Overwhelm is my kryptonite

As I began to think of ways that I could make progress on my goal of learning to set limits and boundaries, one very specific thought came to mind:

For all my whining and moaning about other people putting things on my calendar, what I never do is ask other people to do things. What if, instead of waiting to feel uncomfortable because I know I will want to “say no” but can’t, I take the bull by the horns and start asking other people to do things? Put the onus on them to say no to me? See how other people deal with saying no for once! Plus, this might just help my erode my debilitating fear of rejection.

Naturally there is a very good reason why this little thought upsets me: any extra time I have independent from my children I like to use working. I love what I do! I love writing. I love the characters in my novels and I love seeing what they are up to. I love writing them and their conflicts and their redemptions into existence.

However, I also know that my creative process relies heavily on having new experiences to jostle new ideas. So what would happen if I, socially functional introvert that I am, were to lean into the discomfort that social situations create for me and start viewing this as a new experience that might spark my own creativity?

So one very specific goal I can set for myself would be, for example, each week this summer, ask someone (someone safe) to do something with me. Whether it is have coffee or take a walk or make music for fun.

(Holy cow, I literally just started cold-sweating at all the implications of this…but I didn’t feel nauseous. That’s a good sign.)

I discovered in my into the woods and out of the woods and barely home before dark mishap, that when I negotiated the heck out of the terms of the outing (even if they weren’t, in the end, respected), I didn’t dread the engagement. So here is a little sparkly thought: If the idea is mine and I am comfortable with the boundaries of the outing, then maybe I won’t dread it.

Honestly, it is worth a try. I really want to stop dreading the things to which I commit.

The all-important caveat: don’t blur the lines

So I have set myself a challenge that doesn’t make me nauseous, it only makes me sweat a little bit, and that is okay. Each week this summer, I am to ask one person to do something with me; to be the one writing things on my own calendar and to see how other people deal with saying no.

There is a very important caveat I need to put on this: I must not come away from these meetings trying to solve anyone else’s problems. I must not allow the lines to blur between a social visit and a moral imperative to get involved.

This means that from the moment I get involved, I need be seeking out the place where I end and this other person begins. Their scheduling conflicts are not about me. Their problems are not mine. Even…and this cuts deep: their inability to get organized is not my responsibility.

Holy cow. I might have hit on something.

If you are a socially graceful person reading this, you are without a doubt thinking, “this woman has issues.” I have made no secret here of my struggles with social anxiety, and I wholly admit that I do have issues.

What is ironic about this is that the people who know me in my real life do not suspect the cold sweat and nausea that something as simple as the sound of a ringing telephone causes me. You see, I have a façade, a mask that I have learned to wear ever since my early bouts with paranoia. I have learned to make it look good on the outside, while on the inside I am a cavern of volcanic anxiety.

The essence of Gravitas, which is one of my Ideal Life themes, is that the insides and the outsides match. That somehow, who I look and act like must match the thoughts and my inner life.

This could mean one of two things: Either I could magically become the “has-it-all-together” person I pretend to be, which, as I said, would require a kind of magic I don’t believe in, or, I could start exteriorizing my anxiety, dropping the mask of ease and start owning the anxious, stressed out mess that I truly am.

For a long time I thought that believing in magic would be easier than making progress.

However. That one little “wearing no makeup for a week” thing I did and this “wearing only four dresses all summer” thing have already helped in tiny little ways, because they are helping me change my thoughts about what image I project. They are helping to dislodge the mask that I have spent 43 years solidifying.

These are harmless ways to undermine harmful thought patterns.

True story

We were running late with the scalawags and I didn’t have the time to undo my hair from the way I wear it to bed, that is to say, all wrapped up in a headband so that 1. I don’t get night sweats, 2. don’t end up choking on it when I sleep and 3. can benefit from the curls that result (for as long as the humidity allows). I threw a little scarf around it all to make it look like I did it on purpose, but I knew for a fact I had just pulled the equivalent of leaving the house in rollers.

Do you know what happened (this only slightly disproves the “no one is paying attention to what you wear” theory!) Four people: one neighbor, one person I see every day on our way to school and two school moms asked me how I did my hair because, apparently, it looked cute.

In my overwhelm of the morning, I let go of my search for perfection and having my stuff together, and then I stopped being invisible. But not at all in the way I would have expected.

Self-awareness is a superpower

We are not born knowing how to examine our thoughts and our anxieties. I believe that there is a skill factor to self-awareness that can be learned and honed.

Oh, we know when we are unhappy. But we are not so keen on knowing why. The why is often far removed from our current situation and the current overwhelm we are experiencing. Thus why we need to put tools in our toolbox to help us examine the why.

Being able to dissect what overwhelms me and poke around at its origins makes the overwhelm less potent. It also makes it possible for me to consider a palette of solutions, building on previous progress, to move ever closer to my Ideal Life.

How to make progress on those nothing-at-all-is-working areas of our lives

The sign that this area of limits and boundaries was a source of overwhelm came as I pursued my Ideal Life exercises. If you are struggling with overwhelm in any area of your life, let me really really really encourage you to sit down and start writing out your In my Ideal Life I am a person who... statements. Then work on those two questions, What is working? What isn’t working? , and then the two bullet points, Things to consider? Things to do?

(All those links take you to my one-minute reels on those topics. Enjoy me trying to be brief and please don’t laugh!)

Do it for as long as it takes until you are ready to do something about what isn’t working. It could take forty-three years, but you and your Ideal Life are worth the wait.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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