Overtired, Overworked and Overwhelmed
The last couple of weeks have felt quite tough. I’m overwhelmed with the volume of work I need to get done. I have very limited childcare. My house is a dump. I have about 5 projects under way but incomplete. It seems like I have a headache all the time.
I feel like I am on the go non stop from 6am until the kids are asleep. I am trying to juggle everything and get it all done and maintain my work levels and keep everyone else happy…
…And yet it feels like however much I manage to do there is always a loose end unattended.
All The Things…
My son is complaining that I’ve forgotten to write a ‘Wow! moment’ for him to take into school. My husband is annoyed because I didn’t get around to mending the hole I’d offered to mend in his jumper, and he wanted to wear it.
A text from the school reminds me I’ve forgotten to return the permission slip for my daughter’s school trip next week. She’s upset with me because I didn’t get around to arranging that play-date she’s been asking me to arrange all week.
And beyond the minutiae of these minor chores lies a greater guilt.
I’m distracted. I’m not focusing on my kids when I should be because I’m desperately trying to finish off that bit of work before I start cooking dinner. I’m too tired to Netflix and chill with Pete, opting instead go to bed at 9pm.
I’m ratty and impatient. I shout when I should be calmly explaining.
I’m trying so hard, but it’s just not enough.
Everyone is getting me in half measures and feeling short-changed and resentful.
Will everybody just SHUT UP for a minute!
It’s Wednesday evening. My childcare arrangements had to change at the last minute, and I had to change my plans and work on a day I had arranged to see someone. Said person was decidedly frosty because I was letting her down.
I feel guilty and frustrated.
The house is a mess. There are literally 6 loads of clean washing yet to put away and I STILL have an overflowing laundry basket.
Our older two kids are overtired after school and bickering loudly, demanding that I mediate, whilst our toddler wails every time I put her down and attempt to start making dinner. Pete comes home from work hangry and fed up that dinner will be late.
Leaving the squalling children in the kitchen I go into the lounge, holding my head in my hands, on the verge of tears, to speak with Pete.
“I just want the noise to stop. I want to be somewhere quiet for a minute.” I say, lip wobbling.
He takes one look at his slightly demented looking wife and tells me to go upstairs for a bit while he sorts dinner.
The Tipping Point
Ordinarily the relief I’d feel whilst Pete handles the chaos would be palpable. But today it’s not.
Arriving in our calm, quiet, loft bedroom, I flop down horizontally across our bed. Staring, glassy eyed, at the trapezium of orange sunset cast on the bedroom wall through the velux window.
I try to take in the peace and comfort of the bedroom, and appreciate the sudden departure from the noise and stress downstairs. My brain feels full to the brim and yet I am strangely blank.
Pondering the causes of this cerebral white noise apathy I check in with myself.
Am I depressed?
I’m exhausted, overwhelmed, and a bit defeated.
I’m just… done.
Behind the blankness I can still feel a tight knot of guilt and anxiety in my gut, of feeling not-good-enough, and the worry of having too much to do. It’s strangely muted but I can feel it beneath, and it wont go away.
Once More unto the breach, dear friends…
Once I’d had a bit of time to myself to register how I was feeling and gather my thoughts on how to process it all, I felt a bit better equipped to go downstairs for dinner.
At this point in my anecdote I’d like to paint a tableau akin to the scene in Snow White when she wakes up in the dwarves’ cottage. Some sort of scene where I float about, singing sweetly, tending to my family, with woodland animals scurrying about tidying away the toys whilst bluebirds fold my laundry.
I came downstairs to abject bedlam. The kids noise levels had gone nuclear and the kitchen looked like it had borne the brunt of the explosion. Pete, already knackered from a long day’s work, was just about keeping his temper whilst tersely doling out our standard responses to the kids refusals of dinner.
After dinner Pete put a bit of music on for the kids and went and sat down on the couch. Scowling, I start to clear the mess. There’s cooking detritus everywhere and my head is pounding. I’m annoyed that yet again he hasn’t emptied the bin when I asked, and that he cooks like a tasmanian devil.
(I was also cross with myself because I should at least have been a bit grateful that he stepped in when he saw me on the brink, but I was having trouble calibrating this at the time.)
I’m in my own head, clearing away condiments, when I realise Pete has come back to the table.
“Look!” he says gesturing to the kids.
