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Cornered Office

with Mir Kamin

I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.

To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at

Relearning balance, a.k.a. “for me”

Categories: A mother's work is never done, My boss is an idiot, Now I'm free(lancing)


Balancing all the various facets of my life has never been my strong suit; sometimes I manage better than others, but the fact remains that even during my “best” times I often joke about my life being a series of “short attention span theater” vignettes. I race around, wearing my various hats—I’m a mom! I’m a writer! I’m a wife! I’m a volunteer!—and if things are going relatively well, most everything gets done and I feel pretty good.

But right now I don’t feel good. In fact, I pretty much feel like crap all the time. I’m tired, I’m cranky, and the last however many months of stress have definitely left their mark. I’m working less, ostensibly to give me the time to take care of everything else, yet I feel like I’m accomplishing pretty much nothing in every area of my life, at the same time. (It’s a nifty party trick, if you feel like accompanying the final “TADA!” with a demonstration of exactly how long it’s been since you bothered to, say, dust your house.)

And then came the inevitable question: “What are you doing for you?”

(For the record, yes, the question came from my therapist. It’s almost like when I sit there complaining about how stressed out I am she thinks I can change that, somehow. Weird.)

I rambled a while about how hey, I finally gave myself permission to work less, so there’s that. And I take naps on the weekends, sometimes. And just last week I went for a nice long walk with a friend, one day! See? I am totally taking care of me!

The reality, though, is that I’m just not very good at doing non-necessary things that actually take care of me in a way that helps to restore balance and order to my life. Sure, I nap whenever I can because I really, really like to sleep, so that should be great for me, right? It isn’t, though, because I nap because I’m exhausted, and I don’t wake up feeling relaxed and refreshed—I wake up feeling like I have a million things I need to go do.

I joke a lot about the time I spend on the couch watching terrible television in the evenings, and I definitely view that as my “relax and unwind” time, but I think it’s more a habit than something that’s actually working for me. It allows me to spend some time with my brain switched off, sure. But (like napping) it doesn’t actually leave me feeling any more balanced. It allows me to stop doing other things and sit still. But that’s not necessarily restorative.

Now, the walk with my friend was great—busy schedules mean I don’t get to see friends as often as I’d like to, and the time to chat and catch up was wonderful. Plus I got some exercise, which I don’t do often enough. So that was a great example of something for me that was truly productive: I got the emotional support/camaraderie my brain needed along with the exercise my body needed. Perfect! Yay me! Unfortunately, that seems to only happen once a month or so… probably not often enough to count as really excellent self-care.

In fact, my therapist pointed out that she normally has patients do something nice for themselves every day, but because I’m having so much trouble with this particular assignment, for now she’ll settle for me doing one thing a week. And honestly, when she asked me what I’d do for myself this week, I had a hard time coming up with something.

It’s not that I’m a martyr or always doing stuff for other people. I’m just as selfish as the next person (maybe even more so); but I have somehow lost touch with the ways to use my leisure time to nurture myself. (I even sort of hate that word. It sounds so pretentious when you’re talking about anything other than babies. Really, I need to nurture myself? I can’t just watch television and call it a night?)

Theoretically, if I find my way back to taking better care of myself even in the midst of all the crap life has handed my family lately, everything will improve. I’ll be more efficient in my work, I’ll be a better wife and mother, I’ll be happier. I know this. And yet when the time comes to do something different… old habits die hard. Why am I so reluctant to make better choices for myself? Why I am so unlikely to do something nice for myself? Something has to change.

I’m starting to think this may be the hinge that holds together everything else. Now all I have to do is figure out what works for me—really works for me, not just carries on the status quo—and do it.

What do you do for yourself on a regular basis that actually recharges your batteries? How do I figure out how to start working this kind of self care back into my life?

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8 comments so far...

  • I’ve noticed that for me, getting outdoors is really restorative - even if it’s being outdoors reading a book — so it’s nice that we’re having some fall-like weather right now. And I know that when I’m able to exercise regularly, and actually work up a sweat or feel good-sore the next day, my mental health is significantly improved. I know it, but I still manage not to do it as often as I should. For one thing, it feels like more work and not so much “being nice to myself.” Hrm.

