I’ve recently been reading a travel book about New England, to get to know Boston and the region a little better and to relax a bit more in my place of origin. Also to look for some places to travel to, maybe for a weekend or a day trip. While I was reading the bio of my people, I was informed that we are known for or thriftiness and our being industrious. This struck me as odd. Mostly because I don’t see New Englanders as having these traits in abundance. But the more I thought about it, the more the evidence started to pile up. I just couldn’t see the forest for the New England Foliage.
My family in particular are very thrifty. We will go a great distance to find the best prices and deals on the things we buy. I remember many a car rides to outlets and discount retailers, looking for a bargain to bring home. And I think we did it mostly for sport. For the bragging rights, to say we got the cheapest price. We are intense about the things we do. And the intensity we bring to shopping, we bring to other areas in our lives as well. Which brings me to number two on the list, our work ethic.
Being Intense on the Job
Thinking back to the travel book, I was realizing how spot on their assessment was. At least of my New England family. Growing up for me, hard work was a given and to relax was to be lazy. There was no tolerance for those unwilling to pull their own weight. This was made clear to me in one of my first jobs as a bus boy in the restaurant my mother worked for.
I was probably 13 years old at the time and my only other working experience was when I had delivered news papers. I never experienced a traditional work environment before and especially not one as tough as a kitchen. On my first day, no more than 3-4 hours into my shift, my mother pulled me aside and yelled at me for being lazy. I was 13, three hours into my first shift and at the only place I had ever worked and I was already expected to know how to preform my duties and do them perfectly. These were the expectations that were set for me and my family. We definitely needed a lesson in how to relax.
How We Look Doing What We Do
Looking back now, I understand how connected my performance was to how my mother viewed herself moving through her work environment. In her eyes, I was a direct reflection of who she thought herself to be. And the one thing she was not going to tolerate was being correlated with being lazy. This was where my work ethic was forged.
So I worked hard. Mostly because I wanted to feel accepted and loved. But I worked from a fearful place. One where I was afraid to relax for fear of being seen as lazy. I adopted my family’s serious demeanor because I wanted to be seen as someone who doesn’t play games. Someone who gets the job done and does it without having to be told how. Also to garner respect. Because this, I was taught, was the mark of a man. But this way of living left me with an intensity that made me slightly mean and definitely unapproachable. And little in the way of tools to help build solid foundations for relationships.
In a more recent experience, while at work, I was being told that I was working too hard. Also that I was difficult to talk to because I had an air of undeserved superiority about me. This wasn’t the first time I had been told I was difficult to manage either. I was let go of a job that I was particularly good at because I didn’t have any people skills. This was jarring because it flew in the face of the values I had been raised with. Which was that working hard and productivity are first priority. Everything else is inconsequential. Being able to relax was at the bottom of the list. But what I was coming to learn was, I had been mislead.
Listening to Our Bodies & Learning to Relax
This type of intensity doesn’t come without its toll. More recently, I decided to take a day off from work because I was exhausted. I had just worked two doubles, back to back, 12 hour days and was feeling worn out. So I called in to my work place and told them I needed the day. They said “I hope you feel better”, and I got back to taking some much needed rest.
Later on in the day, when I was speaking to my father about taking the day off, he was growing agitated with the topic as we discussed it. He was asking probing questions about my decision until I finally asked if he felt uncomfortable with what I had done. Calling in without actually being sick. He said he was and that it was something you just don’t do. He also told me that I don’t work that hard anyway so it shouldn’t be such a big deal to muscle through the day. Unhealthy to say the least.
Well, as the week progressed, I was feeling worse and worse. I worked through the last two days of the week, but by the time Friday night came around, while I was finishing up dinner I knew I was definitely feeling ill. I knew that I would wake in the morning feeling sick and that me taking the day off in the middle of the week was most likely my body telling me that I was tired, stressed and getting sick. So it’s time to take care of yourself and relax. Something I’m not used to doing and if it were up to my family, something I wouldn’t do at all.
Take the Day, Trust Yourself
My body was telling me something that I have been ignoring for far to long. Me and my family have been neglecting our physical needs for as long as I can remember. “Muscling through it” should be at the top of our family crest. And if the need to feel belonging wasn’t drive enough for me to try and work myself to death, I was also being guilted into working more than my body could handle. All because it was making my family feel “uncomfortable”.
