Click mouse. Nothing. Click, click. Still nothing. Panicked click-click-click. The big screen on my desk is dark. Frantic clickclickclick. And it's dead.
My mind goes into a tailspin. It feels as if a vortex of apocalyptic thoughts rips through my brain – I visualize the debris of my life hurtling toward a black hole and disappearing. A computer malfunction isn't something I can absorb right now.
Then I see it: a cable dangling from the screen. Wait... what?
It looks like the cable that should be plugged into my laptop to connect it to the screen. Indeed, it is. When I look to my left, I see my laptop – not in its usual place, but where I left it after I rushed in from a meeting.
With a sigh of relief, I return my laptop to its place, plug in the screen, click the mouse – and wouldn't you know it, everything's working just fine! Then I realize: the overwhelm is real, and I need to rescue myself from it. Now.
When I was younger, I felt that, as a woman, it was expected of me to be superhuman and do work, do life, do wife, do parent, and do community without breaking a sweat – and all while getting eight hours of sleep and looking as calm as a millpond. I found it hard and shameful to even utter the words, "I feel overwhelmed."
Sometimes it still takes me longer than it should to know when I'm getting overwhelmed, but at least now I do recognize it. When I experience forgetfulness, have difficulty concentrating, am being scatterbrained, or have racing thoughts and can't sleep, I know that I'm toeing the overwhelmed line.
Experience is a wonderful teacher if you learn from it – otherwise, it's more like torture. An important thing that it's taught me is not to fall for temporary quick fixes like denial and procrastination. That's just kicking the can down the road.
Being overwhelmed has taught me several things and enabled me to grow, too.
One of the gifts of realizing that I'm overwhelmed is that it helps me to reorder my priorities. Everything can't possibly be equally important, so I list what needs to be done today, and what can wait until tomorrow, or even next week or next month.
I've also rediscovered the miracle of delegation thanks to overwhelm. By delegating tasks to the people around me, hiring in extra help, and holding everyone accountable to keep their part of the machinery running, I give myself the precious gifts of time and mental bandwidth.
Taking responsibility for other people's issues and insecurities can add an immense load to my already full life. However, they need to cope with what they feel, what they've done, and how it impacts their lives – it's not my responsibility, and I don't need to compensate for it. (Please note, this does not mean that I don't feel empathy or won't help. It just means that I make a distinction between what is and isn't my responsibility, to look after my own well-being.)
Usually, when I'm feeling overwhelmed, I know it's time to re-evaluate my expectations of myself. What's realistically achievable, when I take my time, energy and obligations into consideration? If I discover any unrealistic expectations, I examine what informed them, and how I need to adjust my thinking.
It might sound like hard emotional labor to do all of this but it's worth it. The gifts of time, space to think, peace of mind, contentment in my heart, and knowing that I live with integrity are worth the work.
"I cannot do all the good that the world needs.– Jana Stanfield, musician
But the world needs all the good I can do."
Helping others is a good thing to do – it makes us kind and caring human beings. At times, we might even feel that it's our "duty" to "make" someone else happy. But can we really "rescue" someone at all?
With my education in professional therapy, I tend to steer clear of the word "rescue" when I'm referring to helping other people (except in the literal sense, like when someone is rescued from drowning, for instance).
Just as some people thrive on being rescuers, others thrive on being rescued. And "rescuing" them isn't necessarily doing them any good – it might be enabling the behavior that caused the need to be "rescued" in the first place.
Instead of rescuing someone else, it's more productive to be supportive and caring, while not minimizing their agency or being patronizing. (And even while supporting another person, it's important to keep your own needs in mind too.)
I've also learned to do the following: instead of asking, "Can I help you?" or, "How can I help you?" I'll ask, "What can I do for you right now?" And, "Is there something you'd like me to take care of later?" Using different words makes the questions sound more pragmatic/hands-on than just token offerings of help. A more specific question might, in turn, encourage the other person to express a specific need.
In our latest #MTtalk Twitter chat, we discussed what rescue and recovery mean, where to draw the line between caring for yourself and being selfish, and how to support others.
