As we grow older we begin to realize how complex life can become. Over time we also begin to see we carry many different “hats” or roles in our lives.
We are mothers, fathers, friends, students, employees, adult children, siblings, spouses, partners, and more. All too often, the more “hats” we wear, the more complex life has become. We are no longer just a child of parents growing up in the world and these roles tend to sneak up on us rather quickly. With each one, we seem to drift farther apart from the original person we once were. Why does this happen? How did I lose touch with the person I once knew in myself? The short answer: Life. Life happened and we didn’t even realize how much it pulled us away from the carefree child or young adult we remember.
How do I define myself again? The long answer: With each new role a new responsibility was added to your plate. Maybe you found yourself responsible for another person or group of people. Even at a workplace, we are expected to perform for others and most likely there is a customer service role in there. Now we are seeing how some of those complexities started building up. No longer are you just clocking in and out, coming home, preparing a dinner, going to bed, and starting it all over again the next morning. Now you are probably bringing home your work in a mental way. “Okay, I need to make sure those reports are sent in to Mr. Smith tomorrow.” “I have to get more sales or I could lose my job.” Even adding personal relationships means many of us are thinking for two, like if you can make time in your schedule to meet with friends, complete a home project, or just trying to figure out what both of you will eat for dinner and when. For those of you who are parents, you already know the commitment it requires to be responsible for that little life that just joined your clan at home, in addition to those other roles you found in life. Your mental bank begins to feel thinned out and almost bankrupt each day.
But we don’t always take time to look at how this might affect us mentally; there’s still something else to consider. Each of those roles has also caused each of us to think about many other things beyond ourselves. Over time, things can accumulate to become something more important than the self. It’s not uncommon to be feeling overwhelmed and not even realize this may be a large factor in why you feel so overwhelmed. Can we fix that? SURE! Will it be easy? Maybe. Why maybe? The reason really depends on you. It depends on how much you are willing to get back to defining yourself other than what you feel you are today.
It’s probably helpful to also recognize that the way we define ourselves will include many roles at once. Some of these can overlap; some are very separate from one another. Sometimes the ones that overlap might be a hindrance to healthy growth. In example, if you are a nurturing (maternal/paternal) person, it can be easy to bring that into the workplace and provide a potential for putting others needs ahead of yourself. Taking care of something other than your workplace responsibilities (doing someone else’s work, taking on too many projects at once, or using your lunchtime to listen to a needy co-worker’s problems) could keep you trapped in a state of feeling overwhelmed. That lunch hour could turn into a quiet retreat from a hectic day or a rejuvenating walk to free your mind from work stress. While it’s nice to help people out now and again, is it causing a traffic backup in your responsibilities?
Other ways in which you might be feeling overwhelmed in one of your roles is when you are doing too much in your personal life for others. Are you a “yes” person? Is it difficult to turn down when someone needs your help? Are the responsibilities at home well-balanced? If you have things that need to be done at home, such as caring for children, are you sharing that with your significant other? And being a single parent makes that objective terribly difficult. In that example, you will likely need to turn to others outside your home and ask for help (trading off babysitting, setting playdates, working out something with a nearby family member.) Of course, there are some circumstances we have in life where finding time feels nearly impossible- such as working multiple jobs, having more than one child at home, or just being a caregiver in general.
The idea here is to take a closer look at your roles that you believe define you. Are some responsibilities using you in more than one role? It might be depleting your mental energy. Another reason to look at this a little more closely is to see where you can get back to who you feel you should be. Maybe bike-riding helps you feel free in a way you felt as a child? But there seems to be no time for it these days. Bring your bike to work and ride at lunch time! Are you keeping up with friends? Instead of scrolling through Facebook, give them a call to say hello and let them know you miss talking.
One of the barriers you may come across is continuously telling yourself there is no time for you. All too often we are just too tired or too used to the same routine (that doesn’t include “me” time) that we feel too defeated to even take a look at what we might be able to change. What happened to that “me” hat in your life?
Sheilagh is an Artist and Art Therapist who believes in healing with art and creativity.