Overwhelm: The Biggest Lie I Told Myself
I’ve always been notorious for filling space. I’m like a cat. I fluidly find a way to squeeze through, curl up, and envelop myself in any empty gap I see. What do I mean? I can’t not be busy. I can’t not fill my schedule until it pours over and I have 30 things to freak out about doing. I don’t know how not to do this. If overwhelm was a praised skill in America, I’d be a CEO by now.
My darling husband tries to help- he’s seen me dig myself into this hole over and over for years. He throws me a rope, he throws me water- I get mad at him for throwing things at me while I try to dig- and I always end up at the bottom of the hole feeling alone and desperately thirsty.
Why do I do this to myself?
Last year I finally realized we all have the same 24 hours a day. It sounds ridiculous, but I think I truly felt like everyone else had more time than me. Or at least, everyone else had less things they had to do within that time. Everyone else had the luxury of recreation and a social life. I’d see friends on instagram having “painting & wine nights” and think, “How the hell do you have time for that? I barely have time to wash my underwear!”
Prioritizing is a concept that felt like a personal affront when I thought about it. It was ALL important, how dare that be suggested otherwise?! I knew I couldn’t literally do all 30 things at once. So I’d ferociously dig away, one task at a time. I’d finally be on item #17 when my hubby would ask if I’d like to go to a movie that night. A MOVIE?! DO YOU REALIZE HOW MUCH STRESS I’M UNDER?!
How sad. If I were to die that night, how sad that item #17 triumphed over a fun date night out with the love of my life. That’s not to say that spontaneous date nights ALWAYS have to win IN CASE I die- sometimes we do have to say no. But yes was never an option to me. Not until everything was done.
And let’s be clear. I wasn’t working towards curing cancer. I didn’t have kids and a mortgage and tuitions to pay for on top of a full time job. I wasn’t on the precipice of opening a new business or starting a campaign. I was just in the middle of the grind of my artistic career. Which is important! But it’s a pursuit that, for artists, is endless. That somehow makes it feel all the more important, but if something is endless there has to be a means to an end in terms of stress management and prioritization.
But here’s the kicker: “An object in motion stays in motion.” It couldn’t be truer. When I was finally on say, #28 of that 30, I’d find a class that sounded AMAZING. A GAME CHANGER. A MUST DO. And I’d realize the 4 things I needed to do before joining. Not small things, not a haircut. Revamping my website from scratch. Creating a new demo reel of my work. Big, huge things that people work all year on.
I’d compress those 4 things into the week before class and, inevitably, have a panic attack and join the class in a frazzled state. Then I’d be trying to catch up on those 4 things all through class PLUS do all the class work PLUS those last 2 pesky tasks to reach the 30 things I was so close to being done with before I joined the class. Forget time to work out, do laundry, or go on spontaneous date nights.
Are you exhausted yet? Because I sure am. I have been for years. And I’m just realizing that I was the perpetuator.
It seems acutely obvious in retrospect, but in the moment it just felt like I was doing everything I could to build my career. Hyper vigilance is addicting.
You’re definitely burned out- yet too hungry, terrified, and excited to stop. It’s like when you’re so hungry that you stop feeling stomach pains. Then when you finally get a taste of food your taste buds explode with excitement! That was the class I signed up for when I finally got to task #28 on my list.
This brings me to today. There was, predictably, a class I was planning on signing up for. I’ve been so excited about it. The performing arts industry took a huge blow with the pandemic, and as an actor this has been devastating. While I’ve been able to write a lot in this time and love that endlessly, I still sorely miss the acting world. This class was the thing that would finally connect me back to that world and allow me to possibly make huge leaps in my acting career despite the pandemic.
But I felt a tug in me that said otherwise. A tug that said, “You’re in the middle of too much right now! Don’t do this to yourself again! This class will be offered in the future!” I hate that voice. I want to frantically stomp on it and tell it to stop telling me what to do!
But for the first time I listened.
I’m simultaneously crushed and relieved. It’s the strangest feeling. I was SO excited to finally be engaged in the acting world again. To be in class with other actors, working towards a goal, having homework every day.
I was elated.
However, I’m in the middle of writing a book. Not in a casual, blasé, background kind of way. It’s been the project I’ve woken up to do every day. I’ve been conducting interviews and fervently going back and forth between collecting stories and editing away. Plus, I’m in the middle of my 30 day writing challenge. When I finish my 30 day writing challenge, I’ve been planning on going hard to find a job that will actually pay me to write. Relying on a Medium paycheck has been disappointing. It can surely grow, but it’s not dependable. My husband and I want to buy a house in the next couple of years. In CA, where prices are ridiculous. We need dependable income to save up. And back to the more immediate kicker, I’m already feeling behind on my work. Is this really the time to sign up for another class?
For the first time, I decided no. I’m proud, and sad. I know it’s day 1 of school for those who made the leap, and I can’t help but feel left out and disappointed in myself. I also know I wouldn’t realistically have had time to work on my book over the next 7 weeks if I was going hard on class work, and then I’d be upset with myself for neglecting my book. Throw in my 30 day writing challenge and something would always be ignored. No matter what, I would be frustrated. I would start my weeks already feeling behind, already planning on when to catch up.
This is not the way to start a new venture.
So I’m breathing, and learning, and trusting. I guess when it comes down to it, I’m sad that it wasn’t the right time. But I probably knew that from the start. That’s why I’ve been mulling it over for weeks.
It forces me to trust in an abundant universe. This class will come again, and when it does my 30 day writing challenge will be done and I’ll have an awesome new job. My book will be in its final edits, or maybe even accepted by a publisher by then. I’ll feel open, accomplished, and eager as hell.
And the super bright side? Last night I painted and drank wine! I was like those instagram girls! When I was done my hubby and I ordered a pizza and rented a movie. It was so much fun. I don’t have a million things I’ve stacked up for myself right now, so I was able to balance, and breathe, and relax.
I look at my cats. Yes cats fill space, but they also nap and sprawl out as much as they want. They relax. They do what they want. They are serenely content almost all of the time. Perhaps I’ve been noticing the wrong thing this whole time.