call at any time of day and will be there to listen; I have friends who will make it a pleasure to have my child; friends who will pop in even when I have said no because they know I need cheering up; friends who when I say can you pick up my daughter reply within seconds to say off course it would be a pleasure. Not everybody is that fortunate. If you are feeling really rubbish and need a friend to listen to you, and you feel on your own, pick up the phone and call somebody that you trust. Rarely are people that care too busy or not interested. Let other people decide whether they are too busy. And loose feeling like a burden. Most people who are real friends will feel privileged that you have confided in them.
I am not sure this blog post has achieved anything, and I am not sure if it will prove interesting to anybody, but I just wanted to reach out to any of you going through difficulties on the off chance that this may help.