Life changes sometimes overwhelm me, and lately life changes are more common than things staying the same. In truth, I don’t handle anxiety and overwhelm all that well and I can be kind of prone to it. Usually I get really angry and annoyed. I get fed up with tiny things and my patience runs thin and my sensitivity to bullshit amps up. Other times I shut down completely regardless of whether or not that is the appropriate response.
Basically, anxiety and overwhelm do great at turning me into someone I’d rather not be.
With a new job change that more than doubles my workload, the decision on where to live next and how to do it constantly on my mind, the end of an old relationship and the start of a new one, some recent major personal news and the launch of a new passion project in addition to this amazing passion blog that I’m already juggling– my brain and my body are in overdrive.
This weekend, I really shut off from all unnecessary feelings other than annoyance, exhaustion and the thrum of mild irritation lurking below the surface of every move I make. My attitude makes it worse because grumpy and short-circuited Chloe feels bad for being a dick, but feeling bad makes me more of a dick. And then it’s the endless cycle of feeling like a failure everywhere I look.
It’s kind of lose, lose.
Anxiety & Overwhelm
Anxiety feeds off of everything which makes dealing with overwhelm hard. It gnaws and grows on the tiniest insecurities, allowing it to get bigger and badder and more in control when all I want to do is take back the reins and say “SNAP OUT OF IT MOTHER FUCKER”
But it’s not always that easy.
In fact, it rarely is.
The Ways in Which I Avoid Feeling the Overwhelm
The overwhelm that I’ve been feeling these last couple of weeks has been an interesting experience with my new set of therapy tools and mental health management kit that I’ve built in the last year and a half.
Now, I notice when I’m avoiding how I feel, and I notice the ways in which I distract myself in order to not notice the feels that I’m feeling.
I do things that I don’t normally do but give me an odd feeling of being in control.
Like popping pimples. Or squeezing parts of my face that even though aren’t pimples, might have something hiding in the pore.
I pluck random hairs out of my face or floss my teeth like I’ve never flossed them before. Then I whiten them and then I brush them and then I pick at them until my gums bleed.
Sometimes I deep clean or pick one random little chore to do like rearranging my cabinets or Marie Kondo-ing my room.
I do all the things I can think of that will require all my focus so that I don’t have to hunker down and do the thing that I need to do, whatever that may be.
This week, avoidance and distraction and ignoring fell hard on me. I zoned out and watched TV more than I usually do, and I popped more pimples than I actually have.
And you know what?
It didn’t really help.
The overwhelm was still there, waiting for me while I spent twenty minutes in the bathroom picking at my face.
Bad News and the Numbing Effect of Overwhelm
Mid-week last week I got some news that shut me down hard and fast. The kind of news that took me by surprise but left me wondering why I felt surprised because I always expected it but never actually expected to hear it.
Regardless, I went numb. The kind of crisis mode numb reserved for life’s moments where my functioning faculties supersede my feeling faculties.
Brain empties, body alerts, and calm reasoning kicks in. We shut down all the unnecessary stuff like feelings so we can function which is all we can do when we are hit with the type of news that could change everything.
With my new therapy goggles, I knew my lack of reaction indicated something was off. I knew that it meant that I was probably having a hard time processing the news and I knew that that was okay.
On the flip side, I also knew I couldn’t avoid addressing it at some point but my brain was in protection mode. It blocked the path to processing so I could continue to function until processing became a viable option.
It’s nice that the brain has the capability to protect us in this way. It’s a problem when it becomes the only way we deal though.
A Time to Process the Overwhelm
When I got home that night, after talking to a friend about it at dinner and a long ride home, I decided it might be a good idea to do some meditation to find out how I was feeling. I knew I had to be feeling something so I figured doing some meditation to see what I could uncover.
And it did.
And what I found surprised me.
The Overwhelm Meditation
The meditation is almost identical to the meditation I talk about in “Overcoming Dating Anxiety.”
I sat upright, closed my eyes, and asked my Wise Self, the Bare, to come into the room with me. She arrived in an instant and asked the question that had been sitting on my heart since I received the news earlier that day.
“What are you feeling? What am I feeling?“
A moment of surrender.
And the floodgates opened.
