My Superwoman Syndrome: Anxiety and the Modern Go-getter

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I am wearing a flower-patterned cape, and red high heel shoes in my daughter’s drawing. I also have a star atop my magic wand. This wand would have come in handy some years ago, when my superwoman syndrome first set in.

I had my daughter at 22

I had my daughter at 22, with my first serious boyfriend. In the first year, I balanced an MPhil on scholarship, worked part time, launched an intense art career, and obsessed about being the perfect parent times two, while her father pursued his studies abroad. I can also attest that I spent eight years operating on three hours of sleep, with a résumé of full-time jobs, full-time art, and full-time motherhood.

This drawing beautified me – magically transforming mummy’s uncombed hair, messy handbag, and frazzled moments into a majestic, levitating being that could make the impossible real. If I could decorate my memories of those first years, a house that cleaned itself, and a pot that boiled it’s own water would have been helpful too.

…some find time to party hard, dress ‘bess’, and pour every ounce of energy they have left into a full or part-time relationship

I am not alone. Women all around me become superwomen. Some have careers and families, and bear the heavier domestic chores. Some are single, without children, but cram their days full with extracurricular activities like two careers, plus zumba, plus volunteering, plus other pluses. And some find time to party hard, dress ‘bess’, and pour every ounce of energy they have left into a full or part-time relationship.

I admire that we women can be this independent in today’s world, to handle our own and to prove our capability. As life experiences bless with me with a myriad of perspectives, I however wonder, not about the superwoman status, but the superwoman syndrome. About the times when we feel inadequate to the point of being less than a woman, when we cannot competently accomplish our growing list of sometimes impossible multitasks.

Many women are pressuring themselves to be perfect, as mothers, career women, wives, sexual beings, and some all at once. They feel inadequate when the 24-hour day won’t materialize as the 48 hours their dreams require.

At an impressionable age, girls are taught they will become mothers and wives, and, when they get older, society teaches them that a career equates being whole. Many are urged to accomplish both.

Be sexy, but not inappropriate. Be outspoken, but be a lady. Be independent, but make your man feel like a hero. Be educated and successful, but raise a family. It’s in the media, it’s in our childhood homes, it’s in the minds of our friends, the beliefs of our partners, and, worst of all, it’s engraved in our hearts.

Many of us have come to love the idea of being untouchable, the iron lady, the modern go-getter. Many of us love this ideal woman so much that we cannot love ourselves if we do not become her.

That’s why Steve Harvey can write “Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man”. Women will buy it…

That’s why Steve Harvey can write “Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man”. Women will buy it, buying into the rules about men and women, and why and how they think and behave the way they do. If these books seem to offer some truth, it is unfortunately because men and women have been trained for their gender roles. And trained so deceptively that they all think that is how they really are, simply because one has a penis and the other has a vagina.

I do not speak for all women by any means, but I speak of my own experiences that mirror many modern, educated women of my generation. Articles I’ve read state that even though females face more opportunities than ever before in the workplace, in politics and economically, that they are not necessarily happier. Not only are some of those opportunities flawed and restrictive, but women are also still pigeonholed.

I know women – who have children – who become depressed that they can’t fulfill one of their roles, as efficiently as before. I know others who secretly want children, but are terrified to sacrifice their identity as a career-driven independent. I have married friends who don’t want children, but feel guilty and alienated, as if they’re cold-hearted bitches for negating motherhood. And these crises exist, because we convince ourselves there are formulae that constitute a natural woman, a modern woman, a successful woman.

I myself am struggling to accept myself and my humanity. To feel proud that I abandoned the office world, after nine years of planning. That I started a home business, and still have active art and writing projects. I struggle to admit that I’m an excellent mom, because I desire to be perfect. I have to tell that voice to shut up. The one that says I’m not good enough or haven’t done enough, that marks the hours and the days that pass between genius and ordinary moments.

I am learning slowly to rebuke the past, when my womanhood was used against me. When nasty plots and agendas were manipulated to question my abilities, as a mother, and when lies circled my accomplishments, using my success as an artist and otherwise to suggest neglect.

Ironically, it was during the years that I managed to be the most efficient, as a mother, an artist and an employee, that my abilities were questioned. I bore the major brunt of the responsibilities, but the fiery lies that circled me were kindled by the spark of doubt. How can a woman work so hard, and still mind a child well?

These pervasive lies challenged my integrity and reputation, which after much time I am ready to speak out against, even if in this abstract way. Some of us genuinely desire the challenge or have no alternative to survive.

However, some of us develop a syndrome of excessive performance anxiety, biting off more than we can chew – just to prove to an imaginary audience that we can. We may have been drilled by experiences that force us to straighten our spine, and put on our magic masks.

Nine years later, my cape is weather beaten and my heels are worn. This wand works on some days, and on others it gives a magic error code. Sometimes my daughter will get three pages less of a story I promised to read, if my sugar acts up. Sometimes, weeks pass before I can draw or film my creative ideas. There are days I have quiet meltdowns, while photographing a client. There are nights I promise my editor a stellar article, but my writing is as delicious as a recipe label, and it stains her e-mail inbox.

This time, I promise to shrug it off. To move on. To admit I’m doing my best, and to learn from my failures. To admit when I fail. And to separate the undertakings that really drive my soul from the ones that are driving me.

 

Image credit: metrobloggen.se

Jaime Lee Loy

Jaime Lee Loy is a local contemporary artist and published writer of fiction. This single mom founded Trinidad Home Studio Ltd in 2011, offering her services in photography and video. With a genuine interest and past experience in working with NGOs, this single mother steers her creativity towards human-focused projects, and aims to be successful or die trying.

5 Comments

  1. Stephanie Singh

    Stephanie

    April 30, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Well written! I think this is a ‘stellar piece’.

  2. Jaime Lee Loy

    Jaime Lee Loy

    April 30, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    Thank you! It was written with fried brain cells admittedly :)

  3. Tanya

    May 2, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    This is awesome Jaime!!

    • Jaime Lee Loy

      Jaime Lee Loy

      May 2, 2012 at 5:51 pm

      Thanks Tanya :)

  4. Ash

    May 7, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    I too think it’s Stellar. Quietly, but not passively, loud. be your superwoman girl!

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