When I started at college, I lived in the halls of residence, on the day I moved in the first girl I met in the flat introduced herself and told me she was four and a half years old.  I was a little perplexed but thought maybe she was just tall for her age.  It turns out she had been born 18 years earlier, but had only celebrated four actual birthdays as she was born on February 29th.

February 29th is always a special day as it only occurs every 4 years.  Apparently, it’s the day that women are allowed to propose to men!  I’m not going to go all super-sensitive keyboard warrior about it, but obviously in 2020, women shouldn’t need to be told we are allowed to do anything!

Now I know the proposal thing is only just a bit of fun and I promise I am not a total misery arse and I do take it that way, but it got me thinking women are regularly made to feel that we are allowed to do certain things and really it’s never an acceptable phrase.

I am not going to write a long political piece about gender inequality in it’s many forms around the globe. I am not even going to mention the ability to raise children and have a career, we all know that is possible for men and women,

What I am going to talk about, is the huge need we have today, to ‘have and do’ it all.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of ‘ the new phrase du jour, living your best life’ and of getting the most from it, but sometimes in the pursuit of doing that, I do wonder if we miss out on what actually would create a great life.Often as women we can disempower each other, or worse we do it to ourselves, rarely even recognising our acts of self-sabotage.

Possibly because we feel we have something to prove to be seen as equals, we place demands on ourselves that often push us to breaking point or leave us feeling like we are going through the  motions of life, doing things for the sake of it or to please others and not actually gaining any benefit or enjoyment from the things we commit our time and effort to.  That may be family, careers, community, study a whole myriad of things we do because we think we should.

Whilst I feel strongly, we all should do our best to be active citizens and find positive ways to contribute to society and the community we live, we all need to start recognising that it is not in fact selfish when we sometimes say no.

I take on a lot, I would say it’s because I don’t work and have more time on my hands.  But I gave up work because I did not have enough time to handle all of the appointments and advocacy work that was necessary at the time for supporting Patrick’s needs.  That is why Carers Leave is available in the first place, because it is recognised, that at some points on the Carer journey, a full-time administrator is needed, and for our family that is me.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love to volunteer, and whenever I do it, I get great enjoyment out of it.  But it really is time that I recognised that I cannot do it all.  I recognise the amount of stress it does actually cause me running and racing and juggling everything that I have going on in my life but still endlessly taking on new projects.  Something has to give somewhere!

My Carer Administrator workload is starting to lessen, appointments are reducing dramatically, so for the sake of my own sense of self and personal mental health, I have made the decision to return to work (well at least start applying for new roles, I have to actually get one first).  But in doing that I have had to make the decision to step back from most of the volunteer work that I do.

To be honest the step back hasn’t been a big one yet, my husband and my friend Nicola would not doubt tell me that haven’t actually stepped back at all.  But I am doing it, slowly but surely.  It isn’t just volunteering either, a lot of it is attending events, meetings, etc etc and giving over the very limited, in fact non-existent free space in my brain for trying to solve issues that aren’t mine.   

Me and my friends when I said I was ‘slowing down’ my life.

I went to a Women’s Event in December and there was an excellent speaker there named Margaret Hoctor, she gave a wonderful and authentic presentation and she said one thing that really resonated with me.  I won’t quote her as I cannot remember exactly how she said it, but basically it was that she was the go-to person for so committees and groups she realised that in supporting everything and everyone else, she was continually missing out on her own children, her own husband, her own home – in fact, her own life!

I mulled over what she said and I realised that when you become ever-present in one way, then you naturally become never-present in another.  Whether that is that you stop meeting your family needs, your home needs, or to be honest, most likely your own needs it will inevitably happen.

So on this February 29th the universe has gifted you an extra 24  full hours that you only get every 4 years, so use it wisely.  Take some time to assess what you can do to restructure your life a little so YOU can live YOUR best life, having all that YOU actually want. As I say that is not selfish and it can and should include other people in there. 

On this day where woman are ‘allowed’ to make a proposal, how about you propose to allow yourself to remember that you can do anything you want, you just can’t do everything!

Step One – next time you get an invitation for anything that you don’t want to participate on, not because you aren’t interested in it but because you want to spend some time on yourself.  Just reply with ‘thank you, I cannot make it’.  Don’t apologise, don’t give a reason.  Just say no.   

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