So a few things happened recently.
I’ve been feeling a little bit totally knackered. Like, floored. The kind of tired you can only be in the run up to Christmas I suppose. It’s been one of my first questions to friends I’ve bumped into – ‘I’m tired – are you tired?’ And, given their answers, there would appear to be an epidemic of fatigue. As always in December, there’s a lot going on. However casual and low-key you play it, Christmas makes for extra work for us all. Work will always be manic in the wind-down to a few days off and then there’s the entire Winter Solstice to take into consideration which, if intelligence dictated, would enforce a widespread hibernation of mankind rather than a ‘party season’ of enforced socialising. With the eldest in school I’ve been feeling this year like no other, this past semester dragging on and on through dismal weather, dreaded coughs and school nativity rehearsals.
A lot, I know. But even all of this wouldn’t add up to the level of yawnage I’m talking about.
The other week I finally, at last, sent a text to a dear friend who had been on my mind for a while, a long while. And why had it taken me so bloody long to write this short message to her? This kind of stuff is a pattern which repeats itself in my life and I have no answer why I procrastinate on tiny bits and bobs that feel so good once they’re completed. It’s ridiculous, I need to buck up… I keep telling myself. I cannot overstate how important my friendships are to me, but sometimes it can feel like a real struggle to stay in touch with everyone and be in each others lives as much as I know we’d all like. It takes time and, well, effort. And effort takes energy.
The same morning, doing a few jobs around town, I happened to bump into a lovely neighbour of mine. I met her with her beautiful 7 week old and teddy-surrounded toddler as she picked up some bits. And although we only had a few minutes to catch up before she made a dash to collect her little girl from playschool, our chat followed the usual route of straight to the core. We commiserated with each other’s tiredness, indulged each other in our talk of broken sleep and demanding days. ‘Emotional availability’, she said. ‘I just don’t have the capacity to be emotionally available to everyone right now. You should write a blog post about it.’ BINGO I thought. That’s exactly what I’ve been feeling! I just didn’t have the words to label it.
The idea of emotional availability is an important part of the exhaustion jigsaw. There’s been a lot of talk lately around Emotional Labour, that extra largely unseen volume of work that is primarily, it seems, undertaken by women – like buying gifts, sending cards, making appointments, that kind of stuff. The toll it takes is real and it’s a big drain on your energy, your time and, guess what, your emotions! Add that to the emotional ups, downs and in-betweens that come in the lead up to St. Nick’s visit and you’ll begin to see why your emotional resources may be on their knees. It’s the thinking about, organising for and considering everyone else that’ll have you wiped – and yet because you don’t really see the output – or at least you have never been taught to register how much ‘giving’, emotionally, takes out of you – it’s almost like an invisible energy zapper. You can’t pick up the phone to text a friend, but you can’t really put your finger on why… And all this combines to ensure that you remain steadfastly emotionally unavailable to many, including yourself.
On a personal level, I’ve only recently started to realise the impact of my day job on my emotional reserves. While I would always have said I was co-ordinating and distracting children all day, I’m actually just dealing with their ongoing bouts of anger, excitement, disappointment, elation, frustration, sadness etc. Basically, I hang on to the coat tails of the crazy train for my entire day as I guide, sooth and manage three munchkins through an extreme range of childish emotions. And that’s all fine. It’s just good to acknowledge that this can be extremely challenging when it comes to maintaining my own emotional resources. I like being at home with the kids, but I always feel my day would be vastly improved if I just had a ten minute commute to and from work. Some mind space, just to have the chance to go into neutral for a while. To top myself up, a chance to re-set systems and renew my emotional reserves.
My friend said she does this by scrolling through Instagram. Once the kids are in bed, some mindless flicking through pretty pictures helps her negate the mind-full of chatter and chaos she’s left with after a day of full-on parenting. I’m totally with her. That, or a good dose of the Kardashians, or a walk or whatever mindless, emotionless activity you can think up that asks nothing of you and requires minimal effort. After a bout on Facebook or half an hour spent catching up on celebrity gossip you may just find it within your ability to message that friend or check in with your brother or chat to your other half in a meaningful way.
I’m really hoping 2020 brings more energy to my days, helping me become that friend who sends the messages, keeps in touch and organises the meet-ups. But I also know that I really am doing my best – maybe becoming more aware of the fact my emotional reserves can only stretch so far would be the smartest – and kindest – way of kicking off a new decade.
Happy New Year friends! Mind your marbles, X