When you feel overwhelmed
With experience comes pessimism
You make thousands of micodecisions every day. The time you get out of bed. The amount of cream in your coffee. The length of your shower. Along with microdecisions are macrodecisions. Do you get your child a tutor? Do you tell your boss you are behind on a deadline? Do you hire an expert to do your taxes?
The combination of thousands of microdecisions and proably dozens of macrodecisions each day can build up to feelings of overwhelm. As you age, it gets worse. You have to pay more attention to your health and food (or feel the side effects). You have more assets and debts to manage. You have increased caretaking responsibilities.
Sometimes I feel overhwhelmed to the point of mental paralyzation.
Dump the past
One battle I wage everyday is to suppress my desire to assume the worst. As an attorney, I am trained to look for every possible scenario which includes worse case scenarios. On a personal level, my thought pattern of choice is "catastrophizing". I shared this with a friend and she asked "is that even a word?" I explained what it was and she couldn't believe I thought that way most of the time. I couldn't believe that everyone doesn't think this way most of the time. I think pessimissm comes from experience. Life experience.
The longer you rotate around the sun, the more you are lied to, taken advantage of, experience loss, suffer grief, lose your religion, and feel pain. It accumulates over time. And it wears you down. Why should you expect the best when it might not happen? I've realized that negative thinking has got a tight grip on me right now.
I don't know everything
It is the new year! A time for new beginnings, restarts and change. I have written about new years resolutions in the past and yet each year brings new ideas.
Prior blog posts about new year's resolutions:
Goals need time
Resolution to do less
Its ok to be unhappy
Last November, I cleared out my basement and garage of five years of accumulated "stuff". I went through the kitchen and purged things I don't use. I donated clothes and shoes from my closet that I don't wear or won't wear. It felt good to clear and give what was in good condition and trash what wasn't. I recycled every page of notes from three years of law school and all 12 bar exam prep books.
Do. Don't Think.
I don’t know everything. GASP! And a hush settles over the crowd.
Ok, it didn’t quite happen this way. I did say “I don’t know everything” out loud this morning, but there was no crowd. It was me, my husband and my 8-year old in our house. It wasn’t a hush, rather there was no response to my statement, i.e. silence.
Today was the first time I said “I don’t know everything” out loud. Lately, I’ve been seeking out ways to shortcut conversations with my son when he starts nitpicking at my behavior. This morning his statement started with “mom, you said . . .”.
Leave a note for your next of kin
Any given weekday . . .
In the morning, you approach the shower. What do you do? You start thinking.
- What meetings do I have today?
- How much time before I need to leave?
- Should I shave today?
- How am I going to deal with the problem waiting at work?
- How long before someone pops in the bathroom and asks me a question?
Say "me" more often
This is a line from the musical "Hamilton" in the song "Ten Duel Commandments". The song states, in ten stages, a description of what should happen in a proper duel. The line continues to say "tell 'em where you been, pray that hell or heaven lets ya in." It doesn't go into details, but it says in few words that you should leave a letter for your family if you think you are going to die.
The musical, in Act 2, shows Hamilton writing a letter "to his next of kin" for the very reasons that he was entering into a duel with Aaron Burr. The song "Best of Wives and Best of Women" describes him writing a letter before he leaves for the duel; his wife Eliza having no idea he was about to stare down the barrel of a gun at dawn.
Happy mom voice
Last Friday I presented to colleagues on mental health and the profession. As I prepared for the presentation, I looked at my own mental health and took a look around the people around me. I believe that lack of self-care is becoming an epidemic.
It is no longer about work/life balance. For people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, life is work. I assume by the "50s", a person has enough life experience and perspective to enjoy the fruits of their work and be a driver of their leisure time rather than a passenger.
The guiding message in the book "Overwhelmed: work, love and play when no one has the time" is that we have a lot of leisure time, or nonwork time, but it doesn't feel like leisure time. As the author Brigid Schulte states on her website "how worrying about all there is to do and the pressure of feeling like we’re never have enough time to do it all, or do it well, is “contaminating” our experience of time".
Clever way to stop thinking about work
Scrapbooking is one of my hobbies. I love looking at a still moment in time. Photographs are of happy occasions and happy people.
Facebook has an app called “On This Day” (OTD). It shows pictures and videos of that calendar day last year and every year on that day since I joined Facebook. To me, it is like an automatic scrapbook of my life.
I rarely post videos to Facebook so when they show up in OTD, I watch and re-watch them. Recently, I was watching a video of my son at two- years old (he is now 8). He was singing the theme song from Thomas the Train. As I write this, I can still picture him working hard to say “Edward”. In acapella fashion, I sang the main part and he sung the names of the train at the appropriate time.
As the video played, I hardly recognized myself. Who was this person with the happy, easy-going voice? She sounds really happy. I don’t sound like that anymore.
I’m good enough. I’m smart enough.
Service professionals bill by the hour. Most attorneys bill by the 1/10 of the hour. It is the only way they get paid for their work.
When I am drafting, researching, and writing notes on a case, I bill for my time. Typically I am in front of my computer when I am doing these tasks.
What about the time I am thinking about the case, but am not "working"? For example: (1) the drive home from the office; (2) when I try to go to sleep; (3) when I exercise; or (4) when I take a shower. Should I bill for that thinking time?