Here are all the questions we asked, and some of the best responses:
Q1. "You cannot serve from an empty vessel." What does this Eleanor Brown quote mean to you?
@Midgie_MT It means that if I am running on empty myself, I have very little to give to others both in terms of quantity and quality of what I do.
@SarahH_MT That's a great quote. It reminds me that I can't be there to help and support others if I have nothing left to give myself.
Q2. What happens to you when you do not take the time to recover?
@DrKashmirM Not happy at home and not happy at the workplace.
@J_Stephens_CPA People think I'm irritated with them about something when instead I'm just tired and/or frustrated with myself. Extroverted introverts can't successfully extrovert if they are drained.
Q3. How do you unplug during recovery times? Does it help? Does it work?
@MarkC_Avgi Because most of the stress on my being has always been on my mind, I found unwinding with physical activities like gardening or yard-work. These activities took my mind off all the things that were weighing heavily.
@SoniaH_MT While recovering, I unplug by resting, sleeping, playing mobile games, catching tv re-runs, and not replying to social media. It helps and works for me because my mind can relax.
Q4. What's the difference between self-care and selfishness?
@virtudeskcom Selfishness itself means you don't think of other people. Unlike self-care, [where] you think and take care of yourself for the good of many.
@Yolande_MT To me, self-care is also me being radically honest with me. If I leave others in the lurch because of my poor planning/procrastination and then say "I'm doing the best I can," I'm being selfish – and that INCREASES my mental and emotional load.
Q5. How do you know that you've recovered sufficiently to function well?
@pavelStepanov77 If you feel happy, relaxed, and ready to go again.
@MikeB_MT Am I able to focus? Am I practicing patience? Is kindness my first reflex? These are three signs that I'm operating on recharged capacity.
Q6. Is there such a thing as too much recovery time for a person?
@lg217 There can be if too much if recovery time turns into not doing anything and staying home constantly and being lazy. Being lazy is a prime example of too much recovery time.
@Yolande_MT I've found that people who take too long to recover are sometimes too focused on what's wrong, all their triggers, all the negatives. While you need to be aware of those, you need to balance them out with positives/what's going right.
Q7. What is the difference between giving someone a helping hand and rescuing them?
@J_Stephens_CPA Reach; throw; row; go! The lessons of lifeguarding – you try other things before you put yourself in danger.
@MarkC_Avgi Giving someone a helping hand versus rescuing them is very much the timing of when you provide the assistance. Helping someone when they are struggling is different than helping them when they have hit "rock bottom."
Q8. How can you support someone without enabling their unhealthy behavior/choices?
@Midgie_MT By offering to help or support them in specific ways that are useful, beneficial or wanted by them. All the while having clear and firm boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not.
@Dwyka_Consult Don't take away their agency. Be there and be supportive, but allow them to make their own decisions.
Q9. Where do you draw the line with rescuing others? Why?
@HloniphileDlam7 The moment I sense being taken advantage of or a person becoming too dependent on me I head towards the exit.
@MikeB_MT I used to be a rescuer until I rescued myself from that behavior. I learned that when I try to rescue someone, we often both lose something vital. Now, I'm present, I listen, I encourage. I may share resources and ideas. But I don't rescue.
Q10. How will you take your caring for self and others to the next level?
@SoniaH_MT Next level? I have never considered how I would take my caring for self and others to the next level! For now, I'm focusing on the base level of self-care and changing bad/old habits.
@SarahH_MT Be even more mindful of my own needs – when to take a break, step away, ask for help. And for others, ensure they remain at the heart of my thinking, be generous with my time and attention in a kind and boundaried way.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat here.
In the next #MTtalk blog, I'll be sharing some of my favorite tweets from 2021, as well as revealing our first chat topic for 2022.
See the best responses from our latest Twitter Talk on holiday highs and lows - discussing the best and worst of the winter holiday season!
The often griped-about "winter blues" may not sound like something to worry about, but as the days get colder and shorter, Seasonal Affective Disorder could be infiltrating your workplace without you knowing!
"It's learning to balance push and pull, holding on and letting go, being there without smothering."