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Do You Suffer from Empty Refrigerator Syndrome?

It destroys your health, your happiness, and robs you of any enjoyment in life.

Tired, are you? Yeah, I hear you. Exhausted, you say? Wrung out? I know what you mean. There’s always something to suck the life and energy out of us, isn’t there? Working 47 hours a day on a job you hate (or even if you love it, that’s way too many). Maybe it’s the demanding boss who knows all too well that you’ll keep taking on more and more and more because you really need that job.

Maybe it’s the high maintenance wife who can’t seem to spend money fast enough in her pursuit of looking like a glamorous movie star on your warehouse clerk’s salary, and you’re drowning in debt.

Or perhaps you’re the CEO of your own large corporation, dealing with pressures and demands and trying to figure out what needs to be done to fix things. Maybe your business partner is going through a personal crisis and his/her workload has suddenly been dumped on top of your own.

(Photo courtesy of StuartMiles at freerangestock.com)

Then there are the children who need need need affection and time and homework help and room tidying assistance and crying on your shoulder because the object of her crush just humiliated her in front of the whole class and you just got home from work and the family needs dinner and the baby won’t stop fussing and refuses to be put down and you got only a few hours’ sleep last night and your head is exploding but you have to cook that miserable meal anyway…

And your bank account just looooves the colour red much more than it loves black and it’s like you’re playing a losing game of checkers with it because it always ends up saying “King me!”

Or the snooty skinny gorgeous (damn her) co-worker who has to whine at you about how her doctor wishes she could gain ten pounds, but no matter how many chocolates she eats, or how many pounds of spaghetti, or how much butter is dripping off her vegetables or those countless thick slices of fresh, crusty French bread she eats, she just can’t gain an ounce.

Or the mother-in-law who constantly reminds you that you could never be anywhere near as good as the perfect ex-partner of her son or daughter. Or the neighbours who can’t wait to tell you that their perfect child is on the honour roll, is class president, and is in 17 clubs and extra-curricular activities, while your kid is lucky to show up at school with his clothes on the right way.

And it’s holidays and birthdays and gifts and shopping and decorating and parties and company and We have to and I should and It’s tradition, all of which are big bullies and shove aside the whole meaning and purpose of holidays, whether it’s Christmas or Hanukkah or birthdays or just a family visit to Aunt Marsha’s in the summer, and it ends up being a miserable, frustrating, depressing and utterly disappointing time.

Yeah, there are lots of reasons to feel exhausted and fed up and you keep trying to hold it all together but despite your best efforts, the house looks like a bomb went off in it. Forget trying to make it look like 1950s Harriet Nelson’s house, and forget her pearls around your neck, it feels more like there’s a noose, and your whole life feels like you’re trying to fill a colander with water. Everywhere you look, there are demands and needs and drains on your time, your money, your energy, your patience, and your spirit.

(Photo courtesy of StuartMiles at freerangestock.com)

I spent 12 years as a volunteer for the Post-Partum Support Society in Calgary, offering support to women who were struggling with varying degrees of depression after the births of their children. From feeling a bit blue to experiencing post-partum psychosis and wanting to harm their babies and/or themselves, I saw it all. 

I studied social work and hypnosis, too, during that period, and did some counselling work, and later became a homeopath, listening to a lot of detail about the struggles in the lives of people who had come to me for help. In all of these situations, whatever specific troubles they were having, there were many similarities among them. And I’ve continued to hear about them in my work as a hypnotist and mindfulness expert, even with high level executives in the corporate world.

Over and over again, I hear about different versions of the same kinds of problems. One of the toughest and most common ones is the trouble people have in dealing with other people’s expectations. They are trying so hard to be or do what others expect of them, need from them, demand or want from them, that they neglect themselves and their own needs. They keep burning the candle at both ends and in the middle in an effort to be all things to all people.

Somewhere along the way, I started telling clients and patients that when they do this, it’s like being a fridge full of food. Your kids take out some of the food, your spouse takes more, your boss or business partner, your staff, your relatives, your committee meetings, and whatever else is placing demands on your time and energy.

But no one is restocking the fridge – including you. They keep taking and you keep giving until soon, your fridge has run out of food so they’re taking the shelves, the drawers, the lightbulb, even the thermostat and there you are, an empty shell of a fridge with some insulation and a few wires sticking out here and there.

Whatever you do, whether it’s corporate work or family issues, or dealing with your sister and her kids or your neighbours who want to rub your nose in their success, or your staff expecting you to be perfect, or your boss or business partner who expects the world, hear this: You will never please everyone. Nor will you ever get it all done. There will always be something left to do, some job or other waiting, some piece of your life that just has to wait.

So let it wait. Put yourself way up at the top of that list of priorities. No one else is going to do it, so if you want to be in the best possible shape to be able to give and do and help and work “and and and and” – ad infinitum – then you have to be sure to take care of yourself first in order to be well and fully functional.

So go on. Take a look, see what it is you need to do so you can get some help or a break or whatever will get you feeling energised again. You – and everyone who loves and cares about you – will be much happier for it.

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