This essay was originally written as an answer to the question "How do you stop the Hamster Wheel that life becomes, so you can catch your breath?" posted in The Grove section of the Compuserve New Age Spirituality forum run by my friend Queenie. This answer was far too long for a forum post, so I'm putting it here, instead.

Hope you find it helpful! (After all, why knock your own head against a wall, when you can learn from my experience? <g>)

I used to have a problem with the "hamster wheel" too. In my case, it was all about expectations; and not even my own expectations, but the expectations that I was projecting onto other people.

I felt that everyone expected me to be a wonderful mother AND keep the house in perfect order AND serve hot, nourishing meals a minimum of twice a day AND make sure that my family's clothing was always neat, clean, and fairly new AND get the kids wherever they were supposed to be AND be a "good listener," who was always available for my husband, children, and the 14 members of the Grove/Coven I headed AND be the Perfect Priestess AND turn out at least one stunning painting every two weeks (which was, after all, the job I was getting paid for,) AND, AND, AND.

It was pretty obvious that it was completely impossible to do all this, and to do it to the extremely high standards trained into me by my mother. (Who, I might mention, didn't have either a paying job or a Coven, and who wasn't raising a family in an era when the kids were expected to be involved in at least a dozen "extra-curricular" activities.)

However, impossible as it was, I tried my very best to do it. I was afraid that, if I didn't somehow manage all of it, people would judge me, and find me inferior. That I would lose all my friends, everyone would hate me, and I would be alone, unloved, and outcast.

Most of all, I was afraid that if I failed in even the smallest part of this, I would Disappoint someone. And I couldn't bear the thought of Disappointing anyone. Of causing anyone even a moment of unhappiness.

Then I got sick.

It was just the flu; but I couldn't stop to take care of myself, because everyone was Expecting me to do all this stuff, and I couldn't stand to let them down.

So I stayed sick. And got worse. And eventually (a year or two later) was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. And still I tried to do it all, and pushed myself, and pushed myself, and ran like a mad woman just to stay in the same place.

Until I realized that there was only one way off that hamster wheel.

And that was to just step off, and risk all that disapproval. To go ahead and let all of those people down.

I felt terrible about it, and I wasn't able to do it all at once. But I did it.

I stopped worrying about how others would judge me, because I came to realize that it was much more important to do the things I could do, and do them well, than to try to do everything. I saw that the only person who really had the right to judge me was me, myself; and I judged that it was stupid to kill myself in a vain attempt to be "perfect."

I gave up on keeping the house spotless, and stopped cleaning up after the kids all the time. They weren't infants, and could clean up their own room if they wanted it to be clean. I required them to help more around the house, and stopped correcting their "help" when they were in school.

I made them give away the pets that they weren't interested enough in to take care of. (And they found them a great home, too.)

I decided to trust the way I'd raised them, and the Universe, and let them make some of their own decisions, and arrange some of their own transportation. That was really hard, because they were adolescents, and prone to error. But I went from telling them what to do, to asking them what they thought they should do, and stepped back a little. (And they turned out just fine.)

I cut back on the hours a day I worked, and learned that no one in my family really needed as many material things as we thought we did.

Eventually, I realized that people survive disappointment all the time. It's true, they may be disappointed when I can't answer their e-mail right away, or attend to the conventions they can get to, or take the commissions they offer me. But they all manage to live through it somehow.

In time, I realized that the key was to give myself the same kind of slack that I gave everyone else. I don't expect perfection from others. I know that there are limits to what any one person can do. All I lacked was an understanding that it was OK to live within those limits myself.

And you know what? My friends, although they might be disappointed, understand. They see what I do, and they don't expect me to do more. Some of them are actually more relaxed around me now. They no loinger feel that I'm going to judge them harshly, since my standards for myself are no longer unrealistically high. (At least, so they tell me. Perhaps they are just being kind, but that's ok too. <g>)

Far from being friendless, alone, unloved, and outcast, I have more friends now than I've ever had before. Possibly because I'm not trying so hard, and therefore easier to be around. I don't know.

I stopped trying to "make" time to do everything that everyone expected me to do, and instead started to "take" time to do the things I needed to do to keep myself balanced, relaxed, and happy. (What do people "make" time out of, anyway?)

I realized that I had to put on my own air mask before I could assist others. That, if I was run down, frazzled, cranky, or too weak or sick to move I wasn't much good to anyone else, either.

I learned to say, "No."

And I'm not on the hamster wheel any more.

It's a great feeling. You should try it!