Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Feeling Overwhelmed


I like thinking about what something means, taking it apart, getting down to what it really is. I was going to title today's essay "On Being Overwhelmed" but before I typed it, I got to thinking about what that would mean. Being, as opposed to feeling, is a state that one exists in. If I was "being" overwhelmed, I would be helpless, the world would be coming in over the gunwales. I would find it impossible to breathe. The best metaphor I can think of at this moment is that I would be held underwater and running out of air. That's what being overwhelmed is.

But that's not what is really happening. Instead, that's what I imagine is happening when I panic or when I forget the difference between seeming and being.

This morning I am returning to work after a sick day and my desk is a mess. In ten minutes I have a staff meeting (hurry, 600 words to go!), and I'm not at all sure that I have finished looking at the stuff kids turned into me last week. I have to attend a parent conference at my kid's school this afternoon and just realized that it conflicts with my usual appointment with my therapist so I need to reschedule that. I also need to order tickets for my other daughter's birthday before the show we want to take her to sells out. On top of that there is the usual day-to-day stuff.

Help me! I'm drowning!

Except, I'm really not.

My desk is often a mess and I live with it just find. I have more time than I usually use to get my 750 words typed. If I haven't looked at kids' stuff, I tell them that I was sick and they will understand; they always do. The parent conference is going to be fun because the teacher adores our daughter and my therapy appointment is easy enough to reschedule. Ordering tickets can be done online and I'll be able to attend to that at 8:15 after my first class of kids takes off to go to Spanish. And as for the rest of the stuff that I have to do every day, well, I do that sort of thing every day.

And so it only feels as though I'm overwhelmed and feelings are something that I can live with. Now that I have gone through that idea, and accepted the simple fact of feeling overwhelmed, I have little to fear from it, don't need to push back against it, and in general feel like there is a way through. It's as though whatever was holding me underwater has let go and I just broke through the surface to find that I'm in warm water under blue sky and the shore is just a little ways away. That and it turns out that the thing that was holding me underwater was, no surprise here, me.

It's an old lesson that I have to learn over and over, but it's coming to me faster and faster each time that I revisit it. I get to choose how these things go. I get to choose how to be. That's a freeing thought. Hell, that's a freeing fact.

And so today is a day to deal with thing and to remember a few other lessons, some of which I've talked about here already. They include:

Do one thing. Right now I'm typing my 750 words. I don't have to do anything other than that right now and, in fact, if I'm attending to this task, I can't do anything but type 750 words right now. Do one thing.

Choose not only what to do but also how to feel. I get to make decisions about how I am, what I want, and how to react to things. I don't have to abdicate responsibility for these things and in fact, it's unwise to give up those choices. Choose how to feel.

Don't sweat it too much. There's nothing to be gained by panicking and rushing through things. There's nothing to be gained by thinking that it's the end of the world. And there is nothing to be gained by thinking that I can't do it. Don't sweat it too much.

Finally, remember that things have been worse and that I'm still here. I have survived and thrived in worse situations than this. I can and I will be fine. Remembering that just takes all the threat out of the situation. Remember, I'm still here.

That's it. That's the lesson. Oh, and one other thing, of course: Write on.