Typical Demands, Random Disruptions, and Mental Loads

Yesterday. Yesterday was a day. If I put it down on paper, it might not seem like much more than typical demands cobbled together with random disruptions. There was a fire alarm that sounded when I started to teach a class, a dentist appointment in the middle of the afternoon (which seemed innocuous when I scheduled it 6 months ago, but felt highly inconvenient when it arrived), and back-and-forth text messages with my husband throughout the morning about adjusting plans for the kids because trick-or-treating had been cancelled due to projected evening storms. There were students who streamed through office hours, one after another after another, so my lunch -- a sad looking sandwich and apple -- still sat untouched on my desk two hours past when I had planned to eat. There were 46 assignments waiting to be graded online, and then there were my corresponding calculations that if each assignment took 5-7 minutes to grade, then I'd have all feedback submitted in a mere 4 to 5 hours.

If I stayed entirely focused.

But I wasn't entirely focused. I was also thinking about how I needed to finalize a teaching observation for a colleague, how I should check in with my friend, how I needed to buckle down and compare prices between providers so I can order new contacts before my dwindling supply runs out, how I still haven't taken the kids to get their flu shots, how I ought to adjust my youngest daughter's annual check-up to account for a scheduling conflict, how paperwork was due next week for my oldest daughter's winter sports physical, and how it's high time I finally ironed patches onto my middle daughter's Girl Scout vest. And groceries. Definitely groceries. Also laundry, because life.

You know, all the things.

Now, your list of things will be different than my list of things, but, man alive, we're juggling all of them, aren't we? Call it what you will (the phrases "adulting" or "mental load" seem particularly apt), but the unrelenting demands on our time -- and the invisible, yet even more consuming, demands on our thoughts -- are legitimate reasons to feel depleted when we finally put our heads down at the end of the day.

You see, I didn't just go to bed last night. I cried uncle, conceded defeat, and tapped out because sometimes the healthiest and most productive thing you can do is sleep. Enough already. Tomorrow is a new day.

In the chance that you're having a day like this -- or a week, a month, or maybe it's felt like a small lifetime -- I want you to hear something. You're not weak because you didn't get it all done, whatever "it" is. You're not undisciplined if today's to-do list still contains some of yesterday's items. You're not delicate if you're tired.

You're human. And humans are oddly capable of working themselves to exhaustion, bypassing that exhaustion, and experiencing burnout. It's not to our credit, mind you, but we know how to push ourselves to breaking points.

To remedy this, we might deliberately subtract extraneous activities, as I recently wrote. We might delegate more, flex our muscles at saying no, or have hard conversations with our bosses, spouses, or children about managing work loads, revising expectations, or needing assistance. We'd be wise to remember that we can't do it all, and that -- at our core -- we're human beings, not human doers. We'd be helpful if we honestly admitted to each other that we don't keep all our plates spinning.

Even more, we can be gentle with ourselves, not harsh taskmasters, because sometimes our worst critic comes from within, not outside. We could talk to ourselves like we talk to our best friends, with humor, encouragement, and empathy.

Self, you'll have days like this!  Do you realize that you not only had 46 assignments to grade, but you also still managed to do two loads of laundry, found and emptied a lunch box before its contents curdled, and helped nearly a dozen students? Do you know that your kids will be fine even though their primary food groups were pizza and mini-sized candy bars? Girl, do you realize that you're amazing? You're doing it. You're going to make it!

Let me whisper in your ear, right to your heart: You're doing so much. Your contributions are valuable. You're going to make it. You're greater than the sum of all the things you still need to accomplish. You're not invisible or alone. (And, by the way, you're having a great hair day. And your outfit is cute, even if you're wearing yoga pants.)

It's tough out there, friends, and there's safety in numbers. We adults need to stick together as we're adulting.


Photo by Abbie Bernet on Unsplash


  1. SOOOOO GOOD!! OH, SO GOOD! Gotta share...

    Keep *trying* to find time to write, because girl, you are SO gifted.

    1. Thank you, Christine! So glad this resonated with you!


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