I have this thing which I call “Survival Mode.”
I bring Survival Mode out when life gets hectic and I feel overwhelmed with too many to-dos. It’s the combination of extreme prioritizing and efficiency, where everything is crammed into moments stolen here and there, and I’m constantly AND consistently thinking ahead, trying to figure out how to fit the puzzle pieces of our life together so that I can feel like we’ve gotten the big stuff done.
Until recently, Survival Mode has only been needed every once in a while, when I’ve been close to a deadline at work or Jeff’s been traveling or it’s been the holiday season and I’ve taken on the task of canning, say, 50 jars of homemade apple butter, or hand writing all our Christmas cards.
But this year?
I feel like I’ve been in Survival Mode since the summer. Even worse, in the past month or so, it’s ramped up so that I feel like I am juggling ALL the time – every moment of every day. I’m physically AND mentally exhausted – enough that by the end of the day, it’s all I can do to make it to bedtime. (Which, as an aside, I loathe the end of Daylight Savings Time in the fall. The lack of light in the afternoon makes my bedtime seem so far away!)
I haven’t written anything of quality – beyond a couple paragraphs here and there in my journal and maybe a measly 1500 words on my novel – in weeks.
(My poor novel characters. I am just starting to get to know them, and then I leave them for a week, frozen, as if I’ve just called “RED LIGHT!” and they are stuck. One of them, right now, has been woken out of a sound sleep by the shrill ring of the hotel phone, and I just left her there, reaching for the phone, still in the place where she’s still half asleep and feeling drunk with fatigue. And I just left her there, the poor thing.)
I either need to simplify, or live in a world where I am always in Survival Mode.
And that’s the thing. I don’t LIKE Survival Mode. Survival Mode parenting means I’m grumpy and harried and pushing O to hurry up, where I am focused on the getting out of the house or getting homework done or getting dinner cooked in a hurry. Survival Mode Me yells a lot and nags and pushes both my husband and my son to get stuff done so we can go off and get something ELSE done. Survival Mode Me doesn’t have time to play legos, or draw, or color, or do anything fun.
Survival Mode is focused on the outcomes, on crossing tasks off a list and looking far ahead and missing the here and now. Survival Mode is about managing feeling overwhelmed, trying to stay one step ahead of a tsunami of life, breaking down the hectic into manageable pieces and getting things accomplished one bit at a time.
But. Survival Mode doesn’t leave time for enjoying moments, for taking our time, for playing, teaching, or learning. It focuses on efficiency and control and OUTCOME. And though it works in the short term to get things done, it’s not how I want our family to exist, because it leaves no room for happiness.
I don’t think it’s possible to be happy, either, when you are focused on an outcome. I think happiness – real contentment, the stuff that stays with you – is being in the present, stopping and smelling the flowers, being present in the journey of life.
So how do I transition out of Survival Mode into Happy Me Mode? Is there a way to even DO that when you’re a working mom? Do I drop all the things that make me happy, like running and writing, to allow for a simpler life? Do I quit my client in Boston who requires too much of my time and an hour and a half commute most of the time, but who promises me regular hours and good money in the hopes that I find something closer to home which probably won’t be as regular? Do I sacrifice more sleep so that I CAN do it all?
Questions. Too many. And I have no real answers.
Do you have a Survival Mode? How do you manage when life gets hectic – and stays hectic? Is there a way to do it all AND be happy?