A Change in Enthalpy…Good to See You

canstockphoto0201754I inexplicably dropped out of the blogosphere this week. Apparently, it only takes 5 days to destroy a habit of writing and exercise and you know, getting dressed for life. I’m constantly juggling priorities and this week I just lay down on the floor and let them pummel the hell out of me. Entropy has settled in and for any consistent reader of this blog, it’s obviously a constant battle to pull myself out of it.

Enthalpy is the sum of energy in a thermodynamic process. It is described as useful energy. My scientist friends will have to forgive me my liberal education, as I inexpertly adopt this for a metaphor. A change in enthalpy signals a change in one’s state of being. And I need a truckload of it now.

I frequently hit a point where I’ve given into the chaos of life and am just riding it out. I have no sense of control – just letting life happen until I end up very tired, extremely depressed or feeling like I’m having an out-of-body experience in my daily life. Like most people, I have a lot of external responsibilities, so it becomes very easy to neglect my inner life.

I’ve read all the self-care articles. I know that I’m supposed to put my own oxygen mask on before I put it on others, but it doesn’t come naturally. I’m not some self-sacrificing prig, but I believe in doing what needs to be done. It’s my radar readings that are off – what constitutes need? Did I need to take my bosses’ call on Friday night at 5:05pm? Does my daughter really need to have PB & J sandwiches with the crusts cut off? Do I really need to answer phone calls, emails or texts right away?

I grew up the oldest of four kids. Like the stereotypical first born, I was responsible, take charge and a problem solver. On top of that, I learned to read people. It was necessary in a household with alcoholism and domestic violence, to sense a shift in the wind, to understand what the buttons were, to know when to take cover.

In many ways, this skill benefited me in accurately navigating the world as an adult. The downside is that I have this childlike sense that I know more than I do. I have often attributed need where there is none and taken even the slightest negative emotion as a cry for me, Super Problem Solver, to swoosh in and save the day. People have been startled by my generosity, not realizing that expression of even the most trivial needs will have me bringing in the troops.

This last week, I wanted to solve problems for a lot of people, but part of me knew that I needed to tap out, cry “uncle” or handcuff myself to a fence in passive resistance. What I did, instead, was go through the motions. I did work that needed to be done, all the while thinking dully :”‘When this is over, I’m going to do XYZ…”

Last September, I made the enthusiastic announcement that I was leaving a job of 12 years to dedicate my time to writing. That morphed into a six-month delay in conjunction with the company’s fiscal year, so I’m still in transition. I promised myself that I’d scale back a bit on volunteering, only to find myself sitting for 2 hours straight, doing nothing but feeling slightly resentful at a school event this week.

canstockphoto9355218Entropy got me here, to this state of disordered chaos, but my holy grail is balance. It’s an unending, constantly shifting quest. I wonder, at times, that my expectations are unrealistic. I imagine balance to be this serene, meditative handling of life’s daily trials and tribulations. Maybe balance is more like being adept at juggling on a unicycle, constantly in motion, shifting this way or that, sometimes frantically, sometimes rhythmically. Is balance a Buddhist nuns’ retreat or a circus?

What does balance look like to you?

37 thoughts on “A Change in Enthalpy…Good to See You

  1. I know I guard my time preciously, because I grew up in house where my mom did everything for everyone, and I never saw it make her happy. In fact, I slack off a lot because of her example. Do I volunteer at the school? Eh, sometimes. Do I manage to do the things that give me energy and happiness and a sense of purpose? Eh, sometimes I manage to rise above the ‘get it done’ attitude and do that. Most of the time, I just do a good enough job, and accept that that’s okay.


    1. That’s what I think about when I’m struggling – how does my daughter see this? I don’t want to be a sacrificial lamb, but balancing it against the desire to be generous is tough.

      I laughed about your “eh, sometimes” statements. I think that’s probably the best to hope for – I’m challenged when I try to set aside time for myself and life intrudes. Yesterday was supposed to be a writing day, but I had a sick child home from school, work requests and a husband who decided to work from home. I need to be a little more adaptive when things change, instead of giving up altogether, but I get a little irritated when people talk about balance in vague, positive psychology terms. Hence my thought about what it actually means in real life terms.


