Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Overcommitment Hangover

You know that nagging feeling you get in your stomach when something is hanging over your head that should have been done, when you know that the next time the phone rings it’s going to be the landlord looking for a past-due check or your boss wondering why some project hasn’t wrapped up?

Well, I’ve got it. Thing is, my rent is paid and my work is up to date. My nagging feeling isn’t caused by any dropped balls or time pressure or shortage of cash. It’s caused by the simple fact that I took most of the past two days off. An unexpected sick day followed by an afternoon off for the company softball game was more than I could cope with.

I took my daughter to the game and we had a great time. We ate out on the way home. We went to see Bandslam late, had the whole theater to ourselves, and sang out loud. The popcorn was unusually buttery.

And then when I finally lay down to sleep…nothing. Just that queasy, waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop sense of anticipation about the fallout from all those balls I’d dropped.

I searched my mind. I searched the floor. Nope, couldn’t find a dropped ball anywhere.

There was a time, I’m sure, when I could take a nice, relaxing day in stride. In fact, when my daughter was young and I worked very part-time, most of my days were nice and relaxing. A lot of changes intervened and life got very busy, and for about ten months I went to bed at midnight worrying over what was undone and woke up at 5:00 a.m. (or sometimes 3:30), bleary-eyed and shaky and already feeling behind.

And I forgot how to relax. I forgot how to feel okay about enjoying a day. I forgot what it was like not to cringe when the phone rang, because I knew that there was going to be some wildly unrealistic new demand coming across the wire. But I escaped that job—a victory that feels a lot like having ended an abusive marriage—more than eight months ago. And I’m still in recovery.

I know what’s going on and can name it and try to push it aside. I’m blessed with employers who believe in work-life balance and not only accept but agree with the idea that my daughter is far more important than anything they might ever ask me to do. But I’m still lying down at night with that fear that I haven’t done enough, the feeling that something is wrong just because I’m not feeling any pressure and I’m getting a full night’s sleep.

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