Recently a number of people dear to me seem to have been struggling with one thing or another. Yet these people are those who are always giving to others, of their time, effort, wisdom, skills. They are used to being the strong ones, to being the ones others lean upon.
But what happens when they are ill, or down, or struggling, or upset, or grieving? Who cares for the carer?
A few years ago when my children were small we lived in a country town, Ararat, in Western Victoria. At the time the whole area was drought-declared and there were strict water restrictions. Residents were encouraged to collect run-off from their morning shower in a bucket, and use this to wash the car. And then only the windows, mirrors and number pates were to be cleaned. No sprinklers or hoses on lawns were permitted, so all the grass died back to a dusty barren brown until the occasional rain shower.
The only way of watering plants was by watering can or bucket. Not even hand-held hoses were allowed.
The children and I tried valiantly to keep our garden alive. We had certain plants that we favoured and others that we ignored. It truly was a case of “survival of the fittest”. Those watering cans, big and small, were soon emptied onto the favoured blooms and then came the repeated trips back and forth to the tap. The biggest bugbear was the need to continually fill up the watering cans and containers so that the life-giving water could be very quickly used again.
Each of us in our daily lives is like one of those watering cans. We give out. Give out of our time, our energy, and our skills. We favour certain “plants” in our lives. Perhaps those that we planted ourselves and so especially want to nurture. Perhaps the sickest and frail which have the least chance of survival left to their own devices, without special care and attention.
There comes a time in the lives of many when our “Watering Cans” are empty, or have frequently been “running on empty”.
Every drop of our water has been devoted to:
- The business to which we gave our all, but which still did not succeed.
- The elderly frail parents who require constant effort and attention, day after day.
- The small children who still don’t sleep through the night.
- The marriages and relationships that need nurturing, but we are too exhausted by the business (and the busy-ness) of our lives that we have no time, no energy to give to the people we love.
You see, we cannot continually “run on empty”. It is necessary to trudge those watering cans back to the tap and refill them. But many of us just give out continuously. Often it is a difficult thing to learn and accept that we need to receive back from life too. We should not feel guilty about doing and participating in things and activities that “top up” those watering cans. Even if that topping up simply enables us to give out some more.
All of us need, indeed we deserve, a happy, healthy, balanced, fulfilled life.
So, what is a life “Fulfilled”? The “Oxford Dictionary” defines the word “fulfil”:
- Achieve or realise (something desired, promised, or predicted): “He wouldn’t be able to fulfil his ambition to visit Naples”
- (fulfil oneself) Gain happiness or satisfaction by achieving one’s potential: “Arts grants go to young people who say they wish to fulfil themselves”.
Alternatively, the definition offered by online dictionary “Vocabulary.com” resonates with me beautifully:
“The verb fulfil means to fill a need or want. To fulfil yourself personally means to follow your inner passion, like flute-playing, no matter who thinks it’s silly.”
A fulfilled, balanced life needs to be made up of a number of components. We need to work towards happiness and fulfilment (and yes, set goals) in a variety of areas.
“8 Key Areas of Life” are detailed as:
- Relationships and Family (Socialisation)
- Health and Wellbeing
- Personal Growth, Knowledge, Education (Intellectual Pursuits)
- Wealth and Finances
- Work (Career?)
Experts say, for a Balanced Lifestyle, we should include at least some of each of these 8 areas, although the priority, proportion and emphasis will vary from person to person.
Relationships and Family (Socialisation):
Each of us needs to have social contact on a regular basis with people we enjoy spending time with and who can be a support system for us.
And this, importantly, must include FRIENDS as well as family. Many people think that, as they have a close family, that is surely enough, but not so. A Grandmother for example may dearly love her teenage Grandson but also worry about him and his risk-taking behavior, including too many late nights and frequent Skateboard accidents. Family connections are most times a mix of opposites: love and concern, rights and responsibilities. Whereas true friendships are largely weighted towards giving positive energy.
