health

The "12 oranges" question every woman needs to ask herself today.

My life moves to a very odd beat.

Some weeks it’s fast, so fast, my head-is-only-just-above-the-water fast. Other weeks it’s slow. Too slow. I find myself back on my emails doing work out of hours, kind of slow.

If my life was a see-saw, it would rarely hover level. It would fall to one side, and then fall to the other, and then back to the other again. It flops from side to side, the weight of each end depending totally on whether I am all in my social life, or all in my work.

There’s no time for in betweens, no time for living my best life, only time for extremes.

Because here’s the thing: I work a funky week.

Like so many others who have weird hours, who do shift work, who don’t identify with the 9-5 grind but instead a different grind altogether, my weekend falls on Monday and Tuesday. I work through the normal weekend, my work week going from Wednesday through to Sunday.

And although for the most part the days don’t bother me, it’s interesting how working through the weekend has such a fundamental impact on the state of my mind. There are weekends when I will fill my nights socially, backing up for work the next day and hating myself for the days to come as I enter recovery mode. And then there are the other weekends: the ones I keep quiet, the ones I hermit, the ones I drop the ball socially on. And then, of course, there’s the inevitable boredom I feel in the days to come, lamenting my inability to get up, get out and get going socially in the middle of my work week.

It’s a fine balance. And I almost never hit it.

So, like all good dilemmas festering in my mind, I vented to my colleagues about it. How can I get it right, when I always feel like I’m getting it wrong? How do I level the see-saw, when it’s almost always digging into either side of the ground?

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Enter: 12 oranges.

It was an analogy my colleague hit me with, an uncomplicated way to look at my life from above, the easiest kind of self-analysis I had done in years.

You're given 12 oranges and four baskets. Based on how much mental energy you give something, how do you divide your oranges between the 'Work', 'Family', 'Friends', 'Me' buckets? Are they evenly spread? Do some win out over the others? Who is the biggest loser?

My colleague told me that when she was hit with the "12 oranges" question by her psychologist, she had a revelation: With eight oranges in 'Work', three in 'Family', and one in 'Friends', she was leaving herself with nothing.

No wonder we're all feeling so stressed, right?

I did the maths, and realised my 'Me' bucket is almost always the loser, while my 'Work' bucket is feeling heavy. So while my mind gets left behind in a flurry of deadlines and social engagements, my desire to stay busy betrays a more crucial need to stay sane.

It's a good way to remind myself the importance of family time, too.

Because although it will almost never be equally weighted, there's merit in looking at where our oranges lie and so too our energy, adrenaline and time. After all, we can really damage our mental health if our oranges are too heavily placed into one bucket.

So here I am, with handful of baskets and and box-worth of oranges, working hard on the distribution of one in the other.

And maybe it's the thing you need to ask yourself today, too.

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