This time last week I found myself in the midst of an existential crisis. The kind where you cry and drum up all the reasons why your life is terrible. It went something like this.
“I can’t do it all.”
“Something has to change. I can’t keep doing this.”
“Everyone else’s needs are being met but mine.”
“When is it my turn?”
If this sounds familiar, read on. If not, you should probably find something else to do. And count your blessings while you’re at it, because you’re a lucky soul.
For those in the first group, let’s continue.
My initial interpretation of the feelings I was having was that I was unhappy. I was crying, after all. I must be unhappy. “My house is a mess. My yard is a disgrace. Life is terrible. Etcetera, etcetera.”
After my melt
down, I tried to put emotion aside and sort things out in an analytical manner. Working from emotion had given me swollen eyes and a stuffed up nose, which wasn’t helping the matter. So I did what my mama taught me to do. I looked inward.
My perception: “The house is a mess.”
Reality: My house is not a mess. The dining room is where we do homework. The kitchen counter has
a pile of papers on one end. The refrigerator needs to be cleaned and the dog needs a bath. Not a crisis situation.
My perception: “The yard is a disgrace.”
Reality: The gardens need to be weeded. I didn’t get around to thinning out the liriope before it got to be a gazillion degrees outside, so that will have to wait until fall. The grass is brown in the sunny spots, b
ut that happens every August. And now that I look around, every other yard on the block looks the same way.
My perception: “I can’t do it all.”
Reality: I decide what I do or don’t do. If I’m obsessing over something trivial, it’s my own doing. I choose what I do or don’t do.
My perception: “My life is terrible.”
Reality: My life
In an effort to break it down I started a list. In a matter of minutes I had a two page list of things to do. Tasks that would address my perceived deficiencies. Get it all done. But nowhere on the list were all the things I do every day. Empty the dishwasher. Feed the dog. Balance the checkbook. I looked at the list for a few minutes and started to sob again. I could spend entire days, weeks, months constantly in motion, and never get all of this done. The list would be constantly growing.
g me without ever reaching any of my goals.
I felt overwhelmed.
So I made a new list.
I made a list called What I Want.
I’ll share a few items with you so you can get the gist, sparing the really personal ones for another time.
I want to support my son with his homework.
I want to be more faith-centered.
I want to have a clean house. (I surprised myself by acknowledging that.)
I want to make time for friends and family.
I want to finish the 1st draft of my novel.
I looked at both lists, and considered how many things on my To Do List supported my What I Want List. That was an epiphany for me. I was perceiving everything on my To Do List as time and energy suckers. When in fact, many of the things were supporting or accomplishing the things I said I wanted.
I felt like I had cracked the code.
We all get overwhelmed. Some days it feels like it’s just too much. But understanding the difference between feeling unhappy and acknowledging that you’re overwhelmed can be the difference between divorce and marriage, between joy and meltdown, between giving up or living to fight another day.
I’ll never again confuse overwhelmed and unhappy. When it feels like it’s just too much I’ll check the list and make sure the things I’m doing support the things I want. And I’ll remind myself that I don’t have to do it all. I choose what I do. My life is enviable. And I am grateful for it all.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Are you one of the lucky folks who has never felt this way? Or are you also familiar with the Big O?
I am blown away. You are a terrific writer. MJ
Sent from my iPhone
You are too kind, Mary Jo. But I thank you.
I’m happy to hear that you found a way to get through it. I’m an easy going positive person by nature so I don’t fully understand how you feel. Thanks for sharing.
I’m usually easy going and positive, too. But we’ve hit a level of activity that overtook it. I hope you always stay on top. 🙂
I’ve been there! It is great to finally crack the code, it makes everything so much easier to deal with.
Yes, it does. I’m glad I was able to regain perspective before it went too much further. I hope neither of us revisit that place.
So glad you were able to see past the joy-sucking nature of the “should do’s”! The things that support who you are make you happy certainly become more clearly focused when you shed those things that just stop you, don’t they?
Exactly, Capt. The new list will guide me forward. Thanks for visiting my little corner of the internet. 🙂
Believe me, I’ve been there. Take it one day at a time.
I feel a little validated that so many others have been in this place, and a little sad that so many others have been in this place. Hoping this is my last trip to there. “One day at a time” is a great philosophy.
Yep, we have the power! It’s okay to feel the crap, let the overwhelm wash over us, leave us in a puddle of WAH! Then we get up, grab a hold of that power, and get moving on making the changes we want, need, continue living for.
Best wishes as you continue making changes, making progress!
Here’s to the power!
I love your attitude. Love it. And am adopting it. Now.
Thanks for the validation, Carol. Here’s to a new attitude!
This is such a great reminder to step back and appreciate everything we have. You’re so right that many of the items on our to-do list are supporting our big dreams – and how lucky are we that we get to make them come true? I am right with you, my friend.
I’m thrilled to have you on at my virtual side, Lois! Stepping back is hard, but I’m very glad I did it. I surprised myself when I realized that I was supporting my goals, not just dog-paddling through the days.
Great story and you do so much already! Very proud of the Mother you have become.
Thank you Anonymous. I wish I knew who your identity, because it seems you know mine. Hmmm.
Right there with you…..First World problems. I call it bundling my problems and when I un-bundle them I find most are manageable and compared to others minor. I have easy access to clean water to pour over my head to support charity, my problematic teenagers are healthy enough to care for themselves and enjoy life, the occasional rocky road but a 20 year marriage with someone who has my back, a roof over my head, etc. etc. I will take my bucket of woes over true suffering any day. Thanks for the reminder.
Bundling. I LOVE that term. When they’re spread a little thinner, I barely notice them. Only when they’re bundled do they become overwhelming. And you’re absolutely right, they’re all First World Problems. And I’ll take those any day. Thanks for the perspective. 🙂