Exhausted. Overwhelmed. Burned out. Tired of being tired, and even more tired of trying to figure out how to end the cycle, the endless rounds of to-do's and responsibilities, of completing actual tasks and flipping through the eternal mental gymnastics of planning ever more tasks.
Nearly every woman I know, personally and professionally, identifies with this description. I've been there myself. It's like the anthem of womanhood in the 21st century, a twisted version of Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman." Instead of roaring, we are yawning. Sighing. Crying. Struggling. We're much too tired to roar, thank you very much.
Unless it's in those moments when we roar at our children, our partners, that random guy in traffic. Today's women don't roar to rattle the chains that have kept our sisters down for generations. We roar from beneath an alchemized load, no less heavy but far less visible. We roar not in passion, but in frustration. And then we add "apologize for roaring" to the list of things to do.
How did we get here? And more importantly, how do we leave? How do we begin to release the load that weighs so heavily on us, body, mind, and soul?
I used to carry this load. I am still learning how to unbind the chains, one link at a time. But my load is much lighter now. Which is not to say that I released it with great grace. I was, in fact, forced to put much of my load down after I pushed myself beyond so-called success and directly into physiological burn out. Beyond the mental load, beyond feeling like there was never enough time and always too much to do, and right into a hot hormonal mess.
Three years later, I am still working to heal my endocrine system. My thyroid and adrenal glands are still recovering. There is still fatigue more days than there is not. My physical healing will take more time, but my mind is stronger now than ever. And I have mad skills at releasing the load that women find themselves buried under. I want to share some of the ways that you can lighten your load, too.
Pay attention. Begin by bringing awareness to your situation. What messages did you receive from your family and sub-culture (ethnicity, religion, etc.) about women's roles? What messages do you see reflected in our society at large?
When I reflect on what our society tells women about their load, I always think of a commercial that showed a sick man, who was laying in bed, and a sick woman, who was cleaning the house. I believe it was an ad for cold medicine...as in, hurry up and take your medicine so you can continue to function as you are meant to. The other sick people need to rest, and this place isn't going to clean itself.
Tune in, also, to your own thoughts and expectations--of yourself, the women in your life, and the men. Ask yourself the tough question--where am I contributing to my own misery?
Get ready to get dirty on that one. It's always easier to suffer at the hands of another, but women accept, and even demand, far more responsibility than they need to carry. Take these examples from among my clients:
A woman with three small children who kept track of her husband's baseball coaching schedule, taking it upon herself to remember all of his practices and games and remind him before each one.
A mother of a sixteen year old boy who disrupted her work schedule multiple times to pick him up from sports practice after he failed to tell her his schedule or arrange for a ride.
Several mothers who exclusively took time away from their jobs or businesses when children were sick, never asking for or expecting an equal balance from their spouses.
A young woman who stressed herself and overloaded her schedule to pack everything her children would need for a trip they were taking...with her husband.
Many women have thoroughly internalized the message that we are solely responsible for children, schedules, caring for our homes, grocery shopping and meals, and ever so much more. We are tired, but we are also complicit in overworking ourselves.
To begin lightening your load, to begin the unbinding, you must first examine how the chains were forged. While it may be painful to admit your own responsibility, the links you forge are the easiest to break. Find them and tear that shit down.
Become aware of your programming--the messages you've received from culture about who a woman is and what she is supposed to do. Bring these messages into the light and examine them closely. See them for what they are--someone else's ideas of right and wrong. Keep the ones that resonate with you and throw the rest out with impunity.
Bring awareness to every aspect of this issue, as it applies to women in general and as it is manifesting in your life. Awareness is always the first step in change. Understanding the problem is the inception of the solution.
Watch your mouth. I want you to try an experiment. For the next week, count how many times each day you say things like:
I am so tired.
I have too much to do.
There's not enough time.
I can't keep up.
I'm so burned out.
I can't keep track of it all.
