Resting from Tending to Others

I spent the week feeling jumbled and harried and stressed. It was the sort of list where I make a list titled: Ways My Life is Suddenly More Expensive. Having the list didn’t make the expenses go away, but I felt a little better for having complained about them in a word document which I stowed into a computer folder. The list was concrete, evidence that my elevated anxiety is not unfounded. If I hurry and do all the things, I accelerate the income which will let me cover those expenses, so my hurry makes sense too. It all makes sense. It is all important. Even the friendship and community building efforts which occupy portions of my days and bring me no income at all. I was at one of those community-building, supportive events when I spoke about being tired and busy, swarmed with small tasks. I said I was, oddly, not feeling depleted because so many of the task were the kind of tasks that fill me up.

And I was right. They do fill me up.

But I was also wrong because they simultaneously deplete me.

I am a multitude of wellsprings and sometimes filling one depletes another, but the depletion is hidden even from me, until I take a step back and wonder why I’m being so earnest in insisting that I don’t feel depleted. It is because I don’t want, at a community event which I planned, and which I love, and which invigorates me, to also admit that my introvert self is ready to crawl in a hole and hide from everyone she loves.

So I gave myself permission to do that over the weekend. I gave myself permission to participate in a religious celebration without wondering what others would feel about my choices. I watched shows and asked myself what I thought of them without trying to figure out how they would fit into a larger cultural conversation. I left emails unanswered until Monday, I only responded to messages that were actual emergencies (of which there were none). For two days I tended and made space for my own emotions in exactly the same way that I try to hold space for others. It was restful.

More than restful, it was important. Because in my effort to tend my own feelings, I realized how very often I interrupt myself to ask how someone is doing simply because they walked into the room where I was sitting or popped up on a social media app I was scrolling through. Over and over again I had to stop myself from volunteering to do emotional labor for others out of my habit, not from their need. It was the emotional equivalent of spending all my cash on vending machine snacks instead of holding on to that resource to buy a full meal. I suspect that not everyone has this constant tending-to-the-emotions-of-others compulsion, but I definitely do. Resting from that was educational.

Today the cloud of entangled tasks cleared almost by magic. Much of that is because of the muddled work I pushed through last week, but the feeling of calmness is a direct result of letting myself actually rest. It has me thinking how to find the balance of being a person who shows up for others and being a person who lets people do their own growing by managing their own emotions. Someday I want to catch more of these thoughts in a focused way rather than this ramble. Not this week though. This week I need to use my rested mind to push forward on the task that will pay those very real bills.