Overwhelm: The New Plague

Life gives us interesting experiences!  Most of the things that happen in my life, I can easily look at them, decide they are good, and proceed down the road, with gratitude.  Some things that happen take a bit longer to extract the joy, the lesson, the fun out of them.  One such situation has set me on a new thought pattern, thinking about the plague of ‘overwhelmed’.

I grew up in northern Missouri, and we had few first cousins, who all lived in Washington State.  So we really didn’t see them much.  We had quite a few second cousins in our area, with whom we weren’t that close.  One such cousin, eight years older than me, has also ended up here in my town, and is now needing assistance in maintaining his independence.  Congestive heart failure has slowed him down, put him on oxygen and a walker, and made him realize how disabled he’s become.

His mother lived with him for ten years before her death, and she was a hoarder.  His house was therefore filled with useless and unsorted items.  Even worse, she left her house back north full in the same way!  He’s spent years slowly trying to clean out her things in both locations, but hasn’t done a very good job of getting rid of things.  I realized that though one could imagine he’s a hoarder, he’s not!  He’s overwhelmed by her hoarding and can’t figure out how to get started.

Well, over the past month, with the help of two sisters, we’ve reorganized and cleaned a bunch of the house he lives in as well as cleaning out the house his mother left full of her things.  We’re helping him to achieve optimal health by helping him to feel less overwhelmed by his environment.  I think it’s critical.

The payoff:  in discussing this situation with others, I’ve realized how many people pounce on that word “overwhelmed” when I talk about his situation.  A friend told me she’s heard all the advice about doing one small thing a day, or making a list and getting organized, but that the overwhelm prevents her from even getting started.  Another who experiences stress and anxiety often and can’t seem to cope, likewise said the word totally describes how she feels too much of the time.  Even on the TV show, “Hoarders”, I find that in nearly every episode that word comes up.  Too many of us are too overwhelmed by too much, too much of the time.

To me, this echoes my earlier thoughts that most of us are living in a fear-based world….whether we fear for our literal survival, for  the ‘what would they think if they knew me?’ thoughts, for our own belief in our lacks of talents and capabilities, or for our need to keep ‘stuff’ (be it emotional, physical, or mental):  too many of us are overwhelmed in our current lives, and unsure how to get unstuck from these fears.

How do we get unstuck from the concept that we can’t even start the project of moving forward, because we fear that first step?  This, to me, is the new plague of our times:  the paralysis that comes from feeling that we can’t move forward because the path is too long and difficult.  How do we change that perception, and see everything before us a wonderful and intriguing journey instead of a torturous gauntlet that we already know can’t be overcome?  How do we decide we’re ready to plunge forward into whatever needs to happen?

And though I can’t answer that question, I’ll pose what I think is a more important one:  How do we, as therapists, as friends, as human beings, use our own personal powers to motivate, encourage, and assist others to break free of their overwhelmed syndrome and move forward in their lives?  This seems to me to be the definition of a good friend and a good person.  Though I can’t always do this happily and with enthusiasm, this is my goal.  I want to help others break through their fears and move into the light, the joy, the pure fun of living that too many of us keep at bay, because the journey may be overwhelming.

I’m reminded that Ernest Holmes, founder of Science of Mind, used to say:  “It’s simple, but it’s not easy.”  Amen.

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