I have Superwoman Syndrome. And no, this isn’t a cool condition which allows me to fly and have superpowers.
A Superwoman is defined sociologically as a Western woman who is juggling multiple roles and lifestyles, stereotypically balancing work or education with family life and other commitments. The Superwoman is a by-product of feminism: in a society where women are less restricted, some feel like they should make the most of this and do everything they can. But this creates a number of problems.
I’ve always had a superwoman complex. I want to get involved in everything that comes my way, and I want to be good at it. I’m not afraid to admit that I have a fear of failure and disappointing people, which only got worse when I started university. Now I find myself juggling a degree, a part-time job, various volunteering roles, and my extracurricular commitments, which include being a dancer and a musician. On top of all that, I still have to find time to see my partner and my family. My friends ask me how on earth I’m managing, and my standard response is that I’m not, accompanied by a big sigh.
In trying to do everything, some things inevitably fall through the cracks. My house is a pig sty and sometimes I find myself with no clean clothes! Household tasks like doing a load of washing are at the bottom of the list. It’s impossible to fit in time with my family, and too often I have to cancel plans with my partner when something else comes up. I desperately want to start up my own dance class and pass my driving test, but I’d need a 48 hour day, 9 days a week. I’m overworked, overwhelmed and over-scheduled. I’ve forfeited my own life plans in my quest to please everyone else.
The biggest casualty of my superwoman complex is my health. I suffer from anxiety, which gets worse if I feel like I’m failing or disappointing someone. My eating habits are borderline non-existent, and I go through life powered by takeaway coffee. I’m permanently exhausted; I sleep when I get the chance and I regularly finish volunteer shifts at 4am to be up for university two hours later. Research suggests that many Superwomen turn to stimulants or sedatives to help them balance their crazy schedules, and although my fuel of choice is expensive takeaway coffee, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about pills that would ease the strain. It isn’t good and it isn’t healthy.
What’s worse is that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to not be busy. On the rare days that I find myself with nothing urgent to do, I get paranoid that I’ve forgotten something. I can’t remember how to function when I don’t have a million things going on, and this makes me want to take on more commitments to fill the gaps. But if I do, I’m guaranteed to have a full scale, A-list meltdown by the time I’m 25.
So I’ve decided I need to stop. I’m fortunate to have found a fantastic partner who will sit me down and tell me when I’m taking on too much. I now keep a diary so I can keep track of my plans, and I’m forcing myself to stop trying to be in two places at once. If I can, I give myself 15 minutes a day to do something I enjoy, like playing the piano, dancing or writing an article (!)—even this small respite allows me to feel like my plans are under control. And, slowly but surely, I’m allowing opportunities to pass me by: if I don’t have time to do them properly then they aren’t worth doing at all. I’ve still got a billion-and-one things on my plate, but I’m learning that if I keep giving pieces of myself away then eventually there won’t be any left for me and the people I love. Hopefully one day I’ll get my life in order, but until then I’m just hoping that Superwoman Syndrome gives me the superpowers I need to deal with my life right now.