On Being Unavailable

TODAY’S BREW: As much as I can before the cream runs out

By Julie 

My last blog was about resolutions and crap, and this one is also like that but different.

The last blog proclaimed how my focus is all over the place at the beginning of the year. Possibilities everywhere, chasing down opportunities like the rabid dogs they are and wrestling them to the ground until you too are rabid and like an apocalypse zombie all you can think of is this thing you’ve forced yourself to do and now you’re in it so deep there’s no way out but there’s all this other stuff to do too and wait where did life go?

I’ve spent the last 18 days thinking a LOT about this approach I seem to take every year, and I realized it’s not an approach–it’s a FEAR.

Yup. Doing stuff out of fear.

Fear of being judged for not doing enough.

Fear of MISSING SOMETHING like a kid who won’t go to bed before midnight.

Fear of regrets.

That’s not an approach at all. That’s a defense mechanism. An approach is a plan. It’s a defining of priorities. And that means narrowing down all the things one does. That I do.

This is widely interpreted as “saying no.” I can’t be the only one who hears all the time that it’s okay to say no, to not do EVERYTHING. But it’s one of my core values, one of our very few house rules TO HELP PEOPLE THAT NEED HELP. I can help in a lot of ways. I can do a lot of good! I can make a big difference doing small things all day long! It’s easy to take helping too far, clearly. So I coined a new phrase, because saying NO has such a negative connotation in my head, and I’ve worked my tail off eliminating as much negativity in my life as possible. My new plan?

MAKE MYSELF UNAVAILABLE 

man with fireworks

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

YEAH!

I need, for my mental health and self care and for me to REALLY help when help is needed, to not make myself constantly available. By trying everything, doing as much as I can, working hard at working hard, I’ve not prioritized myself. How do I know this? Not just FEEL this, but KNOW it? Two things:

  1. “Self care” is NOT running from an overwhelming sense of purpose down the craft store aisles. Self care should not be running from anything. That’s the opposite of care, that is escaping. I don’t want to escape the things I commit to doing, whether that be a play date, writing a book, whatever it is that’s got me needing QUIET at the time that I find myself driving to Michael’s. (Where lo and behold I THEN find myself buying stuff that contributes to all the THINGS that I do.)
  2. I–me, who loves and does so many things, that has such INTEREST in the world–could not REALLY claim that I enjoyed a hobby.

That second one was where it hit me.

My definition of a hobby (n): guiltless enjoyment of thing for oneself only. an ongoing love one is invested in for themselves and themselves alone.

I love to read, naturally. Not a hobby. Essential to my life and to my profession.

I love going to Target. Not a hobby. A necessity for STUFF, but also a coping mechanism, i.e. an escape (see above about the craft store).

I love watching movies. Not a hobby. Rarely see one just because I want to see it regardless of whether or not anyone else does. Also necessary for my professional inspiration and one of my favorite family activities–movie night. Which I prepare for…for the family.

Here’s a kick in the pants: I love being with my family. Nine out of ten times, my choice is to hang with my husband and kids.

FAMILY IS NOT A HOBBY.

So in realizing all this stuff, the other day I didn’t fill my two hour window of no obligations with writing, cleaning, editing, doing all the things I can be doing. I bought a movie I’d wanted to see–mother! which turned out to be wildly in-depth and brain-stimulating. I watched it alone without fear of being interrupted and with no judgment. No obligation to do nothing during the duller parts either. When it was slow I researched reptile stuff. Now THAT’S a hobby! I told myself. I love love love reptiles, adore my pets, love making their lives better and keeping them happy. They aren’t necessary in my life, obviously, but I would be miserable without them. And they aren’t for anyone else but me. Researching stuff on them and not guilting myself about needing to do something else felt really good. Fulfilling. Not the same as falling into a Wiki hole. It was good for me.

I’d misunderstood leading a fulfilling and full life with making myself a priority. Or maybe I’ve reached a new phase of living. Because I coined another phrase that I’m especially psyched out of my mind about:

MENTAL HEALTH IS NO LONGER ABOUT STAYING ALIVE.

IT’S ABOUT BREATHING LIFE.

albert_einstein_quotes2

I think I’m in the phase of not just trying to keep myself stable and healthy but wanting to grow that health and enrich and indulge. Hell, try something new if I feel like it–hopefully I’ll feel alive enough to want to try new things, learn something new.

Now I talk a little about priorities.

I have this planner pad that has a section for “today’s priorities.” Now I take offense to it.

A priority isn’t something that changes by the day. It’s a constant value, something important all the time, that drives the To Do and the Why. Important stuff to do every day can change, that’s a thing that has to be altered all the time. But the priority, the driving force? No.

The other night my 11 year old had a three hour long panic attack. A real live panic attack. Everything else in the world stopped, and I spent yesterday contacting everyone in the mental health profession I could find to ensure I got him an appointment to see about medication. (Discussed in-depth with his therapist, of course.) All the other things that I HAD to do got put down without question. Because those other things might be important, but Bennett is the priority.

The priority gets top billing. The priority gets as much time as it requires. The priority is the driving force and sometimes it needs be in the passenger seat and let someone else drive.

Things to do are not as important as the priority. Nothing else matters without that priority.

It wasn’t just about changing a schedule, it was eliminating things that will prevent me from giving all the attention to his needs AND give me sufficient time and energy to take care of MYSELF from the agenda. Refusing an editing job takes a lot off my to-do list and gives me more time to allot to the priority. Why spend a lot of time on stuff if it detracts from the priority, the reason? The things I do have to be driven BY that thing. I write because of me, because of my family, because it being a hobby wasn’t enough. I spend all the time with Scholastic that I do because it contributes to my heart and mind and it puts me where the priorities are in a meaningful, outstanding way for them. Those are cohesive priorities–writing and my family and literacy.

The important stuff–editing in this case–is still important, but it’s not crucial right now.

Being unavailable to do things for a person because I want to rest up–not need to, but want to–so that I’m not drained and can take care of my family… helping is important, but it’s not the priority. It’s a value but it’s not the number one thing. Bennett is. If staying home for the four hours I’d spend helping out someone else will help me plan for and be on A game for Bennett in his time of need, recovering from and handling his anxiety flare-up, then it’s a four hour rest that was well worth it.

And at the end of the day, I might just have a little energy for myself.

You can’t take care of everyone. But you can take care of the ones that matter really well, with the ability to give extra for everyone else, by prioritizing. Being unavailable for EVERYTHING so you can do SOME THINGS really well and remind yourself what’s important. What’s MOST important.

I guess that’s what it means when they say you can’t take care of anyone else if you’re not taking care of yourself, right?

So now. Go take care of yourself. Keep one tab open at a time. Shut off your notifications when you’re driving and at bedtime. Those EMERGENCIES we all lay in wait for in the middle of the night or on the drive home are rare. Give yourself the peace of mind to be unavailable to come to everyone’s aid all the time. Be a priority and you’ll feel like one.