There is a growing area of neuroscience proving that social bonding sharpens brain function. It also extends life, according to a recent Australian Study, which followed 1500 older people for 10 years. It found that those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22 per cent. [Reference: http://seniorliving.about.com/od/lifetransitionsaging/a/longevity.htm]
My Grandmother, Muriel, exemplified this. Widowed in her early 50’s, she and her 3 close female friends Maudie, Marge and Jean were inseparable. The trio became essentially additional relatives to all us kids as they attended my cousins’ sporting events, our music performances and various family functions. The four ladies roared around in my Grandma’s car “The Red Terror” and met weekly for Lawn Bowls and Bridge Card Games as well as other activities. At one stage a gentleman from the Bowling Club took an interest in Grandma and various family members encouraged her to “Go for it”. She famously retorted, “I’d rather have a Cuppa Tea!”
In the last few years of her life all this changed. The eldest of her close friends, Jean, moved into Aged Care some distance away. Her closest friend Margie died. Maudie became more frail and relocated to live with her son. Grandma started turning up unannounced at our place for no particular reason, just stating, “I’m sick of my own company”. She gradually became unwell herself and spent the last year of her life in Nursing Care, although doctors could not diagnose any specific illness. We believe the loss of the “Gang of Four” had contributed to this marvellous, capable matriarch of the whole family simply losing her zest for life.
Certainly, the amount of time we spend socialising varies with each of us, but on the average, experts recommend “one or two activities per week”. Such experts also suggest “If we are in a “couple” relationship it is important that we engage in independent socialisation, i.e. coffee with a girlfriend, or golf with the fellows, so as not to become overly dependent on our partner. It is also important in a couple relationship to spend regular fun time away from the children so that we have time to develop and strengthen the relationship”.
Those of us with young children and without nearby family and support systems choke on our coffee at such “advice” and see such frequency as a forlorn hope.
However, it is important to make the effort and at least TRY.
Relaxing the muscles and quietening the mind are important stress management techniques. Various techniques are available including yoga, meditation and deep muscle relaxation. Making a daily time for relaxation is vital to allow our bodies to re-charge. The important part is being able to learn to relax your body and turn off your thoughts. Sleep is critical (remember, in warfare, Sleep Deprivation is used as a form of Torture) but sometimes good sleep is elusive, due to shift work, travel, or care of aged relatives or young children.
However, it is important to try to have some Rest (not necessarily sleep) as part of your daily routine. This sage advice, taken and always remembered, was given to me by a caring healthcare worker when I was struggling with a three-year-old and a newborn.
Here I am with a week-old baby, too much make-up and a Glazed Expression.
If we look at the word recreation, we can see that it is made up of re/create/ion. Many people think that “Relaxation” and “Recreation” are the same but they are not. Ten years ago I attended a marvelous group: MOP’s (Mothers of Preschoolers) that had, as part of its focus, that the babies and young children were cared for out of sight while the Mums bonded together over coffee, but they also insisted on “Craft Time”. Personally I found it a bit twee, but the organisation insisted it was important: the process of creating something, of completing something tangible, they decreed was extremely valuable, as stressed people, [Mums of preschoolers in particular] often found this lacking elsewhere in their lives.
Recreation does not need to be craft. Recreation includes leisure activities that help us feel rejuvenated. Pottery, woodworking, dressmaking, knitting and crossword puzzles are just a few suggestions. Gardening, for those with a green thumb, is also “recreational” as a difference “Before” and “After” can be observed – a specific achievement.
Although I have no evident talent in craft or gardening, Birthday Cakes are my thing. Fortunately, I only have two children with one birthday each a year!
One of the things I love most is their unwavering blind faith (especially when younger) and absolute confidence that Mum can do anything.
There are many examples, but here are just two:
“A Rainbow with Fairies and Unicorns?” – “No Problem”
“For my cake, please Mummy, would you make a Green Dragon with Purple Spikes?” “Of Course”
OK, I agree. That’s a bit excessive for an object with such a short life span. But look at this little face. Priceless.
