A few weeks ago, I read this NY Times opinion piece about how busy working parents really have more time than they think they do. It was written by a mother of four children under eight years old, who just published a book and travels a great deal for work, as does her husband. Just reading the introduction tired me out.
She explained that she has a hectic life, but it’s all fine and she experiences abundance because she has time to read 50 minutes a day and catches some down-time occasionally. While she made some good points about how we use our time, the piece drove me a bit crazy.
What bothered me was that the author took her ability to do so much in one day (not to mention pay for a full-time nanny) for granted.
By encouraging readers to view incredibly packed schedules as “abundant,” pieces like this ignore that not everybody is able to function at that level. They leave readers who don’t buzz about all day like the Energizer Bunny feeling invisible at best and defective at worst.
Common jokes that make fun of people who order very specific adjustments to their meals at restaurants or need a lot of sleep convey a similar message.
The reality is that the norm is NOT an uber-able bodied person who functions well on a hectic schedule, needs only seven hours of sleep, can eat whatever they want, and stays calm and focused in all circumstances, although we are made to feel like it is.
Consider these examples:
- A person with diabetes may have to spend five to fifteen hours per week preparing home-cooked meals to meet dietary requirements to stabilize her blood sugar.
- A person with chronic pain may take an extra hour every morning to stretch and self-massage just to be able to walk.
- People with an illness or on medication that causes fatigue need hours of extra sleep and rest periods throughout the day.
- Many wheelchair users require extra hours every day to accomplish the simplest daily tasks.
- A person with anxiety disorder or depression may need a chunk of time between activities for self-care to enable him to function in the next setting.
Through no fault of their own, these very capable, talented people often cannot maintain the kind of herculean schedule that is held up as the ideal in our go-go world.
These are not isolated examples. More than half of Americans struggle with a chronic health condition like heart disease, diabetes, lupus, cancer, or chronic pain. One in five American adults takes psychiatric drugs to address a mental health challenge.
The norm is not an uber-able-bodied SuperMom. The norm is someone who struggles to make ends meet, is trying to manage one or two physical or mental health challenges, and feels like a bit of a mess a bunch of the time.
Why does this matter?
It matters because, in my coaching and courses, I see every day how the shame of not measuring up to our modern world’s crazy standards can tear people with health challenges apart:
- In addition to suffering the symptoms of the health challenge, we can suffer from depression or poor self-esteem from the stigma of being able to accomplish “less” in a day or struggling with tasks that may be easier for others.
- The shame of needing extra time and help can prevent us from asking for the support we need.
- The sense that we are less capable can lead us to give up on dreams that we might be able to fulfill if we got the right support.
- The shame of our health challenge can lead us to deny the reality of it, which translates to avoiding the necessary changes to improve our health in the long run.
What would make a difference?
The first thing that would make a difference is if all of us with any kind of health condition were to say:
I have Fill-In-The-Blank Health Condition and there is nothing wrong with me.
In fact, I’m a hero for dealing with this every day, even if it means I need nine hours of sleep or hours of self-care every day to function.
If more people were open about having health conditions AND the challenges and surprising blessings they bring into their lives, we would all be more comfortable in our skin. Those of us with health challenges would also be able to share the wisdom we have learned about slowing down, the importance of relationships, creative life hacks and so much more.
The second thing that would make a difference is if all the currently very able-bodied people (and I say “currently” because our statuses are fluid and for better or worse, these things change.) worked harder to be aware of their privileged status and acknowledged that what works for them might not work for everybody.
Just like it would have been a nice touch in that NY Times piece to acknowledge that not every working parent with four kids has a full-time nanny, it would also have been thoughtful to acknowledge that not everybody could feel “abundance” with a packed schedule like that simply because their body wouldn’t put up with it.
I’m not asking people to be politically correct. I’m asking people to be humanly correct. It’s simply more accurate to present a picture of the world that includes all the varied ways in which we inhabit it.
The norm is not a super-productive, uber-able-bodied thirty-something. Let’s acknowledge that and we’ll all be much better off.
To your health!