Sometimes life throws us a curve ball. Maybe we have been diagnosed with a serious illness. Our partner has ended the relationship or died. Something else happens, and we suddenly we find ourselves living alone and struggling to cope.
It is at the curve ball points in life that people often seek out a therapist. When I’m working with people who are at this point, one of the common challenges they are encountering isn’t emotional, but involves the regular tasks of life. They are stressed about home maintenance, groceries, laundry, auto repairs, cutting the grass/snow shoveling…all the ‘bricks and mortar’ things that need to be done, no matter what else is going on in life.
It is these seemingly ‘simple’ items that can make our situation appear to be even worse that it already is. Everything is overwhelming.
Edith is a 40 year-old, parent of 10 year-old twins. She was diagnosed two years ago with fibromyalgia. By working with her doctor and making lifestyle changes, her symptoms had decreased significantly. Just as Edith thought that life was beginning to feel manageable, her long-term partner said that they wanted to end their relationship and was moving across the country.
Edith was devastated! Suddenly she became a single parent of twins as well as in charge of running the household on her own. The increase in stress led to an increase in her symptoms. Any one of these changes in life situations would be enough to make someone feel overwhelmed. Unfortunately, Edith was handed both–with one exacerbating the other. Edith was having trouble coping.
The Power of Habit
One thing that is true about humans, is that we are ‘creatures of habit’. If we’ve done something for a while, we feel that we should continue to do it…and in the same way. On some level this mode of being serves us well. We don’t have to keep rethinking how to do routine tasks…we go on autopilot, leaving brain space to think about others things. However, sometimes this habit isn’t in our best interest. We need to make alterations. Habits are difficult to overcome when our lives are on a even keel, and when we are stressed we don’t usually have the mental space to make changes.
When I suggest to people that they may want to try something different, I’m often met with the response “but I’ve always done it that way” or “so and so will be so disappointed if I stop doing this” or “If I don’t do it, I’m failing as a …..”.
These comments especially come out at curve ball times, when we trying to cope with a new reality.
We Don’t Have To Do It All!
It often comes as a surprise to people that they don’t have to do it all. They are allowed to ask for help or ‘outsource’ tasks.
One of the best resources that I’ve found is the book CEO of Everything: Flying Solo and Soaring by Gail Vaz-Oxlade and Victoria Ryce. While the title is aimed at ‘newly single’ people (either through death or divorce), the book is valuable in many situations.
Both the authors speak from experience (Gail through multiple divorces; Victoria because of the death of a spouse). Between the two of them, they cover everything from coping during the early stages of change to childcare to dating to housing. They share their thoughts and experience on what to look for as you make decisions on whether to outsource or not.
The thing that I appreciate most about this book is that it gives the reader permission not to have to do everything. In fact, the authors logically explain why it’s impossible–especially if you’re trying to cover the work of a missing person when life has been turned upside down.
After a while, Edith realized that she needed help with her ‘to do’ list. She figured out what she could manage based on her health and time commitments. Talking with her therapist she was able see how the difficult emotions of grief and guilt were getting in the way of making choices about what tasks she could let go of. Edith knew that, after her own self-care, her main priority was supporting her children through this change.
Once Edith became clear about where she wanted to focus her energy, she created the list of what else needed to be done and who could help. Even though Edith didn’t feel comfortable asking for help, she began to accept offers from friends and family. Thankfully, she could afford to pay someone for any other help she needed.
The road ahead for Edith and her children wasn’t going to be easy, and at least she had less on her plate taking up her time and energy.
But What if can’t afford to hire someone?
Not everyone is as fortunate as Edith in being able to hire help. This is where your support system can come in–those friends and family members who help each other when the going gets tough. With an established support system, we’re less likely to feel uncomfortable asking for help.
However, not everyone has been able to create such a system, either due to being new to an area, work pressures, etc. So where can we look for help?
- Talk to the people you know and explain what you’re looking for. You may not be able to get help for free, but there are often people who are willing to do work at a lower rate.
- If you belong to a church group or other organization let people know that you need support. You don’t need to go into a lot of detail, and most organizations (especially religious groups) has committees or ministry staff set up to help.
- Check with local high schools for students looking for volunteer hours. In Ontario, secondary students are required to complete 40 volunteer hours before graduation. Volunteering for household chores does count towards these hours–since they’re not being paid.
And now if you decide to get help for household repairs or chores, watch out for this guy! It’s some classic British comedy for the series Some Mothers Do Av Em. Enjoy!