I stop what I’m doing and look.
All three of them were dancing. All of them! Together! It was a scene of (rare) pure unadulterated joy. They were all laughing and smiling at each other…. It was really a truly lovely sight to behold.
I laughed in spite of myself and realised that all this time, caught up in the milieu of my day to day stress, I’d forgotten the point of it all…
You may not be my particular brand of crazy, but I’ll bet you a tenner you’ve felt this sort of overwhelm before – That point where the too-muchness of it all renders you inert, spent and helpless.
Lying on that bed I knew that in the interest of self-care something had to give. I know myself well enough to understand that if I keep putting myself under this pressure, and don’t manage my shit a bit more sensibly, I’ll start to become depressed, anxious and possibly trigger a burst of OCD.
…So… You’re totally overwhelmed ~ what do you do when it all gets too much?
You’re a Mum, so a lot of the normal rules don’t apply. You can’t just down tools and stop Mumming. You can’t stop. Full stop.
That said, there are still ways to help things ease a bit. Even when you don’t want to carry on but you have to.
Different folks for different strokes and all that, but here are some of the key things that I need to do for myself when battling the overwhelm:-
Give yourself a break
I know it’s a cliche, but it’s a cliche because it’s true. We are often our own harshest critics. As the stress of the last few weeks had been building I felt more and more crap about not being able to be all things to all people.
How ridiculous is that?
If you’re doing your best, that’s good enough. You can’t do any better, so why beat yourself up about it?
Don’t take on other people’s shit
Most of the time the people that matter to you in your life know you well enough to know that you try to treat them well and be there when they need you. Occasionally though, you might have a situation arise when someone isn’t on board when your shizzle unravels, and they take it personally when you can’t meet their needs at that time.
It’s hard not to feel like shit when this happens. But you need to bear in mind that often when people react badly to you in this situation, it’s usually because they’re feeling shit about their own stuff.
Hell, maybe they’re dealing with their own overwhelm and were hoping you could lighten the load. Maybe they had so much on their own plate they didn’t consider how much you might have on yours.
The point I’m trying to make is that when other people are pissed off with you, that’s their shit, not yours.
Stand by your decisions and don’t absorb their feelings (unless on reflection they were shit decisions, in which case go see your friend, apologise, and bring wine). Given time these things usually blow over, and you can always discuss and put things right at a later date.
Review your own expectations and timescales
This is a big one for me. I start off with a manageable list of things to do, and then random stuff comes up and before I know it you’ve got more to do than I can fit into the day.
It’s like life comes along and throws you a shitty stick, and you catch it because it’s a reflex reaction, but then you realise you’ve got shit on your hand, and you didn’t want the stick in the first place.
If your to-do list starts multiplying like pouring water on a Gremlin’s back, you need to review it all. Work out what needs prioritising, break it down into manageable chunks and get it done a bit at a time. Let anyone know who might be affected by the changes.
You’ll be surprised how much it lightens the load just knowing you’ve got more time for everything.
Tell someone how you feel
When I get stressed out I get fairly introspective about it. You might not feel like it achieves anything, but actually, talking about it helps in a number of ways:
- Saying it out loud often helps you organise your thoughts
- Talking to another person means you can bounce ideas off each other and can help you work out ways to tackle things
- It helps you decompress
- Another perspective can offer reassurance that you’re doing ok even when you don’t feel like you are.
So, talk it over with someone who’ll listen. It’s good for you, and it’ll make things feel better.
Take a minute to see things as they are – don’t lose sight of the good stuff
When we’re all caught up with the obligations and the pressures of motherhood we sometimes lose sight of what it’s all about. Everything seems heavy and stressful.
Sometimes what we really need is a moment when we can survey what we’ve got and see that it IS worthwhile, even when it’s just felt like a constant slog for what seems like forever.
My advice? Find your dancing-in-the-kitchen moment. It might not be obvious, or there all the time, but if you try to see it you’ll get there eventually.
Even concentrating on trying to see it might be enough to distract you from questioning your life choices and fantasising about running away to Mauritius in the dead of night.
… So… That’s my take on things.
Obviously I’m not an expert, but I am well seasoned in experiencing The Overwhelm. If nothing else this post can serve as a reassurance to all you stressed out Mamas up there that you’re not alone, and that what you’re feeling is both normal and manageable.
Look after yourselves Motherlovers,
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