Like a freight train heading straight to my chest, I felt the heat of grief hit me. It slammed into my chest and rose up to my face where the tears started to fall almost instantly. A welling of all the unaddressed anxiety and electric energy balled up around my heart, and released into waves of the feels.
The Overwhelmed and Hurting Part of Me
In my meditation, I saw another version of myself. This version looked like a little cartoon that was round and tiny like a Charlie Brown character. Her nose turned up so all I could see was her massive, gaping mouth wailing as tears spouted from her eyes like dual sprinklers letting out a steady stream.
“I KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN” she screamed in between sobs.
“I KNEW THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN. YOU’RE GOING TO LOSE HER. SHE’S GOING TO LEAVE YOU. SHE WAS ALWAYS GOING TO LEAVE YOU.”
“There’s nothing you can do! There’s nothing you can do! THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO.”
My wise self listened. My hurt self continued.
And I cried as the realization of what I felt sunk in.
I was afraid of being abandoned.
Abandonment terrifies me.
There’s a large hurting part of me that believes I will lose someone I love dearly.
I’m afraid I’m not enough to change that.
And I’m scared because I can’t control any of this.
Why This Was Helpful for Overwhelm
Realizing the tough shit about our inner psyche sucks sometimes. Just when you think you’ve got your shit together– BAM. Another crapload of layers to work through shows up just in time for Spring.
That’s the thing about meditation. It uncovers the crap so that we can face it head on. It doesn’t bury it under symptom relief or positive thinking or bullshit commercialized versions of self-care– it brings us into the room and says “Hey. Fuck with this now. You’ve got this.”
For this, I let the meditation go on for about twenty minutes. With each minute that passed I uncovered another a layer of complexity I didn’t know existed. I kept peeling back the layers and with each realization I pulled out my pen and wrote it in my journal.
I felt some more and wrote some more and I got it all out and on paper. Even more importantly, I stopped trying to let reason and logic try to explain and make excuses for how I felt. I just felt instead of judging myself.
Because I’m learning that it’s okay to feel.
It’s okay to have irrational fears and it’s okay to be afraid of the complexities of life that make being a human both beautiful and terrifying at times. We are all afraid some of the time.
This little practice helped a little. It gave me some guidance on what I need to tackle next, and it gave me a guide map to what to bring to the table in my therapist’s office.
EMDR Therapy and Blockages
When I went into therapy on Saturday, I told my therapist what happened. She asked if I was willing to do EMDR on it, and despite having plans to go to a Cubs game and then a concert with a new guy I’ve very recently started seeing, I decided it was worth trying. I knew it was something I needed to do.
She geared me up, put the tappers in my hand and had me focus on the news.
The tappers started, back and forth, but my eyes didn’t follow. The thought wouldn’t go beyond the plain-faced news sitting on my mind’s eye, unmoving and uninterested in being explored. I tried even to move my eyes back and forth, but it was useless.
I couldn’t go there. My brain wasn’t going to let me.
We tried a few more times but she agreed– not today. We had a lot more to work through before I’d allow myself to process. Perhaps it was because of the day and all that I had planned but perhaps it’s because I still have a few layers to talk through first.
Effects on the Overwhelm
Even though the EMDR therapy didn’t work on me this weekend, I have felt a little bit better after writing about it, doing the meditation and talking about it with people who are close to me.
Whats awesome is through meditation and writing and allowing myself to feel, I find the urge to do things that make me avoid the feels less and less pressing.
I don’t have an overpowering need to binge eat.
There’s no urge to drink until I’m blind and ready to drunk dial anyone who will distract me from the feels.
I don’t want to go shopping and spend a paycheck’s worth of money on things I don’t need or want.
Instead of these impulsive needs to numb, I feel a much stronger need to be gentle with myself, allow myself to process, and press pause on the other things in life that can handle a pause. While working through the beginning stages of this, writing is a huge source of relief for me and I found it helpful to write a letter from my wise self to my hurting self.
And that’s what I’m going to leave you with as I continue to figure out what’s next for me in this journey.
A Letter to My Anxious, Overwhelmed and Emotionally Drained Self
Dear loved one,
I know how hard you’re trying. You’re overwhelmed. I know it’s been a rough week, and perhaps it’s been a rough month or a rough year. You’ve been growing and stretching and shooting for more and more. Sometimes becoming hurts like hell.
