I remember when I was growing up, my dad would read the local newspaper in the morning with his cup of tea, and a plate of runny eggs and toast. In the evenings, he came home by 6pm and would watch the CBS evening news and help us with our math homework. On some nights when he had dinner meetings, he would come home with leftovers for the next day. But then he started traveling more globally as we grew up, and he would only be back home in a handful of days.
And when my dad was home, he was completely disconnected. There was no way for work to get in touch with him. Apart from the occasional moments when the landline would ring with his boss on the other end.
Once my first shift ends, my second shift begins.
As an immigrant, my father struggled to build a great life for my mom, my brother and I. And yet at the same time, he had one enormous luxury I am not sure I will ever truly have. The luxury of disconnecting from work when at home.
Once my first shift ends, my second shift begins. I happily threw work life balance out the window, and readily accepted work life integration. Believing this was the more modern, progressive solution. Except that work continues to slowly seep into my home life, long after I have shut off my laptop.
"I hate to bother you so let me just text you. Or do you want to FaceTime? How about Blue Jeans or Zoom or Skype? Just make sure you select both audio and video."
"I can call you if that's easier –– is that your work cell or personal cell? And then I'll email you to recap what we discussed."
And as I try to sneak in the video chat, text, or call, or that one last email… one more, and then one more… my husband is screaming, we are out of wipes! And where is my son's gym shirt? Still in the washer. (Why does the school only provide one for the whole year?) My daughter has a meltdown because she can't find the rock she picked on her way from school. My son somehow finds the Ipad and is watching Captain Underpants… again…as I hear farting sounds mixed with laughter, all while I also try to examine if this bread is really expired? I think I can still use this for school lunches.
Then it starts all over again, with the 5am wake up from my daughter who has made it into our bed and kicks me in the face. I am exhausted just from typing it all for you to read. But when did being exhausted become a badge of honor?
Because if you are not exhausted then you really aren't working hard. And somehow "working smart" and "not working hard" sound like you have gamed the system and taken short cuts to climb that corporate ladder. Surviving not thriving is my way of signaling that I am 'Super Woman'. I am pushing through it all, and I am too cool, too busy, to do yoga or meditate or take a lunch break. Or do a walking meeting. And no, I don't own a fit bit.
And when someone says "I am thriving, not surviving" my brain short circuits for a second. There are people who are thriving? While living in a dual career household with children?
And so on this World Mental Health Day, I am on my own journey to disconnect. I am trying hard. I am trying hard to recharge my brain. I am trying hard to just have moments of just being. And doing nothing.
I don't pick up my phone anymore at 3am to start reading, responding to emails, or watching Netflix. I don't book myself in meetings solid from morning, noon and night. I don't apologize for watching '90 Day Fiance', 'The Other Way', 'Married at First Sight' or other reality shows hidden on my DVR. I don't skip lunch anymore. I don't drag myself into work or log on when I am sick- I take a sick day. Technically you are not supposed to work when you are sick, I think.
I still say yes to being available during my second shift. I still check my phone too often- mostly for my work email. I still worry about not responding to people fast enough- and what they might think of me. I still email on the weekends- I try hard not to on Sunday nights. I still think about that email I forgot to send in the shower. I still dislike yoga. And I fall asleep when I meditate. Sometimes my mind is too full of "to-do" lists to practice "mindfulness."
But I am still on my journey to disconnect. It's a work in progress, that's why it's called a 'journey'.
So as you think of your own mental health journey, please don't treat yourself like an Uber app. Please don't treat others like an Uber app. Stop acting like you are an Uber app. Because guess what? You are not.
Our obsession with being always on, always available, always responsive has consequences. If my Uber App crashes, I just turn my phone off and then back on and Voila! My Uber app is back up and running. Magically reset. Ready to connect me with 8 nearby drivers, ready to take me anywhere I need to go, any time, day or night.
But when I crash. When WE crash. It's usually not as easy as hitting that one reset button.
I am still chasing that luxury of disconnection. Maybe I should start by adding a plate of runny eggs and toast to my morning routine or at the very least a cup of tea. Hmm. Do we even have a local newspaper? Maybe Apple News will suffice.
This article was originally published October 10, 2019.
WRITTEN BYMita Mallick