Saturday, 26 July 2014

Losing yourself



It seems to be a modern-day affliction: Too Much To Do syndrome. Overwhelm. I know lots of people suffer from it; I just need to visit other blogs to read about how we're struggling under waves of to-dos, feeling as though we're just about keeping our heads above water. Nothing gets finished. If it does, it's not done to our satisfaction.

I'm starting to feel stressed by all the things demanding my time and attention. The simple fact is that there are not enough hours in the day to deal with it all. In terms of priorities, Joe comes first. He's a year old (almost two) and it goes without saying that, during his waking hours, I'm the one who takes care of all his needs. There are many. A close second to Joe: home and family. Keeping things running smoothly so Jay and I have a nice home with a clean bed to climb into at night and good food on the table.


Then there are all the other demands: friends and wider family, blogging, chores, admin - phone calls, form-filling, banking. Helping with playgroup (and the old ladies up at the church are a pretty demanding bunch, believe me). Getting involved in the Incredible Edible scheme. Commitments. Somewhere near the bottom of the list is taking time out to relax. Even lower than that: creative pursuits.

Back here I wrote about the whole needing to slow down thing. I fear I'm reaching that same breaking point again.

So I've done my best to deal with it before things get too much.

Yesterday I did some timetabling and wrote a huge to-do list. It was actually quite frightening and anxiety-inducing to look at. But look at it I did. I separated it into sections then categorised it in terms of what needs to be done daily, every few days, weekly and monthly. I felt a bit better.


My mind is as busy as I am. Busy, by the way, doesn't necessarily mean productive. But by writing things down I feel a little bit more in control. I know what I need to do, how important it is, and when it needs to be done by. I picture my mind and thoughts and ideas as being like a street on a windy day with sheets of paper blowing about all over it. I'm always running after the paper, trying to catch it but not quite getting there before it's whipped away out of my reach again.

Writing down to-dos, ideas, plans: it's like grabbing all those pieces of paper, shuffling them into a neat pile and putting a great big paperweight on top.

The day-to-day housekeeping and admin list is stuck up on the fridge. The creative to-do list (now reformatted into a timetable/schedule): blog post ideas, schedules, photography tasks and so on, lives on the drawing board in my workspace.

Yes the lists are still long and daunting. But the thoughts and ideas have been safely committed to paper. And not in my usual scrappy way of a scribble on this bit of post-it and a cryptic note in that exercise book. It's made me feel slightly more in control and a couple more steps further away from the brink of freak-out.

Finally, a list of things I find help me to slow my racing mind. They're absorbing and somehow transport me away from the worry of an ever-growing to-do list and the panic of having forgotten to do something urgent. Feel free to make any suggestions, by the way. It's always interesting to know what other people do to relax.

Cooking. The slow, several-stages type. Baking a cake or making a pie or a soup.

Walking. Being outdoors somewhere green.

Colouring. Yes, really. Grown-up colouring books from discount bookshops are better than telly. Most of the time, anyway. The simple acts of choosing colours and staying inside the lines just works for me somehow.

Reading. Fiction, not factual stuff. Comfort books are my best escape (and children's fiction works a treat).

Pinterest. Pretty pictures to gaze at. Loads of them. Enough said.


I've also cleared out my bags of the usual detritus which collects in them and sorted out my jewellery box. Little organising sessions always leave me feeling better - they're like small victories and you gain a sense of accomplishment from them. They're therapeutic. And now I can go into the weekend feeling on top of things and a bit more in control...

Hope you have a great (and relaxing) weekend too.

P.S. I know the images for this post are a bit pick-n-mix but that's no bad thing. 

