We all hit moments in our lives when life feels overwhelming. Each and every one of us reaches a point, several times actually, when pushing through seems nearly impossible.
Personally, I tend to thrive on having a full plate. I don't know how to sit still. I am constantly planning trips or events, hosting, working, managing my children's schedules, traveling, cooking, spending time with friends, and writing. My friends always tell me that they don't know how I make managing the many aspects of my life seem so effortless and my answer is always that it's because I genuinely love being a mom, wife, community leader, friend, fur mama, chef, writer, etc... What I don't enjoy is feeling like I am being taken for granted. When I begin feeling taken advantage of for all I happily do and give, then I slowly but surely reach my breaking point.
As usual, there has been a lot that I have been taking care of lately. Despite the endless list of tasks I need to tackle each day, I continue to prioritize my children and spouse who have shown too many signs of not appreciating my constant efforts. I've been feeling drained and yearning to be reinvigorated.
I will speak on behalf of women because I am a woman, and I am surrounded by wonderful, and often exhausted, females. There is no doubt about it, women are nurturers. We have an intrinsic need to take care of others. Yet we often forget to take care of ourselves. We stay in unhappy marriages and bad relationships. We allow raising children to drain us of every ounce of vitality that we desperately cling on to. We don't allow ourselves a break. So, what does one do when one has spread herself too thin?
A dear friend of mine has reached her tipping point and started taking anti-depressants. Another close friend has embraced a routine of entirely ignoring her teenage children. Others get divorced from their spouses because the load life brings becomes too burdensome. Me, I prefer to take a shebbatical.
This last Tuesday morning I woke up as usual, earlier than I needed to, to make my children a nutritious breakfast and lunch. Following this act of love, they each proceeded to take a turn attacking me with complaints while my husband was comfortably tucked in his office. One child insisted we leave the house at 7:58 am and got mad at me for not leaving until 8:00 am because I was waiting for another child who wanted a ride to school too, who then also proceeded to get upset with me because I left for drop off without him even though I waited for him, which in return made my daughter upset because we were two minutes late on her watch. Two of our boys ended up walking to school when suddenly a rain cloud called our bluff and released its pent-up angst. I urgently ran back to my car, getting soaked, in hopes of reaching my boys quickly enough to salvage them from being drenched in rainwater too. I was able to successfully rescue one child. The other sent me a text expressing his disappointment in me for making him walk in the rain. The morning's scenario was too much for me, and in a moment of truth, I booked an Airbnb, packed my bags, and checked into a house that would provide me with the peace and serenity that I needed for three glorious nights. I realized if I can't make everyone content, I should certainly try to make myself happy.
Clearly, it wasn't the circumstances of the morning alone that pushed me to my brink. It was a wide variety of little things that added up and led to my ultimate escape. Although as women we are natural caretakers, it is still often difficult and exhausting, to relentlessly give while not receiving enough in return to refill the giving vessel. Ultimately it is up to us to fill up our tank. We are responsible for our own joy. It is always easier to recharge when we focus entirely on ourselves for long periods of time. Taking time away, by yourself, is crucial for your mental health.
Keep in mind, that taking a shebbatical is not the same as embarking on a girls' weekend trip or traveling without your family to visit an old friend. These are both essential experiences in a woman's life but they do not provide the isolation and quiet that a shebbatical brings. In order for your sabbatical to work, you must clear your schedule and limit your interactions with others so that you can truly focus on yourself. Of course, you can continue working during your shebbatical, just create a space for yourself to come home to with no one in sight.
Your friends' reactions to your sabbatical may reveal the kind of stigma that is associated with abandonment when in reality you are being accountable enough to take a break when needed most. My friends weren't particularly judgmental, they just didn't understand my choice or even know that a shebbatical is an option. One friend said that I "must be in pain", another asked if I am "getting a divorce", and another sincerely asked me if I "feel bad leaving the kids". No, no, no! Another close friend, who is truly a superwoman herself, ironically booked her own weekend getaway around the same time as me, said it best: "we are warriors who are replenishing before we march onwards". YES!
We all need time off from the demands of life. We all need time to think and tap into who we are and what we need. We are all warriors who need to rejuvenate our souls in order to rally the troops. Don't let stigma or fear or guilt hold you back from finding yourself or clearing your mind. Use your resources to offer yourself the gift of time. When you begin feeling suffocated, you are allowed to remove yourself from the situation that is limiting your yogic breathing.
During my four days alone I watched three movies on Netflix, enjoyed a deep tissue massage, had my first reflexology session, pampered my hands and feet with a manicure/pedicure, spoke to my parents and friends on the phone, read old journals that I packed along with me, watched the sunset, enjoyed strolls along the coast, stared into space, and thought a lot. I didn't need to set my alarm or cook any meals nor did I need to mentally coach myself to get through the day. Grownups need to have days with zero responsibilities too.
My three nights were so therapeutic that I am already planning a way to take another shebbatical, this time a longer one. I am enjoying the time with myself. I like reacquainting with myself. I want to get to know myself better. I can only do this when I am not in my daily routine of cooking, mothering, working, planning, and filling up my days with too many distractions to just sit still for lengthy durations of time.
Please don't feel stuck, selfish, guilty, or unable to remove yourself from your obligations once in a while. Some may not understand your decision, but it's only because they are drowning in their own miseries and don't see a way out. Instead, be proud and feel empowered that you are resourceful enough to make an escape from the daily grind a reality for yourself. Find a family member, husband, boyfriend, or friend, to watch the kids or the cats and leave before you implode.
I want every single female reader of mine to leave this article inspired to take a shebbatical. Get to know yourself again, and thrive in the silence around you that will give you more clarity than you can ever achieve in any other situation. Model to your children that taking care of your needs is as important as taking care of theirs, and teach your husband that taking time apart is healthy. In fact, it is a requirement for both of your mental sanities.
In my opinion, striving to be a woman who wears a badge of martyrship is not a worthy aspiration. There is nothing more wasteful than passing on your one opportunity in life to find your purpose while sacrificing yourself for others who inevitably leave you one day. What is noteworthy is permitting yourself to evolve, learn new things, meet new people, and visit new places but most importantly to get to know exactly who you are. It's nearly impossible to have any of these experiences if you are coming from a place of "stuck". I am here to tell you that your children will do just fine without you around for a few days or weeks, that your husband will attempt to fill your shoes only to realize how unfeasible this goal is and thus will hopefully appreciate you a tad more when you return, and that everything will remain the way you left it, albeit a little messier perhaps. The only major change will be the one in you when making the bold move to temporarily remove yourself from your daily routine. You will suddenly realize that you're a badass because you ascertain that you can break the norms and that you now have in the palm of your hand the secret to self-happiness because you too can take a shebbatical.
Next time you feel fed up with your spouse, your kids, your friends, your parents, or even yourself allow yourself this time to replenish and restrategize. Consider this break mental training for the many inevitable battles ahead. Remember, you are a warrior and the world needs you at your strongest. Take a shebbatical.