My wife is the most hard-working and practical person I know. Our dining room table – which often becomes a dumping ground for unopened mail, miscellaneous paperwork, receipts, my nail polish, and other random items – is also the home base for her endless to-do list. Most of the chores involve something that needs to be done around the house (clean woodstove, stack wood, organize woodshed … yeah, there’s a lot of wood involved, apparently). And she tells me that, while she doesn’t always want to do these chores, she does get enjoyment from working on them and completing them. The sense of accomplishment also helps to feed her self-esteem and makes her feel useful and productive. Manual work – physically accomplishing something practical that needs doing – is a large part of her identity and helps to feed her soul.
From a practical standpoint, this is great because, hey, shit gets done! But there are some real drawbacks for her as well, and she recognizes that. Being a task-driven person, she often has a hard time simply relaxing; there are times when we’re out getting coffee or simply poking around downtown and I can tell that she’s distracted – that there’s a voice in her head saying hey, shouldn’t you be raking or cleaning the gutters? Also, she virtually never makes time to do anything she wants to do. In the 5+ years I’ve known her, I’ve heard her say multiple times that she’d like to draw or learn photography, but she has literally never taken even one step toward doing either of these things. There’s always something practical that needs to be done instead. (And there always will be. – my personal theory)
“Someday,” she says.
Annnnnd then there’s me. This is not how I’m wired. At all. Don’t get me wrong – I do what I need to do. I fold and put away my stupid laundry (usually). I shovel the stupid snow and mow the stupid lawn. I put on my disgusting outside-gloves and haul and stack the stupid wood, even though it’s cold outside and there are big-ass spiders in the woodpile. I like helping. I like doing my part around the house. But those things don’t do shit for my self-esteem and they sure as hell don’t feed my soul.
I tried to force it, though. (That always works well, right?) When I moved in with her, I tried to be more practical, useful, and productive. I wanted to match her efforts (but I always failed), and – honestly – I tried to be more like her and less like me. I started to cut out the things I did just because I wanted to, until eventually, if it didn’t have a practical objective and a tangible end result, I didn’t do it. And as if that weren’t enough, I also told myself that I should be happy to be accomplishing these tasks – that I should want to do them – and when I found myself mowing the lawn and secretly wishing to be off somewhere writing or doing yoga, I felt bad and guilty.
Of course, she didn’t ask me to change. I just felt as though I should. I felt as though her personal nature was “right” and that mine was flawed and needed to be fixed. I assumed the things that she needed to feel whole should be the same things that I needed to feel whole.
And as you can probably predict, this was a fucking disaster for me. I crashed hard. I felt empty and isolated. There was anger and sadness and I don’t need to describe here what those things feel like because we all know what they feel like. But I should note that, as someone who sometimes wrestles with depression and feelings of emptiness and worthlessness EVEN WHEN THINGS ARE GOING PERFECTLY WELL, this crash left me in a really dark place.
But the great thing about finding yourself in the dark place is that, when you’re down there, you are forced to face the truth.
The truth I found is that the things she needs in order to feel balanced and whole are much different than the things I need. And that is ok. There will be times when she needs to go do her thing and I need to go do mine, and this might mean that we spend time apart. And that is ok. The things that feed my soul may not always lead to a practical end result, and to some people, they may seem selfish or frivolous. And that is ok.
In a future post, I’ll talk about some of the things that I’ve discovered that I need to make time for, no matter what, in order to feel whole. (I’m still figuring that part out. And it’s fun.)