Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Conquering the Overwhelm

In the last month, I've watched 13,200 minutes of television, give or take. I know, because I devoured all eleven seasons of Grey's Anatomy. At 24 episodes a season, that's 220 hours of binge watching. At first, it was like crack. I would turn on the computer, go to Netflix and just gorge myself on episode after episode. I stopped making menus. I did the mere minimum of laundry. (Usually just my own). Sometimes, I would cook, sometimes not. Dishes piled up. Surfaces became overrun. The floors began to look like they were sprouting things. (Especially in the kitchen.)

I did nothing. My husband did nothing. The kids did nothing. I didn't even nag anyone to do anything. I didn't even care. And that's when I realised I wasn't just caught in some binge-watching vortex (though I was), I wasn't just lazy--I was depressed.

The great things about being depressed is that you don't care. The bad thing about being depressed, of course, is that when it begins to lift--and your eyes come back into focus, and you start to care (and you know you care  'cause the mess is bugging you all the time) --there's too much. There are too many popcorn kernels on the rug, too many pop cans all over the house, too many kleenex's everywhere, too much dust---just too much of too much. Like the pain of  nerves coming to life after a burn--the chaos can be overwhelming.

Sunday, that's where I was.

But, having been through this a few times, I've found a few things that work for me.

1. Begin with making a list. 

It will probably make you feel even more overwhelmed at first. It just might be impossibly long. In fact, it should be if you do it right. I put small one-step actions on the list so I can tick each one off once it's done. There's a little extra feeling of accomplishment from that--and that's vital to your momentum.

2. Strategize.

Likely, you are not going to be able to catch up on a month of housework in one day. I certainly can't do that anymore. So, decide how much time you can give to it--and decide what will have the biggest payoff for you.

  • Something easy to get the ball rolling? Say, get the laundry sorted and a load started.
  • Something that gives you immediate positive feedback? For me, that's clearing off the kitchen table.
  • Something you need to do right away? Like, putting away the dishes in the dishrack so I can start doing more dishes--(that would be unloading the dishwasher for the rest of you!) Maybe it is starting that laundry so you have clothes to wear. 
  • Something meaningful? --something that says "This stops now!--I am beginning again." For me, that was a blog post--and cleaning my toilet. 

2. Set a timer.

Chances are, that pile of laundry is a mountain. Set the timer. Fifteen minutes is enough to earn yourself a check mark! An added bonus--switching tasks every fifteen minutes or so keeps things interesting--and moving along.

3. Take breaks. 

I don't handle pain well--and one of the reasons I get depressed is because my back hurts, or my neck hurts, or something hurts. So, I worked on three 15 minute tasks--and then I sat down for 15 minutes. Knowing I have a break coming up makes it easier to push through. (Though, seriously, I'm no hero. I'll quickly schedule a "sit down" task if I have to.) It took me three different sessions to get my stairs vacuumed on Sunday.

4. Make peace with the fact it's not all going to get done in one day.

I'm still working on this one. In fact, I almost didn't post today, because, really, nothing is actually "done." Not one room is completely spic and span. There's still the slipcover to put on the couch, the table to (re)clear in the kitchen, the floor to vacuum in the bedroom and so on. I want the instant gratification of a gorgeous, clean and neat house--but it's just not going to happen with the resources I have.

5. Figure out how to keep the momentum going--and do that.

This is the hard part, for me. I prefer to treat housecleaning like a project--done and done. But it's not that sort of beast. You can't just slay it once. You have to confront it over and over gain. This meager list is my bare minimum. It's for the days I work.

  • Make a menu plan. I did this on Sunday and sent my husband grocery shopping on Tuesday. We cook all of our suppers--and I needed to plan for the horribly hot weather we're getting later this week. As well, planning suppers also means I can easily delegate when I'm too tired to cook myself. 
  • Make the bed. (Or, alternatively, make the bed and natly fold down the covers to air it out--whatever best suits your needs.)
  • Keep up with the dishes as best I can.
  • Keep up with the laundry as best I can.
  • Do a ten minute tidy, every day.

Obviously, your "bare minimum" might be different.

Have you ever come back from a long period of neglect? Has it ever overwhelmed you?
What have you found useful?


FlowerLady Lorraine said...

Glad to see you back! I enjoyed this encouraging/inspiring post. I've got things to do today and you've given me the jolt I needed. Thank you.

May your day today be a great one!


Alana in Canada said...

Hoe you have great day, Lorraine!

Luisa in Dallas said...

So glad you feel well enough to blog again!

When I get overwhelmed it has usually been because I neglected my basic routines in favor of my Project of the Week. To get back on track, my mantra becomes "Keep the machines going!" My dishwasher, washer, and dryer will do a lot of the work IF I keep them going.

