On Overwhelm

On Overwhelm

A vintage 1950s-style lady with a big smile pointing to the words, "I smile to hide how completely overwhelmed I am."

My whole life, I’ve been a doer.

I’ve taken the road less traveled, I’ve gone out and experienced things. I’ve really LIVED. One of my mottos is “Busy is better than bored,” and in fact, I’m not sure I know what bored is.

There is always so much to do.

Sometimes, it seems like there’s too much.

Sometimes, I get overwhelmed.

And it’s not like there is a super-obvious reason. I mean, yeah, I have a million things going on. I always do. I always have. Nothing has changed there.

And yes, some things are not going perfectly. But that’s life, and if I ever had a time everything was going perfectly, I’d wonder where I wasn’t pushing hard enough, and I’d do something.

Quite likely something completely not-recommended. And certainly imperfectly.

Sometimes, it’s like my brain shuts down, goes into soft-focus, and I’m overwhelmed.

Not in a way I can really pinpoint.

Like, “Hey! I was just the victim of a hit-and-run I and one of my besties are lucky to have survived, and I’m incredibly battered, and wow, just so much to process.”


Barely phased me.

Came back from Thailand to terrible jetlag, got the flu, then lost my assistant for TWO MONTHS to bronchitis with pleurisy, pneumonia, etc… and I just kept on keeping on.

But today, I realized that I’m in overwhelm.

Maybe it’s a small added stress I barely notice that pushed me over the edge. Maybe it’s hormones. Maybe I bonked my head, or worked too hard in the heat, or something…

But I’m DEEP into overwhelm.

Since late last week, I’ve had no focus. I can’t do anything for any real length of time. I’ve got a vague sense that I have too much to do, and not enough time to do it in, and my lizard brain is shutting me down.


But now I know.

One clue: I have a TON of messages in my inbox. I usually clear that every weekday (and some weekends), and have, except when traveling for 4+ years.

And after years of semi-sporadic episodes, I’ve become better and better at recognizing when I’ve dropped into overwhelm. It used to take me months of going through the motions and really getting SO FAR BEHIND that it seemed impossible to reclaim my sanity and productivity.

Now, I catch it sooner, when it only seems highly unlikely.

And unlikely is better than impossible.

Even when it’s highly unlikely.

Or feels that way.

The stoics say that nothing can overwhelm us. That overwhelm is a feeling from inside. I’ll agree. I don’t think I’m in a place I haven’t been before, and with worse circumstances…

But the degree hardly matters when in overwhelm. It’s an absolute.

  • Best
  • Favorite
  • Awesomest
  • Overwhelm

You can’t be “just a little awesomest.” I feel the same about overwhelm. It’s a black and white issue for me. I’m either overwhelmed, or I have found my path through.

There is no in between.

And this used to be an incredibly scary place to be.

Like, the stuff of nightmares scary.

Then, I stepped away from abuse, became a different person, lost everything I owned except what I could fit in my car, and learned that I can handle far more than I thought.

And still, overwhelm is a dark and scary place. What if this time the odds ARE insurmountable?

The stoics say, when you feel overwhelm, get courage.

I’m pulling up my big girl panties today and formally declaring, “I’ve got courage, I’ve got know-how, I’ve got my friends, who could ask for anything more?”

(I’ve also got a bit of silly to get me through pretty much anything.)

I’m starting my lists. I’m looking at my roadmap, and discovering exactly where I am, so I know where I need to go for each goal.

And over the holiday tomorrow, I’ll pause my life and think. And think. And think some more.

And I will conquer this.

Because over the years, I’ve learned the secrets and signs of overwhelm in my life, and I choose to take back my control every time.

And to any of you who feel the same, constantly or on a semi-irregular basis like I do… I’m here for you.

As soon as I dig myself out.

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