35 comments:

  1. I know this feeling, Sarah, I have blogged about it myself recently. You are so right that it is the time to relax that goes first when we are busy and as mothers/wives/homemakers this should be an important part of our lives. I have made room for it in the last week and I feel so much better for it, sure my house is mess but I don't notice it when I am relaxed. So for me relaxation equals knitting and reading. I make time to read everyday before going to sleep and knitting whenever I can, both force me to sit down something I don't do often enough :)

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    1. I agree - I think we do our jobs - and being a mother, homemaker and wife/partner IS a job (unpaid, but still...) - so much better when we're not feeling frazzled.
      I intend to sort myself out and am very lucky that I have a lot of support, understanding and help from my lovely other half. And reading before sleep is something I swear by - probably explains the large pile of books by the bed!
      S :)

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  2. I'm glad in a way that it's not just me that feels overwhelmed. I try to be organised, but I do feel as though I'm never even getting close to being where I want to be. I'm a big fan of lists as well. And I find that when I've accomplished even a small task I do feel better for it. Off to tackle the garden now! I hope you have a lovely weekend. CJ xx

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    1. Hi CJ - I think we all blog about this from time to time. It's frustrating to have many things we'd like to do but they get pushed aside for all the other stuff. It's all about time management I know.
      And yes, ticking off that little task really does help. Even if two more suddenly pop up in its place!
      Enjoy the garden...
      S x

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  3. Everything in this post resonates with me. Three years ago I had a serious burn-out which kept me out of the running from work for almost a year. Since then I have 'worked hard' (oh, the irony) at watching those anxious thoughts and letting them go instead of frantically responding to them. This is not easy, but it's something you need to train yourself to do. Having said that, relaxing and going for a walk - connecting with nature - is often still not on top of my list, where it should be. I suspect it's a life-long process.

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    1. Definitely! I don't really believe in the whole 'And then I was cured' story - we must keep on chipping away at anxious thoughts and taking notice when we're being too hard on ourselves.
      I've struggled at work too but tried to ignore the dizzy spells and sleeplessness as I felt I wasn't going through any huge traumas. Therefore I couldn't justify the stress I was feeling. I know better than that now.
      And yes, connecting with nature would have to be my number one recommendation for literally bringing you back down to earth. After a long commute I'd get off the bus, get changed and head off into the fields. There was a little stream and I'd just sit there and decompress.

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    2. So recognisable - I also ignored the dizzy spells and sleeplessness and kept thinking things like 'what the heck is wrong with me?!' and 'come on, just get on with it.' I'm glad you know better now; so do I, thankfully. That's not to say I don't sometimes relapse into old habits, but at least I'm aware of them now and try (more and more successfully) to nip them in the bud.
      I absolutely love the first photo by the way; I've actually come back to this post a few times to admire it.

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  4. I feel like this too but have learnt as the years go past to let things go a bit and prioritise looking after myself as well as looking after everyone else. Don't stick to rigidly to your timetable and enjoy that toddler. I loved that time with my daughter and it goes so fast.

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    1. I know! I try to savour this time with Joe and constantly have a go at myself for not being 'enough', which is just ridiculous. He's happy and well-adjusted and that's all that matters right now...

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  5. I know how you feel. I struggle with anxiety and always have, and it has helped a lot to make lists and timetables for myself. I think it gives me a better view of exactly what I need to do and then I can relax and enjoy life more. I'm sure I'll always be working on it. I think you have a good plan for yourself and you'll see the results soon.

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    1. Thanks Jennifer! I do wish I was one of those people who sails through life without worrying too much about anything - but come to think of it, I think those people don't actually exist! I've yet to meet one.
      S x

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  6. Your words ring true in so many ways Sarah. Good on you for taking control before it spiralled away from you. Take time for yourself and enjoy your little man. This is precious time that goes so very fast. I love colouring books too. So relaxing. Bee xx

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    1. I was wondering whether people would think I was a bit odd with the whole colouring thing! I've only just tried it - I wish I'd have had some of those books to take into meetings a few years ago (carefully hidden behind a clipboard, of course)...
      S x

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  7. When my children were little life was more stressful and I am sure my list making habit helped me deal with that stress. I think if I had been blogging when they were small I would have found those self-imposed deadlines just too much. Saying no is a good habit to develop for your own sanity.

