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Friday, August 5, 2016

Bubble Baths and Balance: Redefining Bliss

Sometimes it feels like everyone is in a competition over who is the busiest. My friends with small children one-up each other by competing over who showered the longest ago. My graduate school peers compete over the number of looming deadlines for publications, grants, or job applications. My friends with jobs compete over who works the most hours in a week or whose boss is the most demanding.

At the same time everyone is fascinated with stories of people who quit their corporate jobs to "follow their bliss" and are now private yoga instructors in some fabulously exotic tropical place. They only own 1 pair of shoes and live in a shack on the beach and they are the happiest they've ever been. At least twice a day I see sponsored stories like this on my Facebook feed with the promise that I, to, could achieve this kind of life.

There is a perversity to this dichotomy. Do we really have to go to either extreme to feel satisfied? To feel accomplished and happy? Whatever happened to the search for balance?

Recently I've been feeling particularly overwhelmed. The end of the summer semester is coming to an end with just one week left before the start of fall semester. There are lesson plans to make and papers to grade and exams to write and books to order and start-of-the-year newsletters to put together and mentorship programs to organize and budgets to set. I bounce from my teaching job to my office job every day in a mad dash between downtown and the western suburbs. In between I'm supposed to find time to do international research and write a dissertation. I'm sure this sort of schedule sounds familiar to many of you; even if the particulars aren't the same the general sentiment is.

I firmly believe that everyone needs a refuge to keep their sanity. A hobby, a quiet place to contemplate life, a passion they pursue just for sake of their own happiness. This blog is one of my self-care indulgences. My garden is another. Both have ended up neglected of late. As I grow overwhelmed and put all my attentions towards school and work, the things I do simply to bring me happiness somehow get pushed aside. It's been almost 2 weeks since my last blog post. As for my garden, caterpillars moved in and in one day decimated my kale crop. My blueberry bush is refusing to fruit. White flies killed 2 of my 4 green bean plants and my dill plant bolted. Half my cucumbers turned yellow before they were ready for picking, and my bell pepper plant has acquired a blossom rot problem. My little sanctuary isn't faring so well.

Many of us put ourselves last. Our hobbies are labeled "less important" than our jobs. But am I doing myself any favors by neglecting to invest in self-care and feeling burnt out? Alternatively, if I gave it all up to live in a shack on the beach and own 1 pair of shoes would that bring me bliss? Probably not. What really makes me the happiest is when my life has balance.

In an attempt to regain some balance before the impending school year I set aside Wednesday night for some "me" time. No checking my email, no tweaking my syllabus or thinking about data collection methods or grant deadlines. I did some work in my garden then poured a glass of wine, downloaded a new mystery on my Nook, and ran a bubble bath. It was heavenly.

Saffi, the bringer of gifts.
As I marinated in my bath one of our dogs, Saffi, nosed her way into the bathroom. Looking very pleased with herself she dropped a gift into my bath. A chewed up, still twitching cockroach floated on the cloud of bubbles next to my shoulder. The conditions for relaxation no longer ideal, I concluded that "me" time was over. I praised Saffi for her thoughtful gift, disposed of the bug, poured a much larger glass of wine, and tried to convince myself that cockroaches are loners and always live by themselves.

Self-care can be difficult. It always feels like there are more pressing matters to attend to than ourselves, but even a few minutes a day can make a difference. My relaxing evening may have been cut short, but even the hour I managed to fit in left me feeling re-energized. Indeed, I'm not sure I have ever moved so quickly in my life as a I did to exit that bath. I set aside time for myself for the first time in a while, and that's a step in the right direction!

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