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OUR RESPONSIBLE CHOICES ARE MAKING US SICK

By Irena Ioannou

Do you remember a time when the thought of our future spread warmth into our hearts? When adult life signified endless possibilities and we couldn’t wait to go out into the real world and realize them. When were confident the older we got, the more freedom we’d achieve, and the happier we’d become.

A long time has passed since then, but every time I see my children plotting their summer vacations or insistently asking to go on a mountain trip to finally see snow, I remember that time as a child when going to bed late and waking up to a wrapped present was the definition of paradise.

Why has our idea of paradise changed so much? And when did this exactly happen?

The problem with growing up is that we soon realize—and if we’re a bit slow there’ll be plenty of friends with our best interests in mind to remind us—that dreams are for children. Adults have objectives, and the start of every New Year is an excellent opportunity to take stock. What we have achieved, where we have failed, where to focus, all the while bearing in mind that there is a right age for everything, especially if you are a woman.

Hence, while we started life by dreaming and being content with our parents’ thoughtfulness, as adults we’ve landed on the opposite side where pragmatism is our only weapon. We act in a mature way, live up to others’ expectations, make plans and execute them.

But this way, all the magic is gone. That’s why this year, my list has no resolutions. There are no goals to fulfill. Only reminders.

Nothing is more important than time with our loved ones.

Being busy has somehow managed to be considered a synonym to success, and we all live on a tight schedule with barely time to breathe between jobs and children and household chores, and of course keeping up appearances, where the opportunity to just stare at a wall and think of where we’re heading is considered a luxury.

And there are numerous deadlines, and places we have to be, and opportunities we can’t miss, and at the end of the day or on a rare moment of reflection, we wonder where all our lifelong friends have disappeared to. How long it’s been since we last talked with our parents, the last time we had coffee with the most important people of our lives. Surely they are equally busy, but why not pick up the phone and invite them out?

We’re not just mothers. 

And we’re not just wives. We’re women. And we have a body to think about, a body that sends us warning signals that we should take it easy but which we choose to ignore. It’s not about staying model-thin, or having the perfect haircut. It’s about getting enough sleep, getting rid of the back pains, walking up a flight of stairs without feeling absolutely exhausted.

It’s about fighting depression, which inflicts women twice as often as men, dealing with migraines, which attack women three times more often than men, adopting a healthy lifestyle to reduce the possibility of breast cancer. It’s about not falling victim to anxiety, not suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and avoiding a broken heart. Above all, it’s about loving ourselves and feeling well in our own skin.

Doing the responsible thing is not always healthy.

How women grow up ingrained with the notion that they need to be perfect is a condition that needs further research. Particularly since in a woman’s world being perfect is just another way of being responsible.

From an early age we have to make the wise choices, be careful who we talk to, choose the right friends, the right clothes, the right make-up, and later on, pick studies with the right working hours in mind, marry a good father to our children, live in a practical town, in the right neighborhood.

If we follow through, we tend to forget ourselves in the whole equation and we reach a point where we have to say no to further development. We have a perfect life, what more do we want? If we don’t, we beat ourselves up for not living up to society’s expectations. For not having thought things through beforehand, for not having made the right decisions. What is wrong with us?

And we neglect our wills and our bodies, and we limit our imaginations to pursuing specific lines of success, concentrating all our powers on the goals we think we must achieve, missing out on everything else. We narrow our outlets, and we narrow our lives, and we get caught in a vicious cycle of guilt, unfulfilled ambitions and a sense of lacking, because for some reason we thought the responsible choice was meant for our own good.

This year, under my New Year’s list, perhaps the right reminder will be to stop thinking in terms of success and failure, and enjoy the ride.

Irena Ioannou writes from Crete, Greece and her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Betty Fedora, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Mortar, OTV, and elsewhere. She is a mother of five.

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1 Comment

  1. Tim

    I think enjoying the ride is the best advice there is. Responsibility is always there, but too much is too much.

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