• Caroline Ridgway

August Tends to Get the Better of Me: A Month of Reflections

Wow, it’s been more than a month since I posted here. August tends to get the better of me. It’s full of milestones and ghosts and everyday angels.

The month began with a maybe-hit from a tropical system, which ended up doing more damage in the Northeast than the Gulf Coast. That rolled right into my birthday, and a significant one, at that. I prioritized individual celebrations with some of my favorite people in lieu of tempting fate and epidemiology with a party. After my birthday comes a sort of 10-day blackout period during which I remember all the ‘lasts’ with my brother, the anniversary of whose passing persists at coming. Now 5 years. Both a lifetime and a blink.

That timing (coincidentally but cosmically not) coincided with a 48-hour getaway to a nearby destination with a couple friends. A helpful pause. My first time away from home in so many months. Amazing, however, how life keeps coming back at you. This past week was dizzyingly busy, guaranteed to keep the anxiety flowing through my synapses pursuant to how much I haven’t gotten done. And then at the end of the week my sweet cat landed, after oral surgery, in the emergency pet hospital with breathing problems that at least proved not to be caused by full heart failure though otherwise without a sure diagnosis. The month will end with another likely-hurricane skirting our shores, after which it will shortly follow another hurricane making landfall in almost the same spot further along Gulf shores. Windy, unsettling sorts of bookends.

Phew. Breathe.

These are the times when the strain and overwhelm of self-employment can feel like too much. I would gladly pay, if I could afford to in a meaningful enough way, someone to whom to delegate whatever portion of my task work I could reasonably and responsibly siphon off. On Wednesday of this past week I was on Zoom straight through from 8:30am to 3:30pm for a marketing summit hosted by our visitors’ bureau, then had another conference call at 7:30pm. It was a 13-hour work day. Thursday I committed 5-plus hours to editing a major grant application for a small nonprofit, which fully landed in my queue only 24 hours before its deadline. Plus, juggling hours spent tending to the cat and various vet appointments and destinations.

Amid all this, the other work kept piling up. Social media posts still needed to be made. There was a newsletter to edit and send. There were Zoom meetings for other clients. I have about a dozen pending individual assignments for a real estate client, which don’t individually take a lot of time, but collectively do. And I hate keeping people waiting. The stress of knowing I have work lingering that I haven’t gotten to is a real factor in my toggling mental wellness.

I do it all because it matters, because I take my responsibilities seriously, and because I'm ever, ever hopeful that with enough good energy, good work, and good karma the life and the work I desire will manifest.

Now it’s Sunday and I’m at a coffee shop, which tests my COVID comfort levels with public proximity, but my condo is being cleaned (a once monthly indulgence) and with so very much work-from-home time over the last 6 months even a little change of scenery can help with focus. I am hoping for a productive day.

I am equally working, personally, on recalibrating my interpretation of productivity. Because of the nature of my work, and fundamental aspects of my personality, it necessarily and largely ties to achievement of work product on a given day. But it also has to mean sleeping, resting my mind, time with family and friends, life’s needs, going outside, and occasional movement.

Ordinarily the magnitude of August’s disruption is balanced by looking forward to September travels with family to various New England destinations. My work follows. As much as I at times long for a “real” vacation I am grateful for my mobility and that I can relocate for up to a few weeks at a time and stay on top of things. But this year that travel is uncertain. I live in a pandemic hotspot and feel twitchy about traveling to places that have done a better job of managing the disease, and furthermore have formally stated their distaste for my presence. Additionally, the cat’s health is a little off balance right now. I have to, and choose to, tend to her first.

At some point, though, I may have to pause to put on my own air bag before helping those around me.

I’m tired. We all are. There’s emotional fatigue. The physical symptoms of too much sitting in unsupportive chairs. Disrupted sleep, waking at undesirable hours with a mind drag-racing with time. Facing head-on the reality that we control nothing in the grander scheme.

I’m not a throw-in-the-towel kind of person, but this is trying. I’m mindful of practicing intentional gratitude for still having paying work, albeit diminished revenues, at a time when so many are scrambling for money for a bill and a meal. I’m thankful for a family that supports me, and friends who tell me I’m talented and worthy when I’m inclined to wonder. I tell myself that I’m lucky to work for myself, and have the flexibility to travel at all, so if I don’t get to go anywhere this year then there’s always the next time.

But I also try to give myself the grace to feel the things that are hard. My work is intellectually intensive and if my mind isn’t well then the quality and efficiency of my work product declines. I fall into the category of people who spend way too much time sitting because of the requirement that I be in front of a computer. I feel and see the damage that does to my body. To my eyes, to my joints and muscles, and to my fitness.

A friend said to me only a couple days ago that I’m way too hard on myself. I trust her judgment because she and I are cut from the same weave of cloth in that regard. That striving, efforting, standard-bearing nature serves me well in a lot of contexts. But it also leads to burnout and overworking.

I’m glad that I gave myself the time this morning to write this through. For the rest of the day, my goal is to work steadily but calmly through as much work as I can realistically accomplish. Pause to stretch and move around. Eat a healthy meal. Spend a little time communing with the convalescent cat. Do something diverting. Maybe run an errand. It’s an ambitious agenda but liberally sprinkled with self-care. I’ll let you know how it turns out. What are you doing for you?

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