Duty and the Resent-o-meter

Duty. It’s an interesting concept. I tend to think of it as doing something simply because it needs to be done. Over the years I’ve come to recognize that I may have become a bit skewed in my sense of obligation or perception of duty. Perusing Merriam-Webster online, I find: Obligatory tasks, functions, conduct or service that arise from one’s position, (as in life or in a group) as well as: A moral or legal obligation.

Yep, I’ve taken it on. I am the eldest child of 4, and early in my life, I could sense my mother’s intermittent overwhelm with a busy household. So I took on the duties of both helping out at times and more significantly, of not asking for help and minimizing my own needs. On one level, this is laudable and useful, and on another, it left my child self trying to figure out stuff well beyond my abilities. Even more challenging, it left me emotionally limited and not believing I could explore or express my feelings with another. Thank goodness I was an avid reader from an early age, as this did afford me many opportunities for understanding and self-education.

Both my parents were involved with the community, and public service was a part of their lives, and by example, ours. Dad was a physics professor by day, and involved with mountain rescue on nights and weekends. It wasn’t at all unusual for our phone to ring at odd hours and off he’d go on a “mission”. Sometimes he’d be gone a few hours; sometimes it was days. Mom stayed a bit closer to home, but was involved in different things at different times. Consumer issues was one arena. I recall her campaigning against trading stamps given out by grocery stores. One could collect the stamps and then trade them in for “gifts” like toasters or mixers. Of course, the cost of all this was factored into the price of your groceries. She and her colleagues lobbied the state legislature and succeeded in having them banned. Another activity she was involved in, sadly coming to mind owing to the mass shooting there two weeks ago today, was getting the King Soopers supermarket for the Table Mesa shopping center a few blocks from our home. She also worked with the families of migrant farmworkers who were first generation students at the university. Doing stuff because it was useful or needed to be done.

Then I chose medicine as a career. There’s a place where work is never done. There is always more to do. Over the years, I’ve come to realize the insatiability of this and similar fields. For me, doing too much work with not enough time for personal recovery and restoration shows up as depression. I get burned out, shut down and depressed. I’ve also come to realize that what I call the resentometer starts pinging away. I resent the demands on me, no matter how reasonable or appropriate they may be in the circumstances. (Why are you calling me when you go into labor? Oh yeah, because I’m your doctor and I said I’d be there) I’ve come to recognize that its not often the activity or work itself that bothers me, its what it takes me away from doing, whether its sleeping, eating dinner, exercising or writing something. I really don’t like to be interrupted.

For me, interruption is a key point. I function well when I can work at whatever I’m working at for however long it takes, and then move onto whatever is next. And I do prefer it when that next is driven by interest or whatever “feels right” as opposed to someone else’s agenda, or just plain circumstances. If its snowing, shoveling the drive and walk will soon be top of my list without regard for my preferences. As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve had a number of interruptions. Breakfast (I would have written longer had my partner not been hungry). Food prep for dinner–it needed to get done. I’m getting ready to head out for a walk. If I don’t do it now, it probably won’t happen today, and its important for my overall health. A massage–an every two week event that is important for self care. Completely my choice, as is its place on my schedule. And right this moment, I’d rather it wasn’t coming where it is on my schedule.

My computer is surrounded at the moment by seed packets and graph paper. Yesterday, I was working on planning this years garden. What do I have? What seeds need starting soon indoors? What should be sown outdoors soon? What do I want to grow that I don’t have seeds for? I was was getting going on it pretty well, when an interruption (let’s walk now) occurred and I haven’t gotten back to it. I could have said no when BA asked to walk, but a little duty crept in. Because of her health issues, a companion is helpful on her walks, and in these covid times, I’m it. No resentment yesterday, but some days there is.

I have learned to use resentment as an indicator that something needs to change. More likely than not, I’ve been saying yes to the outside world more than I have been to me and my own needs. Its a tricky balance, as I do value contributing to the world and my community, and at the same time, I am forced, whether by depression or the R-meter, to recognize that if I don’t attend to my own needs and self care, I won’t be much good to anyone else. It does not appear that I’ll be done attending to the nuances of this issue anytime soon.

Written for the 2021 Blogging from A to Z writing challenge. Click here if you’d like to visit their site or read some other contributions!

7 thoughts on “Duty and the Resent-o-meter

  1. Duty! Been there! What I love about retirement is that I can usually do what I want when I want. Before my husband died, my schedule was always mine, but now I must do his tasks too. And that is “duty” and I don’t like it! I was spoiled.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “I resent the demands on me, no matter how reasonable or appropriate they may be in the circumstances.”

    This is a lesson about myself I have recently seen in action (again) and (finally) recognized as a pattern. I can get involved in something cool (teaching art to the kids, working for Mission Trails Regional Park, etc.) and I can actually love it but then something happens, like a duty overload and I bail. Like you, I had a lot of responsibility as a kid and that continued throughout my work life. I also feel that a long period of uninterrupted time/life in front of me is a kind of liberty.

    Liked by 1 person

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