This was one of the most powerful steps I took in claiming my freedom from the oppressive weight of modern womanhood. I used to say all of these things. A LOT. And guess what? They were all true. Because I spoke them into being.
But something magical happened when I began to watch my mouth. I started catching myself and changing my language. My favorite was "there's not enough time." Each time I found myself saying or thinking this, I would replace it with "I have all the time I need."
It probably won't surprise you to learn that I immediately felt better. That's just simple psychology. Of course moving from a negatively charged, victim style statement to something more hopeful and supportive helped me experience more pleasant emotions.
But it did more than that. Once I began expecting to have enough time for everything...I did. My to-do list never got shorter, but time seemed to expand to allow me to complete more of it. To this day, anytime I feel like things are getting tight and I actually may not be able to complete all of my tasks in the time available to me, something shifts to accommodate--a friend reschedules a lunch date, a client cancels an appointment, I wake fully rested but 45 minutes early.
Words are powerful. Think of them like magic spells. Each time you speak, out loud or in your head, you are crafting a spell. How often were you crafting overwhelm and frustration for yourself in the week you spent watching your words? Did you ever craft peace, grace, ease?
Work on verbally disowning anything you don't want in your life. If you no longer want too much to do, stop saying that's what you have. Instead, use your words to craft spells for what you want to create. I have all the energy I need to get through my day. I complete tasks efficiently and effortlessly. I am power and peace.
Let go...and hang on to your hat. The steps above help you align with an ultimate goal of lessening your load. They will begin to shift your thoughts and emotions and will help you create the energy (mental, physical, emotional) you'll need to make a change.
But then, the time comes when you actually have to make a change. If you want less to do, less overwhelm, less burn out, less frustration...you'll have to do less.
You will need to say NO to things you don't want to do. You will need to let other people, like your older children and spouse or co-parent, be responsible for their own selves. You will need to walk away from things, people, and situations that keep you bound up, weighed down.
This is a profound project, the pinnacle of self-care. It will change your world in ways you cannot currently imagine. It will also change the worlds of those people for whom you've been holding responsibility. These people may rebel. Consider yourself warned.
When you tell your children they are responsible for keeping track of their own sporting equipment, they leave a glove, uniform, or racquet at home that costs them play time, and you don't run back to get it, they will be upset. When you stop managing the emotions of your co-workers, they may ask why you aren't supporting the team like you used to. When you tell your spouse you expect to take turns staying home with sick kids, they may resist.
Be prepared. And more importantly, understand that you are, in fact, serving these people. The load you carry is toxic to you, but it's also harming them. There's been a terrible mix-up in our society. We have somehow confused caring for others with taking responsibility for them, femininity with self-sacrifice. These things were never meant to be synonymous, and this confusion creates the sneakiest and nastiest consequence of the load that women bear.
In this imbalanced serving of others, we not only over-burden ourselves. We also steal from, truly debilitate, the very people we seek to care for. We imply that men are not capable of competent care for their own children. We teach children they are not capable of feeling a full range of human emotions. We raise daughters in the same chains we fight against, and sons who expect women to bear this load. We rob others of the fullness of experience--the complete opportunity to experience the consequences of their choices, the freedom to choose for themselves how they show up in this world. In perpetuating our own suffering, we also create untold hardship for our family, our tribe, our society.
If you can't put down the burden for yourself, if the message of woman as sacrifice has been carved too deeply into your soul, put it down for them. Loose the chains so that men can be trusted as parents, so that others are free to express emotions without being "rescued" from them, so that conflict can be aired and resolved. Release the load so that children can learn they are capable of surviving frustration, fear, disappointment, so that the people you love can turn to you for support while crafting their own solutions.
Make THIS the sacrifice, that you release the twisted links that bind women to doing too much and allow everyone you value (yourself included) to move freely, with grace and ease, through this life. Let this be our anthem. Let it roar.