    I absolutely love your top photo. Must get myself some pots of red geraniums.

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    1. Nice, aren't they? Those ones are a brick-red colour and I fully intend to take some cuttings later in the year.

      And saying no to people... I'm being hassled at the moment to help with some fundraising and attend various church/village resident's meetings (that's what you get for showing a polite interest). I don't even go to church. Anyway, this week I will be saying a firm No. Without any explanations or excuses. It needs to be done; I'm not looking forward to it but my sanity's more important than a few moments of feeling awkward.

      Wish me luck!

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  8. Oh Lord, this could be me in March this year when I was feeling overwhelmed. There is no instant cure, but just a re-think and re-prioritisation. I needed to stop and think whether everything I did was the best use of my time. Crafting, making, baking all help me to keep balanced. Your post really had me nodding in agreement.

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    1. It's a comfort to know we're all the same in some ways, but obviously not great to think that feeling overwhelmed is a bit of an epidemic. Stopping to work it all out and have a word with yourself is a good thing. I'm glad you put the brakes on and that you have activities which are absorbing and relieve stress :)

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  9. be gentle on yourself, I'm glad you've made the relaxing things into a list, make sure you give them timetable space, it is so important to look after yourself. I love colouring books too, must get myself one! recently I've been watching videos of zentangles on youtube, a sort of meditative doodling.

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    1. Sounds intriguing! I'll no doubt be having a look at that...

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  10. A very poignant post, as I write yet another post-it note with a task to remember, and I look at the wreck of toys and things around me from summer holiday play...sounds like you have a good grasp on the bigger picture, though, and you understand what needs to be done to achieve some peace and happiness! I'm going to take a cue from you and sort my jewellery box for starters! Chrissie x

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    1. It's great! I can now dip in and find earrings in actual pairs, and chains which aren't tied up in knots! A small project but so satisfying - and you get to rediscover the things you haven't worn in ages too.
      S x

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  11. Thank you for this post. The timetable/schedule thingy sounds like a great idea, and something I have been thinking about for a while. (must schedule the time to write it up lol).
    My house is full of grown up children and whilst bathing/feeding etc is not so hands on, they still take up my time and make mess. They are good kids despite that. The eldest grown up (husband) is the biggest kid of all, and not in a good way sigh.
    I like the sound of a colouring book. Maybe I will do that instead of reading.....I feel the need to stop reading crime/stephen king and find lighter, softer books to aid my self healing from Depression. Last night in desperation I turned to The Silver Chair from the Narnia books.
    Susan x

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    1. I'm glad this post was of some use to you. Reading is such great escapism and children's fiction the best of all. I think that's why I also lean towards books set in the mid-20th century, those that are set in the countryside and so on. Having said that, the Alexander McCall Smith books set in Botswana make for lovely comfort reading too.
      Scheduling and timetabling is all well and good but it does need regular revision and commitment - hence my revisiting it on a regular basis. Things on paper can be hard to stick to when you're busy. Resolve is what's required on my part. That and valuing my need for a break from time to time.
      Hope you feel more on top of things soon.
      Sarah x

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  12. It sounds as though you are doing really well tackling the busy and all that you have overwhelming you right now. Making the big list and then sorting it into different areas and priorities is a great idea. There is little that is important and urgent, so then it is the urgent or important and then the neither urgent or important, but the bit that is missing from that is the fun and relaxing, so that should move to urgent and important I think! I hope that you can work it all out and have lots of fun too. xx

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    1. Thanks Amy! I suspect a lot of it stems from not deeming myself worthy of taking a break, and from the suggestion that caring for a toddler doesn't mean I've 'earned' some time out.
      Grown-up time and the chance to exhale, be myself and take things slowly now and again will no doubt make me feel more effective in all kinds of ways!
      S x

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  13. I remember so well times periods like those you describe so accurately, juggling the demands of work, home, children, aged parents. But these days I'm at a different stage and very fortunate to be living life to a different beat, with the timetable entirely of my own making. To do lists are great (I still make lists though for a different reason!) but they can highlight what hasn't been achieved and you're right, no-one can do it all. I'd just echo what others have said here, make sure you cut yourself some slack, accept your limits (we usually manage this with eating and drinking but not so much with commitments) and take some time to just be.