    I hope you can figure out a way to NURTURE yourself. Heh. I agree with you on that word. ;)

    el-e-e  |  September 19th, 2012 at 8:32 am

  • So you just explained my love-hate relationship with napping perfectly, and probably also why my productivity coach (basically just like a therapist!) encouraged me to find something else to do that nurtures and rejuvenates me.

    I haven’t come up with anything else either.

    How the heck is it possible that I’ve forgotten what I like to do just because? Or maybe i haven’t forgotten, but it all sounds like a lot of work - like going all the way up to the library for free yoga. Ugh.

    Miss Britt  |  September 19th, 2012 at 3:33 pm

  • That’s it EXACTLY, Britt. Like, when did we become so old and sloth-like that doing something fun suddenly sounds like too much work?? I need an attitude adjustment for sure.

    Mir  |  September 19th, 2012 at 5:54 pm

  • Sleep is definitely my drug of choice, and when I can pull myself away from the bad TV and silly internet diversions to go to bed at an early enough hour, with time to really stretch and luxiriate in soft sheets, it makes a big difference. Going to good modern art museums or good live music are other rejuvenating things, but tend to be distance- and price- prohibitive except as more occasional activities, though.

    As for how to work it into life, I really liked a suggestion that a friend’s therapist had. He was tasked with making a really big list of things that he saw other people doing that made them happy, and then trying out 10 things over the course of a month. (This meant that he could opt out of skydiving or taking a spur-of-the-moment super-expensive cruise to the Bahamas.) For him, thinking of it as research (where you’re getting useful data out of each experience, even if you don’t want to do it again) was better than having the pressure of Picking The Most Relaxing Thing, and so it reduced his resistance to it. Of course, he doesn’t have kids, so he’s got a bit more free time to play around with. :)

    Alice  |  September 19th, 2012 at 8:43 pm

  • Tea. If I can’t start the day with a pot of tea and a pretty tea cup, things just don’t get in gear. Fifteen peaceful minutes sipping delicious tea keeps me sane.

    Karen R  |  September 20th, 2012 at 4:35 pm

  • There’s that thing about how everyone else’s schedules and obligations get booked into the family calendar and then you have to kind of figure out how to fit in some me-time amongst all that. My e-calendar is colour-coded and it’s great but at a glance I feel a psychedelic headache come on. So when my doctor said ‘they scheduled their stuff and told you about it after the fact’ I kind of took a step back and thought…huh. Maybe I need to go book something and tell them after the fact….but the reality sometimes doesn’t fit in with that. It’s easier for someone to do that when the children, for example, are older and able to take a bus home, rather than when they’re still in Kindergarten and have no way to get to gymnastics unless YOU (again) schedule their taxi service with a backup or whatever. Or, say, when you have a kid in a hospital, or a kid with special needs…it’s a tad more difficult.

    Still. There is a bit of food for thought there….or, is there?

    Javamom  |  September 24th, 2012 at 10:59 am

  • I have historically thought of “nurturing” myself as something I need to add on. Like, say, taking a yoga class at the library, Britt ;). But a friend in my 12-step program taught this acronym to me one day: HALT — never let yourself get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. So now I think of “nurturing” activities as ones that will reduce those problems, either as I am doing them or in the future. For example, I made myself a huge batch of breakfast burritos and put them in the freezer. That activity didn’t feel very “nurturing” while I was doing it…it felt like I was spending a lot of time and making a mess! But I certainly did feel loved and cared for over the next 18 days whenever I stuck one in the microwave so I could have a hot breakfast instead of a granola bar. It was like a gift I was giving my future self. Last night, I cleaned off the kitchen countertop as a way of nurturing myself. Frankly, no one else CARES if there is paperwork on the countertop, but I got angry at myself every time I saw it. Now I smile. Please understand that I’m not knocking pedicures or hot baths…I think they’re great! I’m just suggesting that LOTS of things can give your future self a gift.

    Amelia  |  September 25th, 2012 at 11:13 am

  • I try to learn a new song on the ukulele or guitar. It makes me ridiculously happy and I feel rejuvenated and able to tackle the next thing on the to-do list.

    aem2  |  October 24th, 2012 at 7:19 pm