I know you feel like “when will this end?” and you’re wondering if this whole life thing will ever get easier.
Sometimes you feel like nothing you do actually matters or perhaps you’re wondering if there’s any point to keeping on when it feels like all the complexities of the world make it impossible to make a right move.
I know. And it’s okay to feel that way.
I see you writing and trying to string together your thoughts, but your head is empty. You’ve poured out your cup, sweetheart. You keep pouring it out, passing around your energy like a fountain with an endless source, but you aren’t a fountain. You have an empty cup, and now it’s time to refill because you can’t give what you don’t have.
It is hard to be the strong one. I understand.
It is hard to be misunderstood and too empathetic.
Letting go of control has never been your strong suit, but now, my dear, is time for you to let go.
I am here to remind you to be there for yourself in the same way that you are there for others. Hurting one, these reminders are for you.
1. You don’t have to do anything.
You don’t always have to know what the right first move is. No one is asking you to make a move and you’re putting all that pressure on yourself. You don’t have to do anything until you feel sure in the move that you’re willing to make. And ultimately you don’t have to do anything at all. You’re allowed to change your mind. And it’s okay to not know.
2. Be still.
It’s okay to take care of yourself and shut down while you lick your wounds and stitch yourself back together. You feel the whiplash of the week and your head is buzzing from all the changes that have pounced on you in the last month and a half. It’s okay to sit there with all the overwhelm and just be. Let it be. Be still even if your brain wants to run. This moment will pass if you let it.
3. It’s okay that you’re scared that you won’t do/be/say the right thing.
I know you don’t know what to do. That’s okay. It’s okay that you have no idea if what you think you need to do is actually what’s best for everyone involved. You’re thinking about all of your options and it’s okay that you might fuck up. It’s okay that what might seem like the right choice could end up being the wrong one, and it’s okay that you’re having a really hard time seeing what’s what and what makes the most sense.
4. No one else knows either and we’re all scared too.
There may be books written on how to deal with this sort of thing, but that’s just one perspective, my dear. Your perspective is just as valid as the perspective of someone who wrote a book on their own experiences. We’re all just figuring it out as we go but some people put their version of “figuring it out” into things that everyone can relate to. Some people put their version of “figuring it out” into things that no one understands. Both serve a purpose and neither is more or less right or wrong. We’re all scared and we’re all doing our best to figure out what the fuck to do most of the time.
5. Have a rest.
Your to do list will be there tomorrow. It’s not going anywhere and 24 hours will not make or break you. 48 hours won’t either. Not even a week. Not even a month. You don’t have to be on it all the time. In fact, that’s far from possible. You’re driving yourself into the ground but you’re the one holding the jack hammer. Turn it off for a second. Stop adding to-do’s to the overwhelm. Breathe. You have time and nothing is worth your sanity.
6. It’s okay to be overwhelmed and angry.
Trying to not feel angry or avoiding feeling the overwhelm is counter productive. You’re allowed to feel angry. Let yourself feel it so you don’t let it control you. Anger is not a bad thing. Anger is just another feeling, and avoiding it will make it larger than it needs to be. Feel it so that you can deal with it. Feel it so that you can learn from it.
7. You have to take care of yourself.
Let me say it again– you have to take care of yourself. You have to go to sleep at an hour that allows you to function the next day. Say no to things that you can say no to. You have to put up boundaries to keep your brain safe and you have to be able to say “no” to the toxic people that do not deserve your time, space, energy or love. You also have to be able to say “no” to the things that just aren’t that important. Sweetie, you are overwhelmed. That doesn’t go away by adding more things to your agenda, calendar and to-do list. That means it’s time for you to take a step back and only deal with the essentials.
8. You have to allow yourself to feel.
Even the things you don’t want to feel. And the things that aren’t convenient. Even the things that scare you and make you feel like you want to bury yourself. You have to let it out so that you can let the good stuff back in. Numbing it will only push it further into the wound making it harder to close and heal.
It’s going to pass, hurting one. The overwhelm is a sign that big things are about to change. This isn’t the hardest thing you’ve ever been through, nor is it the hardest thing you will go through. Be gentle with yourself. You’re doing a good job even when it feels like you’re failing. And even when it feels like you’re alone, know I’m here, always accessible and ready to support you on this journey.
You got this.