So, I skipped ‘sitting down and showing up’ at this blog last week as I was sitting down on a beach on the Isle of Wight instead!
Three nights away was a ‘good start’ to heal the overwhelm and near-burnout the last few months has brought.
There’s a way to go though before I feel completely recovered from the long hours and big changes. Since returning, I’ve decided to set some pretty strong boundaries around my time and energy, to get myself back on an even keel again.
This is not easy when I live with my business partner! Bik and I are linked not only by a shared home and shared caring for Missy the parrot, but we also run a business together and play in a band together.
In fact, there’s not a whole lot we DON’T do as a pair! I have to be really honest, this doesn’t sit well with my very independent nature, and I think it’s fair to say Bik feels the same. We are both solitary beasts and like to do things our own way. It leads to some interesting balancing acts in the home, and it doesn’t always work – although mostly it seems to.
We work in very different ways: He works steadily and slowly pretty much all the time – he’s checking emails first thing in the morning and last thing at night, and everything in between, but he’s good at pacing how he works. Me? I work in short, high-powered bursts and get LOTS done in tiny spaces of time. Then I stop, completely, and step away from the work.
If I try to work when he does, I burn out fast. If he only works when I do, he doesn’t get everything done and the stress sets in.
So, we can’t always synchronise work and play schedules, and that’s fine – it has to be.
Giving myself permission to spend time reading, or in my studio, or outside on my own is important. I need to make my own plans for downtime and NOT make my relaxation dependent on him relaxing, too.
So, in all this doing-things-together-ness, we need to make space for doing-things-on-our-own. I think everyone does.
Relationships are challenging for all of us, if we’re totally honest here.
Absolutely all your nonsense comes out in the space created between you and another person. Relationships, especially living together, is HARD.
I hate writing that word ‘hard’ – but it’s the truth. Domestic bliss does not come easy to this lady.
I love my own company, need a lot of time not interacting with anyone to keep my energy levels up, and I’m REALLY strong willed about how I like to live. I also put my art and life’s work first, always have done.
Basically, my loved ones have to amuse themselves when I am working on something, because I am simply not available for anything else.
In a way, sharing a lot of work-stuff with a partner is a good way around this.
On the other hand, it means that we’re ‘in each other’s space’ a whole lot more than I’ve ever been used to. I’ve had to get really good and holding my own space for what I need, regardless of where Bik is at any given point with HIS work and stress levels. I took the few days after coming home quite easy, then, even though Bik dove head-first into event planning and promotion pretty much right away.
Every time I was tempted to get dragged into work ‘because he’s working’ I just didn’t. I’m working when I can, right now, and I’m taking it slow. It’s taken me a long time to be able to be in a relationship, especially a live-together one, and hold my own space too. It’s safe to say that it’s taken more than 40 years to be able to be in my own space, in the same space as somebody else.
The key to it is making *me* the centre of my universe instead of expecting the other person to make me the centre of theirs. It’s contrary to what we are taught about relationships, but boy, does it work!
Full disclosure: there are still more days I don’t manage it than days I do. Social conditioning is mighty hard to resist – but every day I step up and try, and that’s all any of us can do.
When I manage it, here’s how:
1) I don’t make it about me: not taking on another person’s feelings as your own is a trick worth learning. It also makes you a whole lot more supportive as you don’t get sucked into a doomy-spiral-of-doom with them, but can stand safely on the shore with a lifeline, so to speak.
2) I *do* make it about me: when I’m feeling cranky or upset, I remember that I own that stuff, it’s not how somebody else ‘made me feel’.
3) I take care of my own needs: this is a game changer, make no mistake. Instead of making it somebody else’s job to magically sense what I need and give it to me, I parent myself. I am my own butler, my own PA, my own 1950s wife (she’s my personal favourite). If I need help or support, I ask for it, sure, but it’s ultimately MY job to look after Jani.
So, I make my bed because I like to come home to a made bed. I plan my meals so that I eat properly. I take myself off for a nap if I feel like I need one. I give myself the care and devotion I need, and it really works.
Here’s the thing: nobody really likes a martyr. A person who is well rested, balanced and happy is a lot more fun to be around and a million times more effective than a burnt-out-husk. This means never sacrificing my own basic wellbeing for anyone on a regular basis (obviously there are extreme moments when it may be required, but I don’t make a habit of it!).
4) I don’t play comparey-tennis: it’s not my business how productive Bik or any of my colleagues is on any given day. I work at the pace I need to, find my own rhythm and don’t worry about what other’s are up to.
5) I try not to blame others when I’ve let the above slide: if I have been silly and overworked, skipped meals and not had enough sleep it can be REALLY easy to blame it on something external (usually Bik – as he’s closest!). It’s much better to take full responsibility for my actions and choices. Nobody ‘made’ me do anything, I made my own choices – and I can make different ones from here on in.