I had been stripped of my autonomy because it was too difficult for someone else to see me as being unreliable, or even worse, lazy. Even though I was receiving nothing but encouragement from my places of employment. I was 13 all over again, trying to live up to an impossible standard at the expense of my better judgement and overall health. This, I declared, was unhealthy and unreasonable. Something needed to change in my life and I was the one who had to put it into action.
Trust Your Intuition But Know Your Limits
This is where I am deciding to take the time if I feel I need it. There are some things I’ve come to know about myself. I know I’m a hard worker, to a fault. I take pride in a job well done and usually, enjoy the work. But I can push myself beyond my limits. Knowing these characteristics, I am now able to search for feelings and flags around my work ethic.
How this looks in action is, if I’m thinking about taking a day off, I first need to trust that this is coming from a caring and trustworthy place in myself. This way, when the voice of my family chimes in with phrases such as, “you don’t work that hard anyway” or “don’t be lazy”, I can challenge those thoughts and the emotions of guilt and shame that make me uncomfortable and accompany my thoughts. I can then sit in the dis-ease and make a decision based on what is best for me and my body’s needs. Not the expectations of my family.
These are the healthy self-care lessons I was never taught. And they’re ones that I’m deciding to implement while reparenting myself. It isn’t easy, but neither is the alternative of working myself to death. And I’d rather be in a healthy mental space than buried under stress from the unachievable standards of a dysfunctional past.
Finding the Support to Make the Change
And none of what I’ve laid out above would have been possible if it wasn’t for the healthy support I received from my friends and role models along the way. For instance, my therapist has been a huge wealth of support for me. If I didn’t have a trained professional who was able to give me another perspective asides from my dysfunctional world view, I don’t know that I would have been able to see outside of what I was steeped in. The unhealthy values of my family.
And without a friend to text, or to grab a beer and burger with to talk about what’s happening in my life, I could have easily withdrew. Losing out on a much needed perspective shift. Or some understanding and empathy. And these are the elements that I was missing when I was too afraid to connect. Especially because connecting with others has meant being hurt and taken advantage of in my past.
Luckily for me, when I decided to change my way of living, I had a few friends willing to stand by me through the change. And it was these friends, who allowed me to change without the judgements or criticisms, that showed me what it felt like to be supported. Something that had been lacking in almost all of my previous relationships.
Why Support Matters
Because if it wasn’t for my newly found support, I would have gone on living my life as though I had to meet the impossible standards of my past. The standards that said it is not only normal to work 6 days a week and that 12 hour days are the norm, but it’s also expected. And not that difficult.
The result? Feeling tired and run down most of the time. Also never having time to relax or do something for the fun of it. That’s why we need the kind of support that says, “you look tired, when was the last time you had a day off?” Otherwise, life is a difficult mess. And it’s from this mindset that I want to approach how I budget my resources. With self-care being at the forefront of my assessments. And this is so much easier when you have people in your corner cheering you on. Reminding you what the healthiest version of you looks like.
Because we need these reminders when we wake up after working two, 12 hour days back to back. The reinforcement that gives us the nudge to pick up the phone and text or call our boss to tell them we need to take the day off. Reminders to tell us to do what’s bet for us.
Take the Day & be Kind
If you’re anything like I am, when you decide to take care of yourself you’ll be inundated with guilty thoughts and feelings. It’s difficult enough feeling fatigued and vulnerable when we are feeling sick or super stressed. Then add on the guilt and feeling that you’re failing in some way and we’re making an already bad situation worse. So remember the kindness that we’ve cultivated in our relationships with our supports. Once we do that, we can then extend that kindness to ourselves.
And don’t forget to relax! I know this is a tough one. Especially by those who are riddled with feelings of guilt for feeling as though they’re underachieving. But it is an essential part to feel your best. Nobody has ever guilted themselves into a healthier version of them self ; ) Recently I’ve come up with a few lines to repeat to myself with the help of my therapist. These are there to remind me that it’s okay to relax. And maybe most importantly, to take it a little easier on myself.
So keep an eye on your self and your energies, emotions and physical being. Rest when you are tired, eat when you are hungry and take the space you need to feel your best. If you need a mental health day to recoup, take the day. Nobody knows what you need more than yourself. It may be a big responsibility, but it’s a rewarding one. And head over to The Good Trade if you need some inspo on ways to relax. Peace & thanks for reading : )