Beyond Blue

If perfectionism is a crippling bastard, then unrealistic expectation is his obnoxious trophy wife. The two are disgustingly inseparable, and their full-time job is manufacturing anxiety inside a depressive’s head.

Take this morning’s breakfast in my household.

Eric practically hyperventilated in between bites of eggs as he observed the sorry state of our house (the result of going away with the kids for the weekend–the time we usually delegate to conquer the mess): mounds of dirty laundry all over our bedroom floor; the family room awash in Legos, plastic Easter eggs, chips all over the afghan-size checkerboard rug we won at the school’s fundraiser, puzzle pieces, newspapers, DVD cases minus the Blockbuster labels that are required for returning, and match-box cars; newspapers and mail from four days covering the kitchen table; and dirty dishes in the sink from the night before we left.

Then I practically hyperventilated when I realized how far behind I was on my work, and when I listened to the voice mail of a sitter saying that something came up today and she couldn’t come.

“Do you have any time to pick up the house today and fold laundry?” Eric asked me.

I did not lash out. I’ve been married for eleven years–I know better than that. I simply lifted my t-shirt and flashed him my hairy armpits.

“I’ve decided to stop shaving in order to free up an extra five minutes a day,” I said.

“I see. Can you take the kids to school so that I can pick up the house before work?”

“Yes. And I’ll try my best to a get a load or two washed and folded today.”

I’m behind. Always behind. Running to catch my breath. Why? What am I doing wrong here?

It’s a math problem, I think. So I run the numbers and figure out where I’m coming up short.

I have ten hours of school and ten hours of babysitting I can count on in a perfect week (which happens maybe once every two months). By perfect, I mean no sitter cancellations, no green snot or viruses from the kids, no weekend or weekday business trips for either Eric or me, no funerals (of friends, neighbors) or preschool parties (teacher appreciation, yada yada yada), no care-taking crisis (of a certain elder), no doctor’s appointments (psychiatrist, pediatrician, ENT specialist, allergist, ophthalmologist, gynecologist, urologist…).

Writing and maintaining Beyond Blue (plus checking my messages obsessively) requires approximately 20 hours a week. Add three more hours for my biweekly column for Catholic News Service. Add another five for compiling a book of Beyond Blue posts, at least an additional two for other writing assignments. And I really should build that website– has been under construction for three years now (go see for yourself).

That’s 30 to 35 hours.

Add nine hours for my workouts (including transportation to and from the pool/gym and a shower, if possible). And an additional 10 if I’m going to train for this Olympic—distance triathlon I signed up for.

I’m at 49 to 54 hours.

Note to self: You are trying to cram 54 hours of work/athletic training into a 20-hour time slot. That is why you are stressed out.

Time to reexamine my priorities and nix some activities!

Priority number one: my health.

I can’t budge on the three semi-healthy meals a day (which means fitting in trips to the grocery store plus time making the chef salad I should eat for lunch) or the eight hours of sleep a night. I need to work out at least five times a week for an hour or more (plus transportation and shower time) for physical and emotional health, but also for spiritual health, since that’s when I meditate. All these things aren’t optional–they have to stay.

Priority number two: my marriage.

I’m thinking (after seeing Eric’s expression this morning during my hair exhibit) that I should shave my armpits and legs, fold an occasional load of laundry, pick up the Legos if I can, and book a sitter once a year for our annual dinner together without the kids.

Priority three: my kids.

I can’t go over 25 hours of childcare because then I’m not a stay-at-home mom, and the guilt of being a working mom would be bad for my depression (no judgment here toward working moms–I just know my Catholic self, and I have to honor the commitment I made to myself and Eric back when I was wearing maternity clothes).

Priority four: Beyond Blue and “Our Turn” (my bi-weekly column for Catholic News Service). I’m committed to these two writing responsibilities.

Priority five: compiling a bestselling book.

I can wait until this summer when I might have more sitters, or even later. Oprah’s not going anywhere soon. And even if she is, I’m not sure she’s the right fit for me (kidding).

Priority six: other writing projects
Postpone these for now, and skip the website for another year (four years under construction). Hey, it’s less hate mail for me to read!

Priority seven: triathlons and races.

Do only those races that don’t require additional training–the 10K run, the mini-triathlon, and the 10 miler. Postpone the Olympic-distance triathlon until the kids are in school because training hours are deducted directly out of family time, and that will make me feel guilty. Besides, swimming in the polluted waters of Annapolis’s city dock is like a suicide attempt in itself. The last story circulating was about a man with an open sore on his leg scrubbing down his boat. Flesh-eating bacteria attacked, and his leg was amputated the next day. Being a mentally ill addict is challenging enough–I don’t wish to be physically disabled as well.

Priority eight: volunteer work.

Am I on drugs (besides my antidepressants, mood stabilizer, and tumor shrinker)? Nix all intentions to feed the hungry until care-giving responsibilities (to kids and elders) is less, because charity begins at home and we are presently maxed out.

This is a good exercise for me to do every now and then because I often run my life like the folks dining at Old Country Buffet–stuffing my white porcelain plate with every kind food displayed, making sure the person in back of me knows that it’s for my kids.

Unrealistic expectations set up the perfectionist for depression and frustration. Because when the person is unable to accomplish everything on his list (which would be impossible for anyone), he feels like a failure (and labels himself as such). When that couldn’t be further from the truth.

He just shoved too much food onto his plate, or was hanging around some bad company–perfectionism and his wife, unrealistic expectations.

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