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 meltdown, 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, but 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 is enviable.
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.
Constantly outpacing 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.
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Are you one of the lucky folks who has never felt this way? Or are you also familiar with the Big O?