Big buckets of scattered oranges.

The way I described it to a friend was that I felt like I’ve been sitting on a see-saw for the last little while.

Instead of the see-saw being for two people, though, I told her to imagine it a see-saw for about 20. Imagine the lines of wood overlapping and crisscrossing, and imagine them lifting and falling on command.

I told her that’s how I felt because I feel so stupidly time poor at the moment. As if the minute I give my weight somewhere, it’s at the expense of something else. As if the minute one relationship in my life gets time and energy, another is ignored, or another is forgotten, or another is left out in the cold entirely. I told her I didn’t know where my weight and my time and my energy should be invested, because it felt like I was failing whichever way I turned.

Like no matter the angle I faced, I had my back turned to something.

On reflection, there were definite dosings of drama or self-flagellation about the whole exchange, but it wasn’t a fleeting feeling I was trying to express: I had been grappling with the guilt of feeling absent in my own life for some months now. What I didn’t tell her were the times my chest would constrict, or the days I felt a tiny bit breathless, or the moments I felt the weight of stress and overwhelm blanket me to the point of mental paralysis.

I don’t know how to give myself over to my work and keep everything else afloat. I can't shake the feeling the more time I give to my job, someone and something is inevitably getting left behind, something or someone is falling by the wayside and something or someone is missing my support or compassion or time.

I remember a couple of years ago when Michelle started seeing her psychologist, she came to work with an analogy she found a helpful way to self-reflect.

You're given 12 oranges and four baskets. Based on how much mental energy you give something, how do you divide your oranges between the 'Work', 'Family', 'Friends', 'Me' buckets? Are they evenly spread? Do some win out over the others? Who is the biggest loser of all?

If I was to organise my buckets and my oranges now, I’d say seven-and-a-half are in work, two are in friends, two are in family and the remaining half an orange is for myself. I wish they were more evenly distributed, I wish there was a way for every bucket to feel my energy and my time and my presence in a way I’m so desperate to show up.

But the strangest - and potentially most confusing - part of it all is that I feel more fulfilled than I have in a long time. My job is harder than it has ever felt, and the stress and stakes are more heightened than they have ever been, but I feel settled and content and happy and fulfilled, even as everything outside of work fades for a second.

Maybe it’s an insecurity about selfishness, as if the moment I give myself to my work, I am choosing myself, my goals, my dreams and my ego above everything else. Or maybe it’s just an innate worry that perhaps this is not what your 20s are for, and that I should strive for a greater sense of balance than I currently am.

Whatever it is, it manifests in guilt that is probably sucking up time I don’t have and energy I am trying to conserve.

I wish I could say that in penning this down, I have come to some kind of resolution or lesson or firm conclusion about time and priorities and guilt. I wish I could tell you what’s it like to feel like you’re spiralling and how to pull yourself out of the vortex.

But maybe therein lies the point: maybe there is no resolution or conclusion because our priorities are fluid, our energy in flux and our time, while constant, subject to both of those things.

What keeps me warm when I feel waves of that indiscriminate guilt is the knowledge that nothing good can be done in halves and that, realistically, throwing yourself into something was always, always, always going to come at the expense of something else.

It’s basic maths. I guess I’ll just make sure I’m not here for too long.

Zara x

Emma Hackett