As is to be expected in every adult’s life, there are many responsibilities and demands we must meet on a daily basis. Whether these demands arise from our families or careers or something else entirely, they are persistent—providing us with both definition and meaning while often bleeding us of every last drop of our energy. The pressure is unrelenting. If we’re not on a plane to Los Angeles, we’re in a carpool, or stuck in another pointless meeting that has no end. And now on top of that, here in the 21st Century, we must submit to that ruthless Dominatrix, the Internet, who demands that we do more, know more, and monitor more than ever before.


Is it any wonder we can’t catch our breath?


No matter what our family situation is, no matter how much money we do or don’t earn, no matter what level of respect we command from the people we interact with, such pressure becomes our intimate acquaintance—compressing our chest and making our shoulders hunch. To a stranger, it might appear that I am living footloose and fancy free with nary a responsibility in the world, but I assure you that’s not the case. I’ve known what it’s like to hold a high stress job where hours stretch past midnight, gobbling up weekends and holidays, but at least with that I had a chance of closing the door and shutting it out for an hour or two. Not so now. Now, what my job is akin to an emotional outlet with cords running out of me in a variety of directions, drawing current 24/7, as I slowly reverse caretaking roles with my parent, leaving me feeling saddened and drained as I deal with the denial, declining abilities, and frustration that comes along for the ride. Aging is not for the faint of heart.


How often do you feel like you’re on call with no union negotiated breaks?


I think that men handle this sort of thing better than women simply because they can shut out so much of what’s around them and concentrate on one thing at a time. I envy them this ability. Not so for we gals. We’re continually aware of all the balls in the air, how high they are, their relative position to one another, and when they will predictably fall back into our hands (let alone anticipating how many others might get tossed into the mix at any moment).


Who can catch a breath when this is your reality?


I’ve written about this topic a time or two before, but here it is again: part of successful re-booting requires us to taking care of ourselves if we hope to care well for others. If we don’t put that oxygen mask on first, there’s no way we can help the person beside us. As adults, it’s easy to push off our need to relax or escape or have fun because there are always so many chores that demand our attention. The children need to be played with. The meeting next week requires additional prep. “Between work, kids, and the home situation, I haven’t had any time to do the things I’ve wanted to,” one friend lamented. God, does that sound familiar. Unintentionally, all those things we want to do wind up the bottom of the pile.


When was the last time you got to do something just for you? Something you really wanted to do?


What we fail to understand is that taking this time for ourselves pays off exponentially in terms of restoring our energy levels and optimism. Indulging in a few fun activities without feeling guilty can do wonders for our perspective, reenergizing us for yet another round in the ring. In lieu of this, what happens is we take half measures, telling ourselves we’re “relaxing” but not ever truly doing so. A glass or two of wine while staring dully at the tv rarely relaxes us as much as we hope. We pretend it’s sufficient.


What I’m trying to point out in this post is the need for us to get clear on how much we can practically do, how much we are truly responsible for. Will it be the end of the world if your kids don’t have after school activities every day? Just how much hand holding are you required to do for that aging relative? If they feel lonely why is it up to you to fix it? And what about that friend who’s seriously depressed? Yes, you can find the time to help him through the roughest patches, but does it make sense that you make yourself available all the time for months on end? At a certain point, they have to assume responsibility for themselves.


We cannot do it all, regardless of the need. And we shouldn’t.


What I’m saying may evoke discomfort for some of you—it does me. I object to the notion that there are limits to my capabilities or that I’d let someone else down. Doing so goes against the person I want to be, the way I like to think of myself. But, I’m starting to hit a major saturation point in terms of how much longer I can care for my dad–not that he is incapacitated–but he is unrelentingly needy. For the past four years, I’ve acted as sort of a traffic calming measure, smoothing the way and finding detours around certain obstacles. But, despite multiple attempts to plan for the future he remains in firm denial. Were I to move out, I can predict what will happen (and it won’t be good). But, I’m close to doing it anyway…


The problem is I have a strong inclination to stay because he needs me and I’ve invested so much. It would be so much easier were I to remain; but it isn’t good for me. So, my oxygen mask is moving out and into my own life–if I don’t grab it, I’ll suffocate. At a certain point, whether he flies or falls due to his own stubbornness is his business, not mine. There’s only so much I can do.


Where in your life do you need an oxygen mask? Why aren’t you reaching for it?


Regardless of your particular circumstances, the point of this post is to encourage you to take that time for yourself. To breathe freely and without guilt. It’s the only way to live.

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