Friday, September 20, 2013

A Serious Quest for Balance. It's a Journey, Alright.

This is a long one but I hope you read and comment anyway. It took a lot to write.

The quest for balance is a familiar one for pretty much every equestrian I've ever known, to greater or lesser degrees. Certainly for us amateurs who do not make a living in the horse industry, this is an issue. It is so much a part of living life with horses, in fact, that I wouldn't even blog about it unless it reached epic proportions. What I've been struggling with is balance on a broader scale.

Have you ever failed to realize how much you were depleting certain aspects of your life until you were so deprived you felt utterly drained? I know, pump the brakes on the drama, right?  But seriously, that's how I felt for most of August, only it took me some time to realize exactly what my problem was. I'm going to try to write about this without getting overly personal but hopefully personal enough that something will come of it, at least for me. Psychologists failed to prove the theory of catharsis long ago but I stubbornly maintain there is something to it.

I don't really know what form this will take and I'm rather inclined to just let it out and see, rather than structure it. We'll see how it goes..

Fact: Alex is really not a social guy. He's friendly and funny and would do just about anything to help someone he cares about. Ok, so his jokes are sometimes just a little too smart and it can be hard to get them right away sometimes (or maybe that's just me), still, he is wickedly witty. People like to have him around and generally when he's around other people he has a good time. It's not that he doesn' like the people we would socialize with. Yet when I want to go out with friends or have people over, I think it's fair to say he isn't particularly interested and often completely disinterested.

Fact: I love hanging out and interacting with other people. I do not have the highest social needs either, although I definitely need it much more than he does.  If I'm around people long enough, I will crave some alone time...just not weeks of alone time.

Alex and I are truly best friends, so it's easy to get caught up in having our social needs come down to each other.

And mostly that's ok. It's also somewhat unavoidable because between work, barn time, Alex's activities etc., there just isn't a lot of time. I have good relationships at work now, though that wasn't the case until fairly recently (my old unit was anything but social) and I usually get to socialize with barn friends, so it's enough to keep me going. Unfortunately, I haven't been great about seeing my other friends much and that is, in part, what started to weigh on me.

Why didn't I just start reaching out to my friends? Well, partly it's a self feeding cycle of "nothing comes of nothing" whereby if you don't make an effort, neither will they. The friends I'm thinking of have a sort of organic way of getting together that doesn't always require planning whereas I need to plan things to make it happen. It helps that many of them live within walking distance of each other. When I did find myself with free time, I was reluctant to contact them because I didn't want to seem like I was inviting myself along, or else that I considered them an afterthought. Neither of these are true, as I discovered when I finally laid it all out.

Putting these thoughts within the context of this summer and it starts to make some sense why I was feeling restless.

Now, let me go back a little. Remember when I first started with Willie and he had upward fixation of the patella (locking stifles) and Dr. B said to exercise him 6 days a week?  I spent months doing just that. I had a single-minded determination to help him. I was driven and focused on that one thing (well, there was work and stuff too but not with that heat-seeking missile type focus. Ever.). I knew it was hard on my marriage and I barely had a social life other than barn people.  I thought it would be worth it because his stifles would get better and that would be the end of it and life could return to "normal."  It did get better and I went to 4-5 days a week for a few months. Then he started head-shaking and I spent months trying to diagnose and fix the problem.  Somehow, I still had the drive. We'd come that far, after all.

That period of time drained me. I cried all the time because a) I felt guilty. I was pretty sure it wasn't my fault but couldn't shake the thought that maybe it was. And even if it wasn't, surely everyone else thought it was; and, b) I knew if I didn't find a way to fix him, no one else would.

The life of a horse on your shoulders feels every bit as heavy as its 1200lbs.

I was reaching the end of my determination and feeling at a complete loss. I was having a hard time accepting that I couldn't change Willie's problems but was on the verge of acceptace, when I received a very important email. In it there was an honest understanding for what I was going through, beyond the specific issue itself. They didn't judge or even offer advice but did give me perspective. It helped alleviate my guilt because there were other people out there in the world (who know me to a degree but really don't know me, and certainly had no vested interest) saying that sometimes effort and love and giving all we have is not enough to help another creature. And that sometimes there just isn't an answer to a problem - we want a firm diagnosis but that doesn't always happen.

They didn't say when the right time to stop was, knowing I had to learn this for myself. I was at that point anyway though, so it was perfectly timed. The exchange made me feel not quite so alone and gave me confidence in the decision I already knew was before me. As I write this out, I realize just how much that meant to me. I hope I expressed my gratitude appropriately but I expect I was too wrapped up in things to really pause and see the big picture. It's actually taken me this long. So thank you. Thank you so much for reaching out to me, it meant more than I can ever say.

note: I haven't revealed who sent that email because I am not sure they would want me to. You know, all the hoards of my followers asking for advice and all (actually, there are many more people that read than comment, believe it or not). But they know who they are and if you are comfortable saying so, please feel free to comment.

