Third Shift Sisu

Beat mental overload

You work three shifts if you are a working mother.

  • Shift one is the career
  • The Second Shift is the caretaking of the house and kids
  • Shift three is the mental load that comes with the first two

Like most women in my orbit, I always feel guilty about my decisions and trade-offs. Unlike them, I don't feel too bad about it. As a physician, mortality is ever present. There's simply no time to feel bad.

At times I feel the physical consequences of my third shift. I've suffered through what Michele Bolton outlines as three central conflicts: self-expression vs. expectation conformation, focus on the job vs. focus on the family, and personal ambition vs. serving others.

Third shift stress is as colossal as these internal crises and as small as tasks that someone simply has to account for - for example, keeping track of the children's doctor's appointments. When I am productive and sparkling, these unseen and unshared tasks get done.

As long as I have it together, I am able to hack away at these weeds and fulfill my controlling self. But most of the time, I can't bear the existential challenges of identity, focus, and balance. When I hear people optimistically using the word balance, they lose credibility because reality is more about work-life sway.

I have made peace with a baseline amount of stress within a life of three shifts. I have listened, read, and commiserated with other souls. But I get bored and desperate if I can't take a baby step.

So I turned to the more paradise-fantasy life of the Nordics. Their reputation for happiness is rooted in the likes of Hygge, Lykke, and in your face social welfare. While all the decency makes me feel bubbly, I yawn through most of it. I can't see its practical or lateral application into the work obsessed, capitalist culture I was initiated in.

Then I fumbled onto the roughly 500 year old concept of Sisu.

An untranslatable word in English, but what Katja Pantzar describes as a persistence while shouldering all kinds of responsibilities. Grit doesn't but half cover it. Finns have the practice of skinny dipping in ice cold bodies of water. Pantzar talks about Sisu as the "somatic embodiment of mental toughness." It's not about mind or heart, but all about guts.

In 1939, the soldiers during the Soviet invasion of Finland were fighting for breath in temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius. Finnish history (with its famine, struggle for independence, and of course weather) shows off resilience. Nature is a norm in Finnish daily life. I love how Pantzar shed her state of being a "slightly lethargic depressive" to someone who brutes into ice cold nature daily.

After learning more about Sisu, I was compelled to beat down my nature-deficit-disorder and took to hiking. Urban life compounds stress. It also deprives your sensory system that has evolved with nature in mind. I connected to my own version of Sisu by increasing physical activity with a dose of natural wonder.

Normally I enjoy feeling rested over tested. I’ve made peace with my nerves on third shift stress. I am lucky enough to have a release with physical activity and a sense of groundedness in my surroundings. Sisu is about having a certain orientation in life. I have prioritized a primal sort of physicality in my life full of responsibilities.

Call it a coping mechanism or an escape, I try not to miss a nature hike. I need it the very way I need my children to feel safe.

A coffee meetup? Sure, but only if we drink our way to the mountains.



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