  2. I think I have more balance in my life now, then ever before. Working in an agency is all consuming. Dreadful hours and tons of pressure. Very hard on relationships. Now that I freelance, I decide how many clients I want, how hard I want to work, etc. as ling as I meet my deadlines I can play all day and work all night and travel when I want to. And set aside time for volunteering and writing my book. But I earn less money. A sacrifice I’m willing to make. Easy for me because I am single with no kids.


    1. I think the problem I have now, is that I can’t count on how I schedule my time. That will change as work fades away and my daughter gets older. I’m willing to give up money for time, absolutely. I suppose I just need to be patient, until things slow down a bit.


      1. I will tell you from my own, personal experience, that’s exactly what you have to do. When my mother’s health declined to the point where she needed help I was running an ad agency. Talk about being torn in a million different directions. So I had to put ‘me’ on hold for a while. After my mother died, we decided to close our agency. I went to India for a month on what my doctor called a life journey; and now it’s my turn. I am very glad I did what I did, when I did. Right now you have other important priorities. You’ll get your turn.


  3. I do what needs to be done and then parcel out the small portion that’s left. Usually that means sacrifice of some sort or another: write or sleep, read or exercise, play or volunteer. The trick is accepting what you can’t do and not be resentful. Life is choice, but at least we have choice, right?


    1. I think I need to re-calibrate regarding what actually needs to be done. I am less willing to sacrifice writing time without resentment, but that’s a relatively new conflict for me. I’m glad to have choices, but it is a trick to figure out how to juggle what doesn’t get dropped.


  4. It is harder with kids because you aren’t really supposed to have a life of your own. And certainly not one that you can control.

    Prioritize and also realize how much you’re going to miss those time when your child/ren screw up all your plans.

    Oh, and screw housework.


    1. I wonder, too, since I got married and had a child later in life (37), that I struggle with the fact that I don’t have control of my time. I am grateful for the time with my daughter, especially since we are able to do so many more things together (now that she’s stopped drooling and has learned to walk). It will all change, I know.

      I think my housework this week has been officially screwed. I should probably buy it flowers.


  5. Life is a constant series of adjustments and compromises. I sometimes lose sight of that and find myself resenting ‘having’ to do something for someone. And sometimes our priorities have to change. I learned long ago that I must put myself at the top of the list, because if I don’t, everybody else pays the price. Easier said than done I know. 🙂


  6. I’m happy to read your writing again! Gosh, you do it well and you’re a joy to read…maybe an inspiration, as I would like to one day drop out of the corporate world myself, and spend more time reading and writing. If you’re asking for input on balance, I’ll just say you learn it from falling over, and it takes extreme focus. Nothing you didn’t already know…be gentle with yourself, that’s my advice.

    I want to read more and more of what you’ve written, and you’re inspiring me to continue on, myself. Enjoy your weekend and make sure you cut the crusts off. It’s important, for F sake.


    1. Thanks for your kind words. And as much as I am loathe to admit it, those crusts are coming off! The decision to quit my job was a fortunate opportunity that I’m grateful/impatient for – it feels like a risk, even though we’ve been a two income family for a long time and live below our means.

      I put “Portrait of Young Man as Artist” on my reading list since following your blog, so inspiration goes both ways. Your life vignettes are amazing – chock full of characters and observations that should fill several books.


  7. I think that’s why it’s called a balancing “act” because anyone who claims to achieve it consistently is acting as if they have it all together. I can totally relate to priorities just pummeling the hell out of you. I think it says something about you that you don’t yell, “I had to eat the damn crusts and so do you!” Which was a favorite parenting technique when I was growing up. Neither advice nor empathy are sufficient to calm the storm.
    Steady as she goes. Hold on.


    1. I often wonder how some people do it – manage to look so organized and together. I like to assume they’re Stepford people and if I zapped them with electricity, their faces would pop off to reveal a robot. Maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part.


