By Esther Mann, LCSW
I’m worried about my daughter Gitty. She is overworked, doesn’t sleep enough, and doesn’t stop long enough to catch her breath—it scares me.
Gitty is in her early fifties. She’s always worked in a responsible position and worked long hours. That hasn’t changed. Now that her children are all grown and out of the house, I have a hard time thinking about what she does in a day. Besides work, she goes to the gym early in the morning. After work, she is often running to a class, cooking a meal for someone who needs help, driving someone to the airport, working on some community event—the list doesn’t end. Not to mention her need to have company on Shabbos, which often means staying up until the wee hours of Thursday night and, I suspect, sometimes not going to sleep at all.
Thank G‑d she seems to be able to do it all. But she’s getting older, and I think she looks tired. She never complains, but I worry that she is overdoing it and that all the running will someday catch up with her and she’ll collapse.
I don’t even understand where all this running is coming from. I was a stay-at-home mom. When my children were older, I had a couple of little jobs here and there, but basically I was happy staying home and relaxing. I never felt the need to push myself that much, certainly not beyond the limit the way that Gitty does.
The bottom line is that I am very concerned. I don’t want Gitty to run herself down to the point of getting sick. Plus, if I’m being honest with myself and with you, she certainly has little time for me. Even our phone conversations are two minutes here, two minutes there. She seems to have time for everything and everyone else. Not that I need help. Thank G‑d I’m in good health and quite capable of taking care of myself. But I also feel as though when it comes to her to-do list, I barely make it!
I read your column and wonder whether there is something psychologically unhealthy going on with her. Could this running nonstop reflect some kind of emotional problem she’s having? Could it mean that she’s unhappy at home and needs to run away? As a mother, is there something I should be doing to help her out if there is a problem? It’s just that I don’t understand her behavior. What is it all about? How can anyone enjoy anything if they don’t take even five minutes of downtime to reflect on their day? Is there some insight you can give me about a person who lives this way?
No two people are the same, and even those with similar behaviors might have different motivations. So all I can do is suggest some ideas about why certain people treat life as a perpetual treadmill, never allowing themselves the opportunity to get off for very long.
Yes, Gitty clearly has no desire to stay at home much, or to stay still. Possibly she doesn’t want to risk creating a space in her brain that would allow her the opportunity to reflect on her life, which can be scary if one is concerned about uncovering painful feelings. Or maybe she struggles with a perpetual sense of loneliness—possibly even on an existential level. It’s possible that she is trying to fill a void that should have been filled personally or by those closest to her. There could be various deep-seated, emotional motivating factors that account for Gitty’s nonstop running.
Many people are looking for ways to escape their humdrum lives, which somehow don’t quite fill them up as they should. These people seek distractions, so that they don’t have to confront what really ails them. Often they find such distractions in food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, etc. And that is worrisome. If Gitty is distracting herself with an extremely productive life, filled with good deeds and accomplishments, it’s not so bad. It’s actually quite fantastic.
It’s just as possible that Gitty has nothing to run from, but rather is very pleased with herself and her home life (you didn’t mention a husband, but I’m assuming she has one) and is, in general, running toward a magnificent life. Many people like Gitty want to live each day to the fullest. Life is fleeting and every day is a gift. We can let days slip by without much to show for them, or we can choose to cram into each day a tremendous number of accomplishments, so that when our heads hit the pillow at the end of the day, we go to sleep with a big smile on our faces, knowing that our presence in the world was duly noted, that something or someone was enriched by our efforts. Now that’s a great feeling!
My suggestion to you is to relax and feel proud; as long as Gitty (or anyone in her family) is not complaining to you, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s possible that her family members have followed her lead and are also putting in long days and are committed to their own challenging and exciting lives, much as they see Gitty doing. She is quite the role model and possibly they are all inspired by her commitment to a fast-paced, full, over-the-top lifestyle.
As you mentioned, Gitty seems to be fine. When her body dictates otherwise, and she realizes that she can no longer pull all-nighters cooking, or maybe she would enjoy a few evenings a week “vegging out” at home, she’ll respond accordingly. But she may be one of those lucky individuals who keep running and jumping and doing for many, many years to come. It’s possible that her incredible pace is keeping her young.
Just as an aside, and not that you’re asking for this insight, but you may want to ask yourself if watching Gitty moving and grooving is triggering anything inside of you. Is it possible that you feel uncomfortable with her activity level because you feel that you could be or should be doing more? Consider whether this might be part of your discomfort. And if it is, you might want to think about getting more involved in whatever interests you.
Along those lines, it sounds as though you are feeling a little neglected by Gitty and would rather that she make you a bigger focus in her life. If that’s the case, have a discussion with her and share your feelings. Maybe she doesn’t realize that you feel this way, and hopefully the two of you can have a meaningful conversation that would be enlightening for both of you.
In the meantime, we can all learn a lot from Gitty!
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.