Friday, July 12, 2013

A Vision of Burnout, And What Came of It

This past summer while we were visiting family in California, I met a woman who really, truly scared me. And that doesn't happen that often!

She wasn't a rambling psychotic, borderline insane, or attacking innocent bystanders with sharp objects. Actually, she was a busy homeschooling mama with a fine family of boys. Nothing too scary there.

But when I met this woman, my immediate and overwhelming first impression (later confirmed by my husband) was as follows: This is a woman who is about to go under. 

This was a woman who was at the brink of not being able to take it any longer - whatever "it" was. Homeschooling, her marriage, her kids, her home, a combination of all of the above - my impression was that she was a woman who was barely treading water and who, if she continued in the way she was going, was not going to make it.

What "going under" would look like for that woman is an unknown - divorce, depression, despair, giving up on home education, etc. - but whatever it was, she was near it.

Meeting this woman (and I did not have a chance to get to know her well) was frightening in two ways: Firstly, I was scared for her, and secondly, I was scared for myself - because I could easily be this woman in a few years if I don't do what's necessary to take care of myself.

Being a mother and homemaker is hard work. Really, really, really hard work. And when one adds home education into the mix, it easily doubles the workload, especially with a large family. (Or even without one - I often times feel like pulling my hair out and I have only one student. Argh.) It's easy to let myself get ragged - either physically or emotionally - simply because there is so much to do. And no matter how hard I work, I will never finish. Pursuing those unattainable goals can lead a homeschooling mother into very unhealthy places as she neglects her health and well-being trying to get it all done.

The take-away lesson from all of that is simply this: I need to take care of myself. I need to do whatever is necessary to make sure that I have the health, energy, mental peace, and situational tools to continue to perform well on the job. If I let myself get into a state in which I am depressed, depleted of energy and health, and unable to perform well in my duties, I'm not doing anyone a favor. Making sure that I take care of myself needs to be a priority.

(I should say that I am not preaching the "me time" gospel in the way that it has often been abused in years of late - that is, as an excuse for self-indulgence and selfishness at the expense of one's family. I am advocating only for balance!)

What does this mean for me? In brainstorming the subject, here are some of the things that I need to keep myself energetic and emotionally stable:

Good Food, Water & Supplements - As a mama, it's too easy to skimp in this area and just eat "on the run" with less than adequate food sources. Thankfully, the diet that I am on mostly prevents this, as most junk foods are on the verboten list. But I do need to make sure that I'm eating well, drinking enough water, and taking the supplements that I need for energy and vitality.

Exercise - Okay, I'm totally blowing it on this one. I haven't exercised in months. Something to work on, for sure!

Time Outside - Thankfully our "20 minutes a day" challenge is helping with this, but I find that time outside is really necessary for mental peace.

A Clean House - My house won't be as clean as it used to be until all of our kids are out of the house... but my mental well-being takes a nose-dive when the house dips into the cluttered and grungy mode. I immediately (and unavoidably) become irritable, anxious, and weepy when that happens - so for my own mental health, I need to maintain a basic level of cleanliness and order in the home.

Discipline - If there's something that can send our entire home into a nose-dive, it's bad attitudes or lack of obedience on the part of the kidlets. Issues along these lines are largely what have made this past week an extremely trying one. I almost never reach the place where I want to be with this issue, but doing my best (and keeping it in constant prayer) does produce big improvements.

Prayer - Until I had kids, I didn't realize how essential my prayer and Bible time was. If I skip it - I pay through the nose.

Getting Up Early - I find that I need a minimum of one hour alone in the morning before the children get up in order to get ready, pray, and start my morning routines. If I sleep in - again, I pay.

Routines - Routines for me, routines for lessons, routines for the kids - all of them pay huge dividends, and the lack of them causes or perpetuates problems.

Getting to Bed at a Decent Hour - This is another huge area of current failure, and one that I am working on.

Minimizing Computer Goof Time - Productive computer time (i.e. when I set a timer and work at a specific task, such as reading articles or answering email) is very positive, but random "quick email checks" (which morph into Facebook checks, and blog checks, and... oh wait, where did the last half-hour go?) tend to be destructive in many ways. I'm working to minimize goof time!

Spending Time on Hobbies - Spending just a tiny amount of time on my personal hobby (blogging!) is very productive and energizing. I need to be more regular about building blogging time into my days.

Daily Quiet Time - Our one-hour afternoon break, during which time I rest, nap, and regroup mentally for the rest of the day. Without this time, I'm pretty much a mess.

If I make it through this journey, it will be solely by the grace of God. But I want to do all that I can to maintain and promote my own health and well-being, rather than hindering God's work in my life by my own actions.

What other essentials do you find necessary for maintaining your personal well-being? I'd love to hear about them!

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