  8. When I first met my other half, she told me ‘You don’t have to take care of everyone else. It’s okay to be selfish sometimes.’ It’s a difficult lesson to actually apply to life though. It’s hard to put yourself first, and as such it can mean your time is eaten up with doing everything that – as you put it – you perceive as being needed or necessary, and there is no time for yourself. I know what you mean about life sometimes almost becoming an out of body experience, of watching it go by. Sometimes I feel like there’s no control, like I’m being assailed on all sides by it and all I can do is take cover.
    In other words…I know what you mean. I’m trying to find that balance too. It’s a constant struggle, but I know I’ll get there…and I have faith that you will too.
    Also…enthalpy. That brings back bad memories of chemistry class, haha, but it’s a fantastic metaphor for what you’re saying.


    1. I’m glad to hear that using the word “enthalpy” isn’t completely wrong. I spent a little time reading up on thermodynamics and realized I was in over my head a bit.

      When you mention your struggle and getting there…well, I wonder if this is where I’m going wrong in my thinking. Maybe the constant struggle to stay afloat or balanced is actually maintaining a weird sort of equilibrium. Maybe there is no getting there and I have unrealistic expectations of what having a life balance means. It would certainly take the pressure off, trying to reach an unattainable goal.


      1. I hated thermodynamics with a passion! It always bored me. Your article actually made me smile, putting an interesting twist on something I always hated to study ha.
        Hmm, I hadn’t thought of it like that. I suppose life, in many ways, is a constant struggle. Perhaps there is no true balancing point. Which would make a whole lot of sense. The way I view it when I feel particularly overwhelmed and…well, unbalanced, is a long as I’m fitting in the most important of things, that’s what matters. My other half, my family, friends, studies – the rest is extra. Added bonus, almost. I mean, obviously there are some crucial things I have to do, but in general…I try and see it as there being a core to my life, and then build around that with all the other stuff I feel is so necessary to get done. At least then I know nothing I see as vital, is being neglected.
        I’m not too sure if any of that made sense, but I have a cold and my brain is walking at half power. I apologise if I’ve just been rambling nonsense!!


  9. I can relate to so much of this…and I, too, am the oldest child of four! Especially the thinking even the slightest whimper is a cry for help part – everyone around me has to be “doing okay.” Not entirely a coincidence, methinks.


    1. It’s a challenge to recognize that and then change, if only slightly, so that a person has more energy to do the self-care. I’m learning, but still manage to get to a point where I’m completely wiped out. I never seem to be able to interrupt the downward trajectory until I hit bottom and am forced to take better care of myself.
      I think there is definitely something to be said for birth order. There are always exceptions, but that’s where we learn our first place in the world. It’s not immutable, but important to acknowledge as we try to shift our lives to be more balanced.


    1. Yes, it’s pretty easy to figure out what it isn’t. Especially when you sit down to read in the evening and immediately start snoozing and drooling, only to realize you’ve exhausted yourself doing nothing you enjoy. I’m working on it, too.


  10. Very good question! Now that you put it that way, I would say that a Buddhist nun’s retreat is not balance, it is living away from reality. A circus with everything that goes on in the background to give the public the perfect act, is very much like someone balancing their life 🙂


  11. Sometimes it feels less like balance and more like riding a wave, going with the flow and the ups and down. I try to prioritize, decide what to say yes to and the no’s become easier. I plan for longer term, but take it one day at a time so that I try to stay attentive to what I want to have spent my energy on for this one day. Then I go to the next one. It has gotten easier as I have gotten older. I got very serious about this after 40.


    1. I had a child when I was 37, so it may have taken me this long in order to catch my breath! But I am getting much more serious about how I spend my time, which is sometimes quite wastefully. I am great about taking things one day at a time, but when a week has passed and I see what I ended up squandering my time on, it can be very disheartening. I am trying much harder to spend some time each day doing something I value and I hope that it will become a habit. I like your description of it as riding a wave – very apt!


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