Fighting Off “Something More Syndrome”

I’m sitting on my bed on a Friday night, typing blog drafts on my iPhone while Netflix’s new series “Love” plays in the background. (Really enjoying it…Gillian Jacobs = super-groovy, and j’adore everytime her Aussie roommate pops up in a scene.) I’ve just paid a million bills, and cleaned up the kitchen (kind of) after making an oven omelet and roasting butternut squash, apples and potatoes for quick lunches early next week. Earlier after dropping off the baby with his grandparents, I worked at one of my jobs, did a bunch of high-intensity calisthenic intervals because I didn’t have time to go to the gym, revised my novel, worked on blog things, caught up with email and ran errands. I did A LOT today.

And yet…I’m still plagued with the nagging feeling that there’s something else more I can do.

This is such a horrible, horrible feeling to bookend your day with! A lot of us feel this way, I know: maybe it’s partly a tech-infused digital life thing, because we can always read e-mail, website and social media and our minds are always buzzing with all this information’s possibilities, responses, pings, downloads, “action items” and bleeeech.

But part of it is personal, too. Sometimes I get to the end of a day and realize I’ve done very little for myself, between my jobs, child rearing, errands (UGH), jobs, hygiene and health maintenance, chores, jobs, child rearing, jobs, jobs, jobs. To not have time for yourself is, in a strange way, to feel like you don’t truly exist. You’re just a human sack of flesh that others squeeze energy and effort out of — until you feel utterly empty and drained.

And so that “I must do something more” sensation at the end of the day is a way to carve something out for myself. Because just to pass out asleep without doing at least *something* for myself — only to wake up the next day and do it all again — feels soul-killing. So goddamnit, I’m going to paint my nails and watch this dumb show on Netflix and LIVE!

Of course, what I’ve come to think of as “Something More Syndrome” is also a gender thing that hits women in an especially personal, insidious way. There’s always “something more” women should be doing when it comes to, basically, everything. Shaving your legs, tending to your “bikini line,” “nurturing relationships,” nail art, launching a business, developing an online brand, killing it at your work, cultivating a friend circle, working out, being awesome at Instagram, juicing, steaming your vagina (don’t ask me, ask Gwyneth), blah blah blah.

It’s so stupid, I know, and you have to actively resist or willfully ignore the compulsion to “have it all, be it all, do it all” in a culture that’s so uncritical about what “all” means. Most smart people I know do resist — but that feeling is still there to constantly counter. It’s like fighting off a virus called rampant patriarchy/capitalism — it’s constantly mutating and you have to get your mind regularly vaccinated against the latest strains of sexist crap.

But this “something-more” feeling has intensified since becoming a parental unit. Parenting, family management and childcare demand so much time and effort even at the most rudimentary level. And there is always something beyond the basics you can do, especially in this age of especially intensive parenting. Make your own baby food! Clean out old baby clothes! Toss in another load of laundry! Chop veggies up for tomorrow’s slow cooker meal! Read that parenting book you’ve been meaning to! Order diapers from Amazon! Mommy and Me classes! Read to them in Spanish or Latin or Sanskrit! Aargh! I’m drowning in all the things I can do and yet I just cannot eke out more time and energy to do them!

Maybe the pressure feels especially pointed because the stakes feel higher: I am okay with being slack about myself, but I want to do good by my innocent little child. I know that I can do nothing better as a parent than giving my child unconditional love, presence, acceptance and a model for healthy boundaries and habits. But becoming a parent is like giving the rest of the world a permission slip to inundate you with hints, hacks, tips, tricks, “advice,” and admonition about the art and science of raising a child.

It’s like “parentsplaining” season for the rest of your life. Suddenly you’re swimming in information and it’s exhausting to exercise your critical thinking skills all the time to filter everything out. (Cognitive burdens, y’all.) And if you don’t do all that you can, suddenly the world is allowed carte blanche to narrate its judgment and consequences of your parenting in your face.

It also wields a finely calibrated internal weapon if you don’t fall in line: guilt! Mothers seem to feel so much of it for some reason or another — at least, that’s the common cultural narrative, and it sucks a lot of joy out of parenting. If you don’t do this, that and the other, your wonderful innocent little child is doomed to a lifetime of mediocrity — at least, that’s what it can feel like. A lot of “something more syndrome” is, in fact, about trying to avoid the burning rod of guilt.

(I’m also pretty sure that this “aaargh there’s something more I need to do” thing is also partially a manifestation of my post-partum depression/anxiety stuff…but that is a whole other discussion.)

And so I’m sitting here on a Friday night, typing this blog entry because there’s “just one more thing” I can do…and I just have to say: STOP, KAT! STOP TRYING TO DO SOMETHING MORE! YOU’VE DONE ENOUGH!

And not just me: probably you, too. Because everyone I know is always trying to do “just a bit more” in their lives. But really — chances are you are probably already doing a lot.

There are good times to keep pushing, like when you’re knee-deep in inspiration and driving towards some insight, the end of a brilliant chapter, etc. But if you’re hitting the end of the day and you have that weird feeling of psychic jet lag when your body is still but your mind is still racing — you need to let your mind catch up to your body and just chill the heck out. Watch something brainless. Read a dumb magazine or a pretty cookbook. Better yet: sleep!

I’ve always been into mindfulness in some way or another, but it’s like I’m in the next-level testing of my mindfulness Girl Scout badge/karate belt these days. It’s just too easy for me to chug forth and “power through” — which is kind of a macho way of doing life that I’m not into, so why am I doing it? I need to take my own advice and hit the pause button — and figure out if the “something more” bit I want to do is coming from a genuine place of inspiration, love, connection and expansion, or if it’s coming from fear, panic, anxiety, guilt-avoidance or that nagging sense of inadequacy.

And if so, remind myself: it’s okay to stop, you’ve done enough.

(And so I’m going to sign off now and paint my nails and LIVE!)

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