Of course the important aspect to realise when accepting these types of projects is that you aren’t really decorating a cake, or blowing up balloons, or painting the letterbox in stripes …you are, in reality undertaking the much more important mission of:
“Creating Memories for your Children”
Health and Wellbeing (Physical):
The physical side of a balanced life style involved several aspects: proper nutrition, which includes three healthy meals a day and watching our caffeine and alcohol intake. The “fight/flight” response of the body to stress is intended to end in physical activity. It is important that we engage in a regular type of physical activity such as swimming, walking or jogging to use up the adrenalin that might otherwise harm our bodies. (Admittedly I am pretty bad at following through on this one)
Personal Growth, Knowledge and Education (Intellectual):
Our minds need to be stimulated so that we have a variety of focus and do not become involved only with our stresses and ourselves. It is important to continue to learn throughout our lives. Intellectual stimulation can take many forms – reading the paper, attending courses and lively discussions are all good. People of all ages and stages of life are capable of learning new skills – it is not true the old proverb that “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. In Australia, the “University of the 3rd Age” where Retirees take short and long courses in Computing, Languages, Workshop skills and a myriad of other fields are flourishing.
Looking at the spiritual side of our life does not mean that we all have to attend Church. For some, regular attendance at Church is in fact appropriate. A spiritual activity, though, can be as simple as taking a walk and appreciating the natural beauty of the area. It is valid to periodically examine our beliefs and values. We need to be able to look beyond ourselves and appreciate the world around us in a meaningful way. The other night here, we noticed the sky glowing red at night and the whole family dashed out onto the front lawn to look. “Has somebody remembered a CAMERA?” demanded my daughter. We have taught her well.
Wealth and Finances
It is important to have sufficient finances to live, to have a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs and food in our bellies. In the western world we expect a reasonable standard of living. Our aim should be to be able to live comfortably from our earnings and savings, not worrying every day about bills, but still keeping a clear picture of the difference between our true “Needs” and “Wants”.
The old adage is that “Money does not buy happiness” and sadly for many this is the case. Stories abound of lottery winners around the world finding, sadly, winning a truck-load of money on the lottery, any lottery, comes with a heap of baggage. Daydreams of a millionaire lifestyle seem to have a habit of turning sour, as isolation, paranoia; drugs, crime, poverty and prison await those who fail to adjust.
Career and Purpose (Work):
Last but not least “work”. You may say, “work is a stress for me!”. The word “work” basically means that we all need to engage in activity that we have a sense of satisfaction having completed.
Near the end of the film “Pretty Woman”, Edward (Richard Gere) has come to a new realisation about his work:
Edward: You know what I used to love when I was a kid, Phil?
Phil (Stuckey): What?
Edward: Blocks. Building blocks. Erector sets.
Phil (impatient and exasperated): What’s the point?
Edward: We don’t build anything Phil. We don’t make anything.
Phil: We make money, Edward!
“We make money…”
If our work is in fact too stressful we need to look at either changing our attitude to it or changing our job.
Now, my friends, it’s YOUR TURN!
Look back at those 8 areas and apply them to your life, and how you foresee your “better” or “perfect” life being in 5 years’ time or 10 years’ time.
It is important to realise we cannot give equal time to each area, and that sometimes priorities change. The aim is to have SOME component of these as a regular part of your life. The proportions of each will also vary from person to person.
If you assess that your life contains very little – or none – of one of these key areas and a large proportion of another, you may need to think again about your current priorities, even your future ones.
“All Work and No Play makes Jack a dull boy” is a proverb which may resonate with your past or present situation.
However, to some extent the opposite can also be true. Will whiling away endless days lying by the pool, idyllic as it may seem for some, truly give you the Fulfilment you need?
How full is the Watering Can of your Life?