Overwhelm is a word and feeling that swirled around me consistently; tornado-like in its suffocating surround. It appeared to have the unwavering capacity to make me feel inadequate, upset and stressed out, all in a mere whirlwind of my mind. Faced with that reaction to most things I pursued, I got stuck in a rut pretty fast and ended up pursuing nothing.
When I wasn't well, it was the simplest of things that ignited the incense of overwhelm. Its smoke serenading the panic within me, triggering the screeches of the overly sensitive anxiety alarm. Deafening, claustrophobic, unbelievably overwhelming. Simple tasks like having a meal, seeing a friend, going to school/work/college became synonymous with overwhelm. Each task was considered too much; it was something I absolutely couldn't handle. When we get overwhelmed, every little thing seems to be the biggest deal and fear tells us that we're just not up to the challenge.
Here's the thing though, life is a big frickin deal. And we are more than able for it.
Like any feeling, overwhelm is just a signal. It's just a little indicator to us that something's not right, we need a bit of an adjustment and we'll be right as rain again. Whether that's our thinking, perception, approach or whatever, it's always within our capabilities to change this feeling.
For me, overwhelm tends to announce itself in agitation. Emotions are heightened, irritation is almost guaranteed and I'm so on edge, I'm pretty sure I could fall off at any moment. And while it bothered me before and appeared as some kind of failing, now I've learned that that's not really a helpful way to greet it.
First off, we need to accept that it's going to happen from time to time. Life is full of.. well, everything. When you think about it, it kind of encompasses every single thing we can think of. It's a beautiful, haphazard patchwork of our fears, experiences, learnings, ups, downs, joys, challenges... everything.
So of course it's going to catch us off guard now and then. Although, this can come as a surprising realisation to those of us with a perfectionist predisposition. Surely there must be some way to react perfectly to any curveball life throws our way?! ...Nope.
I genuinely thought I'd be entirely rid of overwhelm when I recovered. I would be able to handle anything and everything and it'd all be so effortlessly easy, right? ...No, actually it'll all just be real. And I will be human and I will learn to deal with these uncomfortable feelings that I'm experiencing instead of hiding away trying desperately to avoid any discomfort, ever.
Before, I was overwhelmed about everything because I felt completely ill-equipped to deal with life. Now I'm getting overwhelmed because I'm so excited about everything I want to do in life. It's as though instead of going from 'paused' to 'play', I've fervently hit 'fast-forward' on my life without expecting that to be a challenging tempo change.
Recovery beautifully paved my path from being completely lost to discovering who I am. But, I didn't quite account for the fact that who I am is an incredibly passionate person with a wide range of interests, hobbies and dreams. Turns out, trying to pursue every single thing I want, is pretty overwhelming.
See, in life, we can do anything. I firmly believe that the world is our oyster and there is abundant possibility for each of us. But we can't do everything, we just can't. There's not enough time or energy in any day for that.
What we need is Balance.
We need to breathe and take a second to step back and objectively see what's going on. We need to see how much we're trying to cram in and how exhausting it actually is. We need to nurture our own energy and realise that in each day, it is limited.
We need to prioritise, we need to respect our boundaries, needs and limitations - we simply need balance.
How? Ask yourself:
What makes me happy? What do I enjoy?
What do I need, in this moment?
What can I benefit from doing?
What's most important to me?
What energises/recharges/nourishes me?
Am I respecting my boundaries?
Have I got the time to put into this right now?
What absolutely has to be done?
We all have incredible potential for giving life our all, but we need to appreciate our humanity at the same time. If we try to conquer the world, obviously we will get overwhelmed and that will feel absolutely sh*t. But that's not to say that we can't slow down and conquer it one country at a time.
Regardless where it comes from, overwhelm is always trying to communicate something to us, neither good nor bad, it's really just a signal. Fighting it doesn't make it go away, but hearing it is the first step to making adjustments that will. As with any uncomfortable feeling, it's there to teach us something and point us in the direction of positive change.
"It's not the load that breaks you down, it's the way you carry it".