Each day this week I’m going to write about overwhelm in your writing practice; this demon will come to steal your writerly energy in many ways, without notice, over and over again, as well as contribute to illness, bad moods, and strained relationships. I want you to become prepared for overwhelm, learn to spot its signs in advance, like hints of a snow squall or a tornado, as well as dig yourself out when you’re already trapped in the avalanche.
You’re overwhelmed. There’s a minivan on your chest—loaded with all the projects and people demanding your attention. The stress it produces may be making your face break out or your muscles cramp, or your gut burn with acid. You’re snapping at loved ones and putting off social dates. Your house is a mess and who can even think about writing at a time like this, much less getting dinner on the table/to work on time/your kid’s college applications turned in/getting your car tuned up.
You’re a human living in chaotic times. Especially chaotic lately, if you ask me—I can count crazy weather, death, taxes and writing about difficult subjects on my list of recent stressors.
Fight overwhelm with acceptance: I want you to give yourself a little credit here. Fighting overwhelm starts, ironically, with accepting that it’s where you’re at—it’s the cramped, crowded, weird dollar store you’ve stumbled into where everything’s cheaply made and will fall apart the moment you take it home. Okay, I don’t know, that analogy was a stretch. The point is: You have to admit you’ve got too much on your physical, mental or emotional plate before it can shift. And by “admit” it, I don’t mean whining a laundry list on Facebook or to the clerk at the supermarket. I mean sitting quietly with yourself and taking one big deep breath—maybe the first you’ve taken today—and saying: Oh, Em, Gee I am overwhelmed. I’m doing one thousand things, and none of them is writing. That sucks. Rawr, growl, grimace, foot stomp, harrumph. You think I’m being silly? Half the time you aren’t even admitting it to yourself yet, which increases its power over you. You’re rushing on with a “lah-de-dah” attitude while possibly turning martyr or hellraiser with your family and friends. Denial of your overwhelm only makes you resentful and overwhelmed, trust me. Accept it. Say it aloud. Write “I’m overwhelmed,” in your journal in bold red sharpie with lots of exclamation points or on your Tumblr page.
Hug it out. All the great spiritual teachers say that when you’re suffering, you first have to mentally put your arms around the bad feeling like it’s a mangy little cat that stumbled onto your doorstep looking for food. You must say: “Overwhelm, you’re here, you foul-breathed, prickly little creature. Come over here, let me hug you. My how you’ve grown.” The point of this isn’t to be a goofball; you offer the dragon in your chest, and thus yourself, sympathy and kindness rather than shoo it off with a broom. Because chasing away the overwhelm is sort of like trying to back an Elephant into a closet.
Deep Gaze: You’ve already done two big steps: 1. accepted that you aren’t having a heart attack or an aneurism, you’re just overwhelmed and 2. given yourself a loving pat to say that balancing roles of Dance mom/writer/wife/chauffeur/personal chef [Insert your own roles] is not an easy thing. Now it’s time to look in a little closer at this overwhelm, with a deep, loving gaze. Put on some lipstick or comb your hair. Make friends with it as you settle in to ask: why is there so much on my everloving plate? In fact, what is the actual color, shape and make of this plate? In other words: is everything you’re doing necessary? (Don’t answer yet—Tuesday and Weds will give you an opportunity to address this with more support). And what’s more: how is it contributing to or preventing your writing?
Watch for the Sentinels: I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours. Overwhelm I mean. Each of you piles your plate differently. You may be a last minute piler—Monday starts out free and clear but by Friday you’re walking two inches shorter and breathing fire. Or you may be more of a juggler, passing off one kind of overwhelm only to have another round begin. And a million variations in between. In other words, it doesn’t all look the same. BUT, I guarantee that you have sentinels in your body and mind that run ahead and warn you, if you’ll only listen. These come as gut feelings that you should say “no,” or “maybe later;” these are voices that come out in your dreams as angry rants; bodily twinges that, if not addressed, will turn into full blown colds and muscle injuries. Heed these calls. Stop to pay attention to the pains and voices: they are the nice messengers, believe me. They precede the full blown migraines, influenza and torn rotator cuffs that may follow.
So, today’s post, kids, was all about lovin’, huggin’ and gazin’ deeply at your overwhelm. Making friends with it, and yourself, if you will. Tune in Tuesday, April 21, as we look at ways to scrape things off the plate. (This metaphor is making me hungry).