The best encouragement I've seen about the importance of routines is from Dana at A Slob Comes Clean. Like you, she is a super creative person who hates the horrible "ongoingness" of housekeeping.

But, Alana, I can't help wondering why your husband and kids didn't pick up the slack. If you are the only one who cares about the condition of the house, no wonder you are overwhelmed. Of course, I say this, knowing darn well that my husband would let everything go if I were out of commission. So I have no advice, only commiseration.

Anyway, thanks for letting us know that you're getting back into things. I know I'm not the only one who was worried about your absence.

Luisa in Dallas

Anonymous said...

I have recently been diagnosed with Adrenal Fatigue and let me tell you, EVERYTHING goes. No housework, no nothing.... I have found even through all of the 'resting' I am doing, I find myself so overwhelmed that it is depressing. I start trying to think of what I need to do, well, the fogginess in my head keeps that from being remembered. I started with some lists, and I tell you, it WORKS! It helps when I leave to keep all my stops on a list so I don't forget. It helps that I can write out a menu for the week so I can make a list of ingredients I need.

But I do try to remember: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Yes, I'm such the philosopher. ha ha

All you can do is all you can do. Don't put expectations on yourself that are unrealistic and unhealthy--whether for your body or mind or emotions. It's okay to love yourself for a while before getting back up on the 'horse' of multitasking diva.

Gina in Chattanooga, TN

Marian said...

I think you're on the right track, with your lists and with taking things one step at a time. These are the things that help me when I get overwhelmed, as I often do as well. I think it helps to remember that nothing is perfect; we can't do everything, and we need to cut ourselves some slack. If I'm feeling resentful about the never-ending cycle of cleaning, I do find gratitude to be somewhat helpful (as in, I'm grateful to have a house to clean, when so many in the world do not).

I hesitate to bring this up, but I'm going to, because it does seem extremely unfair and I can't help but feel a bit outraged on your behalf. Like Luisa, above, I'm wondering why your family did not pick up the slack when you were out of commission? I know you have mentioned in the past that you have a very traditional marriage, but still...your family is a team; the housework should not be falling solely on one person's shoulders when there are four people living there :(

Good luck with getting back on track, Alana, and many thanks for sharing your stuggles in such an open and honest way. You're not alone :)

Janina Laird said...

Alana, it's great to hear from you again! I'm sure a whole load of us have dealt with depression issues ourselves or have known someone close to us that has. Hey, I'm one of them myself! 😊

I've allowed myself to be 'mowed over' by my job by trying to be everything to everyone there (teacher) and had some marital stress (thankfully and finally resolved) and had a major life-threatening illness hit all at one time. End result? Being off work for 6 months while healing from the surgery gave me plenty if time to take a hard look at my life. I've got to look after my physical and emotional health or I'm not good for anyone or anything.

What am I saying? Please take care of YOU. As far as I'm concerned, you're one special lady with a lot of talent. Thank-you for being so open with us. Despite what is often expected from us, we arent all Superwoman. We DO need to recharge our batteries now and then, don't we?

Have a great evening out in beautiful Alberta! I'm 2 hours ahead of you and I need to go dig out my white jeans and red and white striped t-shirt for our Canada assembly at school. I'm sure hoping I can get those pants on. They were a tad snug last year....

C a i t l i n said...

When trying to get things in order after an absence of care, I find it useful to focus on just one room or to-do item at one time. I also give myself permission to "let things go" in areas that are not a priority (aka another family member's mess that they can just as easily tackle as me). When I am feeling depressed, I always try to get some exercise or do a very physically challenging chore -physical activity really does do wonders for positive mental health. Glad you're out of the vortex.

Alana in Canada said...

Thanks everyone for your wonderful support and thoughtful comments. I admit, the comments about having my kids help out more sent me into a bit of a tailspin. First I had a pity party (why am I such a bad mother that my kids don't help?) and then I just started asking the kids to help. And I didn't let up. The push back from one child was relentless --and it hasn't entirely disappeared. But the bottom line is this: the kids should be helping out and I am now trying to get each one of them to do something each day. But I do have to ask--and I do have to moniter them--and that was more than I was capable of doing when I was depressed. (My husband wasn't involved as he was working some much needed overtime and was suffering from pain in his neck. Besides, he's one of those who just plain doesn't see the mess.)

Again, thank you all. It is wonderful to have you in my life.

Rita Ramstad said...

Part of the reason I'm late to this party is that I've been working my own way out of similar struggles. I'm much better than I was in mid-spring, but it's definitely a work in progress. I should have known that my inability to care about things I usually care about was the sign that it was, but it can be really hard to see when you're in the middle of it. Glad to here that the clouds are lifting for you. Have read ahead a few posts, and it sounds like you're doing the Fly Lady program--love that stuff. Take care--

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