mental health

Taking back my time

I touched on this yesterday, but upon further reflection I wanted to examine it a little more – prioritization.

For most of my life I have put everyone before myself. It was drilled into me as a young kid as we lived with my grandparents. They came first, then my mom, then my aunts and uncles and cousins, and on and on down the list until it was made clear that I was always to put myself last. My needs and wants were always to come last.

When you’re taught that as a young kid, and it’s reinforced throughout the years, it’s a hard mantle to shake. I didn’t realize until recently just how much that lesson has affected me, even into adulthood. It was still expected that all of these other people come first. My 20s were spent helping take care of my aunts and grandfather between classes and work. My presence was expected at all family events, and excuses were not tolerated. It was made abundantly clear that my personal life came second to the needs of the family.

I think a lot of this stems from the Italian Catholic upbringing that everyone had. It’s what my grandparents parents had taught them, it’s what they taught their kids, and so on. It’s a viscous cycle, and I’m watching my mother currently crack under the weight of taking care of her sister. And I think that’s been the impetus behind my revelations.

But this… lesson has carried over into so many of my adult relationships, and also work. It’s like my love language was conditioned to be acts of service. And people have taken advantage of this through the years. It’s fairly obvious that I will do anything to help a friend. If you look back over the years I can pinpoint things I’ve done for people, at the detriment of myself, that really weren’t all that vital. These are things that they could do for themselves, or things that made them feel good, that put me at a bad place either physically or mentally.

So I decided to retake my life. I’ve had to learn how to balance my time and prioritize things in my own life that need to be done, should be done, doesn’t matter if it’s done right now, or really doesn’t need to be done in the foreseeable future. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t drop my family like a hot potato (although sometimes I wish that I could), but I’ve stopped putting their needs above my own. I’ve stopped putting my friend’s need above my own. At the end of the day the only person whose needs I’m putting above my own is Mike’s, when the situation warrants it.

But even day to day, I’d fill my planner with things that I felt absolutely had to be done. But at the end of the day, as long as we’re taken care of, and the cats are taken care of, anything else can wait until another day. That was kind of a hard pill to swallow because before everything seemed oh so important. Everything was pressing, or had a deadline. There were things that I felt like I had to get done every day, or every week. But who cares if the sheets don’t get washed until next week? I mean, killing myself to make sure the toilet gets cleaned – who does that really serve?

I know I’ve attributed a lot of my mental health successes to my medication, and I do think that’s true, to a degree. But shaking off this idea that my days had to be filled with things for work, things around the house, things for other people… it just doesn’t make sense. So yes, I’ve been happier since I realigned my priorities.

For example – I usually talk to my mother on my way home from work. But you know what? Sometimes I don’t want to talk to her, or anyone else for that matter. I want to listen to a podcast or listen to music and just decompress from the day. I want to have some time for me rather than managing everyone’s problems and emotions. And I admit, at first that gave some anxiety because the expectation was there. But over a short time, it became more normal. I don’t have to make these phone calls, I don’t have to listen to everyone else’s problems. This also made me realize something – my relationships with so many people are incredibly superficial. In some respects it seems very close, but at the end of the day I don’t really tell her anything of any substance. I don’t tell her about my mental health, I don’t share what I’m thinking about things ranging from politics to baseball. She tends to monopolize the conversation, which is fine, because it means that I don’t have to contribute all that much.

I wonder if my relationship with my family is what it is because of the kind of upbringing I had. I never felt like I was a priority to anyone that didn’t have ulterior motives for doing so. Who knows. I’m sure there’s a therapist somewhere that would love to dig down into this more. Maybe I’ll email mine.

Well, that was a hell of a tangent. Clearly that’s been on my mind.

That’s it for now. Stay safe, friends!

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