The week before last was a bad week in my world. So bad that I broke a bit (a lot) and had to cancel a group call I had in the diary. I was immediately, and very lovingly, met with lots of requests to know what was wrong, some from people who I haven’t actively heard from in months. And the thing is I couldn’t answer. The actual reason seemed so silly and small that I was a bit embarrassed to admit what was actually causing me to have a mini-break down and hug a radiator*.
Someone crashed into a parked car on my road, and that car then hit my car. The thing is I didn’t realise my car had been involved for three days – so I started from a place of self-flagellation. Slow realisation eventually arrived and I spent a full day last week visiting car dealerships - “we don’t do body work here love”; body repair shops – “I don’t need to open your boot, I know exactly what is wrong and you need to speak to these people” and speaking to multiple insurance companies, about the same thing, multiple times. Including one extremely difficult conversation. All little things but for me - all bundled together - it was a hugely energy depleting exercise.
Some people can take sexist comments, being spoken to in patronising tones and phone calls that make you want to smash the phone into the wall, in their stride. They brush it off and walk away. I can’t. For me they are a drain from which I need time, and rest, to recover – and no place from which I can lead a group call. So I didn’t.
I have a list of the things that deplete my energy: phone calls; shopping; driving at night; meetings; having family to visit; evenings out… I won’t bore you with the whole list. It’s not to say I don’t enjoy doing these things – I do – but being both introverted and empathetic, they’re hard on me.
Day in, day out we come up against things that have the potential to deplete our energy and a little thing here or there we can cope with. But coping, I believe is dangerous. Someone toots their horn at a crossroad – lose a bit of energy; you spill your fresh cup of tea – lose a bit of energy; you forget its muftie day at school; receive a challenging email – lose a bit of energy. But if enough good stuff happens during the day, you’ll often find that those energy levels get topped back up again. A smile in the street; a well done on a proposal; an ‘I love you mummy’ picture discovered in a book bag – the world turns right again.
But sometimes the knocks can come thick and fast and at the end of those particular days you can feel pummelled like a punch bag. You’re coping, you’re “fine” but it’s only going to take one more thing to knock everything out of you.
This is the danger of coping. The danger of saying you can take one more thing on. Offer to spin one more plate. Run one more errand. Make one more phone call. We do it because we care but sooner or later, depending on our energy levels and how much we’ve topped them up that day, we might just find ourselves breaking.
You see, the thing is that my ‘little’ car incident had been preceded by a broken boiler; a legal issue - which I was trying to handle without lawyers (coping!); some family issues; some money problems and a sick child. I was coping with all this… And then I broke.
Imagine yourself a little like a phone battery where every knock takes you down by 20%, not 1%. While you might be able to cope around the 20% mark for quite a while, just one knock, emotionally or in my case physically is going to take you straight to flat.
So stop coping. Coping isn’t a badge of honour – it is martyrdom. It is not taking care of yourself. Work out what knocks you, what depletes you and work on some strategies to get those out of your life or delegated. If you can, consider ways that you might be able to deal with those things better next time around. Reframing situations is a powerful way of trying to make sure things don’t always have quite the same impact. Meditation can be an amazing thing, which long term, can make these knocks much easier to take.
But for the next week, all I ask is that you simply stop trying to cope.
Asked to take on one more task? Say no.
Taken on too much? Cancel something.
Nagged to fit in another class after school? Ask for priorities.
Offered some help? - Say HELL yes.
Thought of a way to get more support? Action that right now.
Need to go to bed early? Go.
Answered no to the above? You probably do. Do it anyway.
Recharge yourself. Do it now.
*Thanks to Lucy Sheridan for the spot on descriptor of what those moments feel like.