Sometimes, I get overwhelmed by life. Ok, most of the time I get overwhelmed by life. Pretty much always, actually.
Of course, this leads people to exclaim, “just take it one step at a time!” Duh. I would totally do that if I could even see the individual steps through the fog that encompasses the spiral of my thoughts. Also, it sounds like they’re trying to trick me into exercising.
When I’m overwhelmed, I don’t have steps. Everything is stacked up on top of each other, all at one time. Past, present, and future. I need to clean, and help with homework, and cook dinner, and the garage needs painting, and the bathroom fan needs replacing, and we’re going to have to move eventually to have enough space, and omg that will mean cleaning everything and fixing all the things, and will we be able to afford it, and how did I ever do XYZ, and I need to go grocery shopping, and I’m not applying for new jobs but it would be very stressful if I were, and what if I get a new job someday, that sounds scary, and does Rowan need more clothes in his daycare bag, and I need to schedule that appointment, and what if my friends hate me, and why are the kids crying, and do we need more toilet paper, and work is going to be busy in a few months, and…
I don’t have steps, I have pancakes
Hell, sometimes I get anxious about other people’s pancakes. I can’t help but put myself in their shoes — but as myself. For instance, other people’s jobs sound too difficult, and I’m totally stressed out about the idea of being a construction worker, and no way could I ever be a musician, and I’ll totally fail at being an accountant, and it would suck to be the person at Biscuitville who has to go put the new letters on the sign when it’s 10 degrees out, and I could never make it through grad school, I would be a shit business owner, and I’m going to panic a little because I know I’d have a nervous breakdown if I had to work night shift.
Nevermind that I have no intention or desire to do any of those things. But some bastardization of empathy makes me feel like all that is on me, as well. Concurrent with all my own stuff.
Basically, I’m overwhelmed by both my own life and everyone else’s, all at the same time. To me, this is not a chronological list of thoughts nor a linear to-do list. This is everything. All at once. One singular point in time. On a good day, I can rock a to-do list and try to focus only on the immediate needs.
A lot of days are not good days.
A lot of days have too many pancakes
Imagine that someone offers you pancakes. Sure. A pancake sounds ok, right? People love pancakes. I love pancakes.
The next thing I know, they’ve set a stack of pancakes, towering towards the ceiling, in front of me. Dozens of pancakes.
This is far, far too much pancake. I CAN’T DO THIS!
I will die if I eat this many pancakes all at one time.
I completely miss the part where the other person is all, “of course, it’s not like you have to eat them all at once. This is a year’s worth of pancakes. Just eat what you can, and we will freeze the rest for the later.”
In my head, it’s all happening right now. I sort of short circuit.
That’s why, when I talk myself down from the edge of overwhelm, I prefer to think of it as one pancake at a time, rather than steps. It gives me an image for the moments when it seems that everything is stacked against me. Too much on my plate (pun would be better if I’d drawn a plate). When I forget that I don’t have to live my entire life within this one moment. That I can spread things out. I can even add things to make it more palatable. Syrup and whipped cream and the help of my friends and technology to cut it down into bite-size pieces. Sometimes I have to wash it all down with a mimosa.
Sometimes, I feel like I’m not making much headway. I’ve lost my utensils and every time I try to take a bite I get syrup everywhere.
But slowly, one sticky bite at a time, I’m eating my way through the stack.
Still, a lot of days all I see is the giant stack, demanding to be eaten all at once. And even on good days, I’m not always in the mood for pancakes, but to keep up I have to force them down anyhow. Though this analogy doesn’t exactly make things easy, it does give me a simple way to remind myself to slow down and work through the first pancake, before I start worrying about the rest. One bite of one pancake of one stack. I can do that.
So the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, eat one pancake. If you’ve got room for another, great. If not, let them sit for a little while. Don’t let yourself starve, but don’t eat until you’re sick, either. Remember — you have at least some control over your portions.
Not that I’m in any position to give advice. On anxiety or on pancakes.
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