Whew! So I had a little Willie healing moment there.

All that to say, the whole ordeal made me fully realize this tendancy I have to be super determined sometimes. I'm not sure I can control it and I do neglect other things in the process, but it's there. I am also generally pretty hard on myself in terms of expectations. Which means no matter what I do, whether I focus on my goal or try to keep up with other obligations, I am always falling short somewhere.

I realized years ago that positive reinforcement doesn't really do that much for me but I feel criticism or negativity quite keenly (which is not to say I can't handle it, I can). For me, a compliment is translated as barely being adequate. It's hard to explain but I feel like it's just status quo when someone tells me I did something well. Or I think "phew, I didn't screw that up" and then I move on without recognizing the praise. No, not without recognizing (that would be rude), but without truly feeling the pleasure of being recognized for a job well-done. I don't take it to heart. Sometimes, I think people who say positive things about my work (in any realm) might be lying. Or they are just so clueless about the work I do (because that isn't their expertise) that it looks overly impressive to them when in reality it's about the simplest thing I've ever been educated to do. Like a Mathematician who is new to riding and witnesses a leg-yeild for the first time.

Now, finally, to the context of this summer. Being my first summer with Armani and having Alex home, I realized it was a good summer to show him well. As in, not just a few throughout the season, but to do around 6-8 shows and really give him a good start in that world. Granted, I'm only doing the bronze circuit since it's the only one to have a 2'3" division (silver/trillium starts at 2'6") and I didn't think my 4 year old should show higher than 2'3" this year. Still, showing is showing and if you're going to do it, do it well.

Turns out I had a ton of energy when it came to planning, learning, organizing etc. for shows. Looking back, I don't even know what happened to the time. I do know I was enjoying myself and pretty jazzed about what we were accomplishing.

In hindsight, I recognize the same ├╝ber-determination to reach a goal that makes the weeks and months tick past somewhat blindly.

I don't know what the breaking point was, exactly.  It initially presented as an unsettled feeling with respect to my marriage. There are actual issues going on there, as there are likely to be from time to time when you've spent 14 years together. I just couldn't shake the discontent and it was disproportional to any of the real marriage growth/change issues. Anyway, it took me awhile to realize it wasn't really about the relationship in and of itself much at all.

I was disatisfied with the relationship primarily because it had to be everything for me. And I had to be everything social for my husband as well. A slight exaggeration, perhaps, but neither of us had any significant social contribution from other people for months, aside from work and fleeting moments at the barn for me and the climbing gym or swimming for Alex.

My restlessness and discontent was largely a desire to just go out and HAVE STUPID FUN!  I am really very responsible and do have a lot of pressure and responsibilities, I think I just reached a point where I needed to just act my age (which is an awkward age, in a way) and remember I can let loose sometimes too.

I did just that last Saturday and feel loads better. Well, I sustained a few mild injuries, but aside from that it was a much-needed night out. More importantly, I told my friends where my head was at so I feel like now I've turned the tables in terms of managing this balance. Finding the time is, as always, going to be a huge challenge.


Laura said...

Thanks for sharing this stuff with us. I think the balance of normal life with horses is one of the toughest things to deal with. Horses and riding/showing are wonderful and I wouldn't be without it, but you really do have to work hard to balance that with everything else in our lives.

I'm glad you went out last week and had some fun with your friends - maybe it put some perspective on things?

I'm not sure what else to comment - I've read the post a few times and was hoping to come up with something witty AND helpful... ;-) The only real thing I have is that if you ever need to vent, you know where to find me at work!

Melissa-ParadigmFarms said...

I could have written your post - Just ask Jason ;)

Life balance is a hard thing to achieve. If you didn't have the horse thing going on it would be something else simply b/c you and I have that personality type. We fill the void with something to be focused on. Kudos to you for recognizing it, reflecting on it, and then doing something about it. BRAVO.

RuckusButt said...

Lol Laura, no worries, it wasn't meant to be a make-work project! I guess I was just hoping for some validation from people who understand.

Having a great night with friends helped and made me want to do it more...the reality is that it will still be hard to make it happen when I need to plan that kind of thing in whereas others don't to the same extent.

To that end, we should spend some more time together outside of work, especially now that it's harder to meet up.

Melissa, I appreciate your understanding. You're right - it would be something else if it wasn't horses. It's something my husband sometimes understands and sometimes doesn't. I think when things get tough it's easy to pick on horses because it's (in his mind) one single entity. In reality, it serves so many purposes in my life, it couldn't be replaced. Never mind the fact that horses are horses and you don't just turn it on and off.

I feel like I gained new perspective and that's why this post was important. Whether I managed to convey it or not, lol. It will still be hard but I hope that I am now more cognizant of my own patterns and how they influence our lives.

The hard work will be keeping it going, of course.