Wednesday, December 03, 2008

overwhelm

Well, I am finished. My university courses for the term, that is. I handed in my last paper on Tuesday, all 43 pages of it. After I walked out of the Department of Theology office door, having just deposited the precious envelope, I decided that the occasion merited a bit of a celebration. I bought a bag of Old Dutch sour cream 'n' onion chips, a bottle of New Leaf Green Tea, got on the subway, and ate my small meal of victory while reading Ben Hur on the way home. Pretty crazy party, I know.

And despite being really happy that the research and writing and putting words and thoughts together in a profound and clear way are done for the moment, I found myself slightly less excited about being able to get on with day to day life now. Dentist and vet and car appointments and laundry and cleaning the bathroom and Christmas shopping don't have the same lustre as grappling with theological and philosophical questions. This should be a season of rest, but I am restless. My mind and my spirit have been stimulated and I want more. And yet, I know there are some things that have been pushed to the side that must be addressed, and I am not just talking about a few weeks' worth of ironing.

I get overwhelmed easily, I know that. And that is why I try to only do one thing at a time. I try not to think too far ahead or let my thoughts wander to itemise the list of all the thousands of tasks that need to be accomplished in the next week or month or year. If I do, I can feel my shoulders tighten and my adrenaline start to pump and the worry begin to march around in my head moaning "oh no" and then I get distracted and begin jumping from one task to the next and leave a trail of unfinished thoughts and slips of paper with notes scattered everywhere and feel like I am getting nowhere. And so I don't go there in my head. I do one thing at a time. I think about one task at a time. I compartmentalise my tasks and don't let my thoughts stray.

I was told by a good friend this week that I am not normal, that this sense of being overwhelmed and then needing to push thoughts of the future off into a corner where I cannot see or hear them should not be present in my life. Usually I take the "not normal" phrase as a compliment, but this time, I bit my lower lip and blinked a few times, not sure I liked where this was going. I thought I had come up with a very creative and practical solution to manage my thoughts and tasks and worries and perhaps should write a self-help book about this wonderful "lock up your thoughts into neat compartments" method which would land me on Oprah where the hair and make-up people would marvel at my youthful looks and bouncy hair and all want to attend a seminar of mine. (You see how my thoughts sometimes need a little helpful herding.)

Could it be that I have just locked away the fearful thoughts so that I can deal with them one at a time because this is manageable? One small worry at a time instead of big bunches of them, yes I can do that. Sigh. While definitely a good starting point, I do sense that my friend is onto something: it is not a way to live one's life. Yes, I want to be able to think about the big things, to climb the mountain range of challenges, to swim in the torrent of tasks, and to face the full force gale of everything life can throw at me and still be found brave, courageous and unflinching. I don't know exactly how to do that, but I can start by taking a peek in that corner room where all the scary and overwhelming thoughts have been relegated and not cover my eyes.

It is only fear. It cannot hold me. And when I stop pushing away the overwhelming-ness of fear, perhaps I will also be less likely to push away the overwhelming-ness of love: delightful and ticklish, cool as a summer pool and thick as chocolate pudding.

This is the Lion's Brewery pub in Waterloo, Ontario in a cozy cellar with wood and stone ceilings. Don't worry, it won't cave in.

4 comments:

One of Freedom said...

Studies is as much a journey of self-discovery and developing/maturing abilities to deal with our own selves. This year (after 9 years) I'm learning how to organize my time to adequately engage with a number of difficult texts while at the same time building on (not just maintaining) the important relationships I have with my family and friends and not burning out in the process. It is harder than I thought.

Enjoy your break, try not to avoid reading or blogging/writing during that time - there is a balance to making breaks effective and not robbing you of your heart to return ready to study. The two worlds can be held in balance - it just takes time. When I was studying part time and missing full semesters I found it very hard making the transitions.

Shelley said...

I was very surprised as I was reading along that your friend thought you weren't normal. I was reading along nodding away, since I think I do that too. At least i try to, because oftentimes my brain won't stop thinking about something when I desperately want to give it a rest.

Is it fear or just a different way of thinking than your friend? maybe a bit of both I'm thinking.

Matte Downey said...

It's a funny thing, Shelley. On the surface, my thinking about one thing at a time is a really good way to focus, and there is nothing wrong with that, in fact, it really keeps me from getting distracted or worrying. But while that is all good, something happened while my friend was talking to me. On the one hand, I acknowledged that this was working pretty well in my life, but in some small corner of my mind, I heard a quiet voice telling me that there was more, there was a better way. That I could be free from relying on that structure, that I could be able to "go there" in my mind and not encounter worry or fear, because Jesus wants to redeem my mind so totally that I don't have to keep it on a leash - it simply follows its master.

So basically, I believe I heard a call to move on from some good habits to a place where I don't have the security of that safety net - I must simply rely on God. Defintely scary, probably going to be messy, but there is a whole world of freedom waiting for my mind and I want it all.

Shelley said...

hmmm...certainly something to think about! like you say I am easily overwhelmed as well...so I put stuff off to the side often just to keep going with some measure of inner peace. usually it's tasks that I do that with - I am certainly not adverse to puzzling out some idea or other...but many tasks and things to remember freak me out often.

you have given me something to think about. I often feel a bit 'defective' or ill-equipped to thrive in this busy production oriented culture I am in...

there is fear in there somewhere, for sure for me...

i'll keep thinking. post more about this if you find it.