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    1. Thank you! Yes, it's been tough recently as there are also things going on which I haven't gone into on the blog. I have to say, I would kill for a day off. It's almost two years since I last had one! I'd value that over a lie-in any time...
      It's nice to hear about people getting to live life at a more sane pace. Sounds like you've put the groundwork in though!
      S :)

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  14. Having just come back from our holidays, I feel relaxed and happy - it took the better part of a week to slow down and accept the gift of not having to do anything demanding or urgent. Come next week, this will be all a distant but pleasant memory. I must get a colouring in book for adults, I can just see myself getting lost in time and thoughts colouring.
    I find lists helpful, too. I like mine to be colourful and organised, and definitely hand written. I found life much more stressful when the children were little. There are of course other triggers of stress with teenagers and the chores don't get any less but the many years of parenting, growing self confidence as a parent and woman and increased assertiveness all help to deal with the intensity of life. You are on the right track, I am sure you are :) Cx

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    1. Thank you Christina - and I'm glad you enjoyed your break. I hope the relaxed feeling continues for a while!
      Assertiveness - what I wouldn't give to be more so! But that's up to me to work on. I do agree with the list-making as being an essential part of life and yes, mine have to be hand-written too. Partly because I hate Excel and partly because anything typed up seems a bit too corporate somehow...
      List-making can be a creative process in itself (just add doodles).
      S x

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  15. I'm a fellow list-lover - I feel a bit panicky now if I haven't got something organising me! (Old teacher habits I find...) About a year ago I organised all the housework into days (felt v antiquated in a way) and that made a huge difference - instead of starting the week thinking 'oh, I need to do X, Y and Z, I could think 'right, it's Monday, clothes wash on'. Makes me feel slightly like a 50s housewife, but it works. Loving the thought of a creative to-do list too - that's what I'm lacking at the moment. Hope you enjoy your colouring in - sounds fab. I get slightly annoyed with Isla (only in my head of course!) when she turns the page in the colouring book and I can't finish what ever it was I was 'helping' her with...!
    Hope you're feeling much more in control now and that you had a good weekend. Tis a busy job being at home indeed. xx

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    1. Isn't it? And yes, I know only too well about the colouring book problem. So many unfinished pages! That's partly the reason I bought my own. I did get Joe a really lovely one the other week but he just doesn't have the attention span for it yet.
      I like the idea of a list and slotting household chores into different days. I do miss the big blackboard we had at the old house!
      S x

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  16. I totally know what you mean and just as you feel as though you are getting on top of things it gets worse. But I do find that lots of organised lists help keep me sane. It sounds as though it is working for you too Sarah. And remember you can do any of these things if you don't keep yourself happy and healthy... You are top priority!

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    1. That's what my family tell me too! Truth is, I feel a constant pressure somehow to justify the fact that I'm a stay at home mum and spinning way too many plates is my way of doing that.
      Silly, I know.
      I should stop caring what people think (or what I perceive them to be thinking) and get on with it. Being hard on yourself is not a sensible way to live your life.

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  17. I completely understand Sarah. I also use lists to manage everything that goes on in my head. I find I like to keep one for fun stuff too. I found that doing my 101 days and now following along with Gillian I try to keep a bit of me in the 'now' and focus on the good stuff. I know what you mean about a day off (and a lie in!)...sometimes it's good to completely get away from any responsibility!

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    1. I know! You really don't value those snatched few hours here and there where the planets align and you get some freedom to just be alone. I often fantasise about drifting around bookshops or sitting in a cafe drinking tea and people-watching from the window.
      When's Mother's Day again?!

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