No Couch for the Weary

by Rev. Elizabeth Burnette, Executive Director of WomenSource

Have you seen the posts that say something like . . . our parents and grandparents were sent to the front lines of war, we are being sent to our couches, so stop complaining and just stay home? The point of the message is clear enough. However, have you found that being sent home is hardly a day on the couch? While schools are closed, restaurants are take-out only, and downtown areas are empty, our homes have become the new hot spot. The dinner table is now the classroom and the office, the living room is now the gym and the lounge, and the kitchen now operates as a cafeteria and a local hang out (or dance club if you live at my house). In no way can we compare being sent to war with being sent home, but there is merit in acknowledging being sent home does not mean we are lying around on couches all day.

A truer picture of home life now is a three-ringed circus act playing out within four walls and eight-foot ceilings. While keeping up with our fast-paced life has always been a bit of a circus, we at least had the benefit of mobility to meet our needs. Now, we are asked to continue on with life – our work, our education, our athletic-training, our socializing, our everything – within the confines of however many square feet make up our home.

Women, especially, are tempted to keep up the juggling act even when our mobility has become severely limited. At first, moving along with juggling demands at a fast pace while at home was probably easy. We women know how to make everything happen all at once, and we know adrenaline will always push us through. But, now that we are settled in and facing day after day with the same people trying to live, work, and play on top of each other, the real mental work begins. To say, “the struggle is real”, is both cliché and a gross understatement.

May I suggest something to keep us from burning out during this live-work-play-at-home circus? I would like to suggest we stop doing three things immediately. One, stop pretending. Two, stop hiding. And, three, stop trying so hard.

One, stop pretending. Women know how to smile when smiling is the last thing we want to do. The psychological and emotional damage we have caused ourselves by smiling when smiling is nowhere near an appropriate response to a situation is unfathomable. Right now, when life is truly unlike anything we have ever experienced before, let us give ourselves permission to not smile when we truly cannot. Let the smiles come naturally, and let the other facial expressions and emotions come naturally, as well. Do no harm to those around you, but stop pretending you are ok if you are not. Seek help, talk to companions, or call a wise person you know and start with this line, “I want to be strong, I want to be ok, but right now I am not.” See where the conversation takes you. You owe it to yourself to be honest with the people you love and trust about how you are really feeling.

Two, stop hiding. Our grandmothers taught us as their grandmothers taught them – don’t air your dirty laundry. Keep private matters private. Yes, holding some information close to heart is good. The whole world does not need to know everything about you. However, opening up to a friend, or group of friends, who can be trusted has healing power. When we hide our true life stories from every person we know, we limit our ability to have real, authentic relationships. We have become too accustomed to sharing the life we want people to see through filters and hashtags, thanks to Facebook and Instagram. I, for one, know exactly where in my home to take pictures I want to post online so that no one sees the mess in the corner. In this time of isolation in our homes, when we have no choice but to face the messes before us, let us give ourselves permission to invite other people we trust into our mess as well. Call someone who you know will respond with acceptance and start with this line, “Did you know this about me?” See where the conversation takes you. You owe it to yourself to let someone you trust in on your real life story.

Three, stop trying so hard. Letting go of pretending and hiding provides relief. Both take a lot more work to maintain than we realize. In the same way, letting go of the myth of multi-tasking provides more relief than we ever knew we needed. Now is not the time for go big or go home. We have no choice but home right now. We women like to pride ourselves on how well we can do it all and do it all with excellence. The truth is, at the end of the day, we are but human beings with only one brain and two hands with which we can get all of the things done. We cannot sustain a life where we think and do for everyone around us at all times. Now, more than ever, we need strong boundaries, as most boundaries inside your home are presumably lost at the moment. Write yourself a note with this line on it, “One thing at a time.” Put the note where you and those living in your home will see it clearly. You owe it to yourself to slow down, take a breath, and say out loud for everyone to hear, “That can wait. Right now, I am doing one thing at a time.” Incidentally, more and more studies show focusing on the completion of one task at a time creates more productivity in the long run anyway.

Women – you who are now working even more overtime than usual to hold it all together – I see you. We all see you. We know who you are because we are you, too. Being at home does not mean we are on a break. There are no open couches to lie down on. But I hope there is comfort in knowing you are not alone. We are not alone. We are all in this circus together now and always.