When I realize I am thinking about work during non-work time, my first instinct is to take my mental Whack-a-mole hammer and whack the thoughts so they leave me alone. This isn’t very effective at making the thoughts go away.
Cracking the mindfulness code
People in their late 30s and in their 40s may remember a sketch on Saturday Night Live of a character named Stuart Smalley. Smalley, played by Al Franken, read affirmations that always included “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” The content of the reoccurring sketch isn’t memorable but the underlying theme of affirmations comes to mind decades later.
I recently finished watching the 2015 miniseries “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” I am in awe of how Marcia Clark managed to survive that trial. It took place in 1992 and she was the lead prosecutor. The news, her peers, and anyone looking for an easy target ruthlessly scrutinized everything she did, from her trial strategy to her haircut.
As an attorney and a woman, it is second nature for me to compare myself to her situation. In comparison, I didn’t think I could ever do what she did. Why do I think that way?
Say what you want
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment nonjudgmentally.
15 years ago, I participated in a Mindfulness Stress-Based Management course. The course was 8 weeks long and based on the book “Full Catastrophe Living” by Jon Kabia-Zinn.
Mindfulness is available every waking second. I also enjoy meditation but it requires stillness of the body for a period of time. Truthfully, it would be wonderful if I could spend time doing either for any second of the day.
I have always believed that mindfulness required the full attention of my entire self. That may be true. I decided, however, that I can only be mindful with my brain and one other part of my body. When I realized this, I felt like I cracked the code for integrating mindfulness into my life.
What I learned from Moana
As I close in on the fourth decade of my life, I am tuned-in to generational differences. My 7-year uses slang I don't understand. Few of my GenY friends use SnapChat. My millennial niece has to explain words like "ships".
As a parent, I am acutely aware that I am the greatest influence on how my child choses to behave. I've heard that millennials have less capacity for resilience than generations before them. Primarily because, as they grew up, their parents protected them from disappointment. I can relate. (1) I don't want to see my child sad and hurting; and (2) I don't like conflict.
I pick up my son from after school care. It closes at 5:45 and he never wants to leave when I show up. He sees me walk in the door and it is autopilot "grumpy face and whine". He doesn't want to leave, regardless of the time.
I have explained to him that it makes me sad when he reacts to me with those emotions. His reaction also makes my stress level spike and my body goes to flight or fight mode. I get anxious writing about it.
More faces. More books.
Last weekend, I bought the movie “Moana” – a Disney movie. I watched it with my 7-year old son on a Saturday morning snuggled in our softest, warmest blankets. The movie boasted an incredible diversity of characters. The songs were amazing. Moana, to me, was a superstar.
Throughout the movie, Moana wasn’t running from something, she was running toward something. She knew enough to start on her journey, yet encountered unknowns to keep her humble. She asked for help and when that failed she persevered to stay the course. More than any of this, I loved Moana because she had been called – “see the line where the sky meets the sea, it calls me” – and she answered the call.
Goals need time
On Saturday, I did a media cleanse. A media cleanse is something I made up. A “cleanse” is more commonly associated as a method of food elimination and intestinal, uh, stimulation. Merriam-Webster defines the word cleanse as “a very restrictive short-term diet primarily intended to remove toxins from the body”.
My scope of the media cleanse was the elimination of news and social media for a calendar day. I did it the weekend before the election to keep my sanity. At that time, it was mostly elimination from Facebook and Twitter, i.e. social media. Since then, I have become a subscriber to the New York Times and have easy access via my iPad. I find myself binging on news and social media when I get home after work. When it started to creep into my workday, I did a call for accountability partners to join me in a media free day.
A new superhero
I am currently lying in wait.
When I have unscheduled personal time and I feel the desire to fill it, I wait. I wait because the feeling to populate my schedule will pass after 10-15 minutes. Waiting keeps me from having a merry-go-round life; it provides time to contemplate why I want to fill my schedule. If the reasons are “because I can” or guilt, then I don’t do it. Just because I have unscheduled time doesn’t mean I need to fill it.
When the first of the year approaches and I’ve had several days off, I want to set resolutions. But I make myself wait. Returning to work is difficult after Christmas and New Year’s Day. I also focus on returning to regular meals and surviving without cookies. Returning to work and regulating my eating are enough for the first week of January. There is no need to add on meal planning, cycling class and time to meditate.
Naughty list of white lies
Imagine this. A person is in imminent danger. A superhero steps in between the person and the harm. The superhero absorbs the visual rays of harm. The person walks away unharmed. The superhero used his or her super powers and feels no better and no worse.
Edge of good enough
This is a stressful time of year. There are a lot of competing pressures and priorities. I want to encourage you to be true to yourself. Don't sacrifice happiness to bend to tradition. Don't buy gifts you can't afford. Most of all - don't lie.
When you start a new job, you strive to exceed expectations—to be close to perfection. The first year, everything is new. The second year goes smoothly because you know what you are doing. However, you remember the promises you made to yourself when you started the job: “Don’t settle for status quo”, “question unnecessary procedures”, and “don’t do ‘just enough to get by’”. By the third year, a temptation persists to do work that is “good enough”.