Balancing Act

I awoke this morning feeling unsettled. I had nearly succeeded in achieving my goal of 7.5 hours of sleep, missing the target by only five minutes, on a par with my previous longest sleep since I began recording my sleep quality and quantity a week ago, and I certainly didn’t feel the need for more rest. I was pleased with my successful and enjoyable previous day, during which I focused on having fun with my two boys: we playing in the waves on the beach for hours, delighting in the sunshine dancing in the water, ate ice creams, and raced around the Bird Park because my eldest son was so excited about seeing all the birds. I also managed my first ever Pilates session, and my first strength session since falling ill in November, though needing to take it fairly easy as I was feeling nauseous and weak. I used my discipline to end the day at 21:30, which I knew I needed to do to hit my sleep target, and for a change I hadn’t been disturbed by either children or the new puppy during the night.

I had, however, been plagued by a series of gruesome nightmares during the first half of the night – which are highly unusual for me – which were followed by disturbing and frustrating dreams, and thus woke feeling off balance. I found myself doubting the best way to use my quiet hour before the children were likely to wake up. Should I do another strength session, or Pilates? I generally use the early morning for exercise, but as I am still working out a clear structure of my purposes, and how to prioritise them, my new routines are not yet clear, and I hesitated. Whilst deciding, I wandered through to the kitchen, and once again hesitated. What should I drink, or eat? I am also still working on the finer details of my plan in that respect (one coffee a day as a maximum, or is two acceptable?) and found myself wondering, ‘Herbal tea or aloe juice?’ I settled on ginger tea, and enjoyed the gentle sunshine and birdsong whilst finely grating the ginger and waiting for the kettle to whistle.

During this time I decided that, for the sake of breaking my normal habits and allowing for new ones to emerge, I would open up my laptop and do some writing and reflecting on why I was feeling quite so unsettled. After typing for a while, I took a break to sip my tea and read a few more pages of Gretchen Rubin’s ‘The Happiness Project.’ It turned out to be exactly what I needed: ‘Although we presume we act because of the way we feel, in fact we often feel because of the way we act. The philosopher and psychologist William James explained, “Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.” Advice from every quarter, ancient and contemporary, backs up the observation that to change our feelings, we should change our actions.’

So, I was feeling sad and unhappy, despite the rest and the beauty of the day. How was I going to shift that? I was going to throw myself into getting a lot of things very satisfyingly ticked off my to-do list. Yesterday was about fun and getting my body stronger and more in balance; today was going to be about organisation and order.

I first threw myself into tidying – getting the new table, which we had sanded and varnished the night before, into the kitchen, and the kitchen table into the bedroom, where it will now function as a second desk for me to work at. Next was tidying the boys’ new wardrobe and chest-of-drawers, and getting all my shopping lists up-to-date on my phone. I had a meeting at 11:00 about moving my UK pension into an off-shore investment – which seems so ADULT that I realise how often I still feel like a kid pretending to be grown up – and I wanted to get a significant amount of shopping and chores done before then. For once, instead of just making a long list and then throwing myself with energy into running around without an entirely clear plan, I categorized everything by shop and planned a careful and efficient route.

Everything pretty much went according to plan, and I got home, ticked off a few more chores, and picked up the children, then headed out again to complete a few more tasks. Here, things started to go a little wrong – at the bank, a polite teller informed me that they no longer issue the type of letter I need to complete the pension transfer, and the kids were being adventurous and not acting as I wished them to, and I felt myself start to become edgy and irritable. Climbing back in the car, after being shorter than I needed to be with the kids, I paused to take a couple of deep breaths and decide what to do next. I realised that I was feeling tired, and that I had been ignoring the growing period pain cramps that were starting to feel crippling. I had been on my feet running around for hours, and completely ignoring my body. If I kept driving myself to achieve the long list of tasks I had set myself, I was going to turn my last day of holiday into a stressful, taxing day for us all, so instead of heading to the next shop, I took the boys to a restaurant with a children’s play area, and am writing this over a relaxing cup of Chai Latte.

The balancing act will never end – there are always so many competing priorities in our lives. But I was reminded of a few important lessons today:

1. When I have a clear set of purposes, knowing what to proritise becomes easier.
2. Establishing new routines is always unsettling.
3. We all feel like we’re kids playing dress-up in adult clothes sometimes, and that’s okay.
4. A few deep breaths can really help!
5. Keep listening to my body, and don’t push it too hard.
6. Remember to have fun and relax rather than just driving myself to achieve, and keep the balance within each day, not just between days.

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