the MIRREN LEE

The 2012 Act Three Journey of an Actress/Coach/Writer.

Day 70 Overwhelmed? Try “Bird by Bird”

Posted by themirrenlee on 10/03/2012

bird by bird

Take life bird by bird, and it will seem far more manageable. Anne Lamott's analogy is golden wisdom.

Overwhelmed? Try “Bird by Bird”.

Let me explain.

It happens to all of us. So easily.

  • We turn around and realize our “To Do” lists keep growing, but nothing is getting crossed off.
  • We’re fighting a chronic health condition on several fronts, and it feels like we’ll never get on top of it.
  • Commitments are shouting at us from all directions: work, family, friends, school, personal projects.
  • It feels like everyone wants a piece of us sometimes, and we become human doings instead of human beings.

I always write my main post – like this one – at the end of the day, starting it just before midnight. It’s a good time for me to think about what’s happened in the past 24 hours, and how it’s affected me.

I am easily overwhelmed. Which is ironic, given how incredibly capable I was trained to be from an early age, as the main parent to my 6 siblings. My mother told me how proud she was when I learned to make my first scrambled eggs at the age of 4! I am fantastic in a crisis, and come into my own when there is major multi-tasking to be done.

However, on a personal level, when it concerns my health or any other needs that are just about me, I have a tendency to feel that it’s all too much to handle. The psychology-minded reading this may sense how I wasn’t trained to think about me and my needs, and they’d be right. It’s taken years of therapy, and lots of hard work, to change the way I used to be, which was a Stepford Wife to the world!

In Transactional Analysis, which is the basis of the book, “Games People Play”, by Dr. Eric Berne, the game I played is called “Red Cross Nurse”. It’s a Victim game, and the person playing it suppresses themselves for the sake of others.

When I first read the book, it felt like discovering the key to life. It described perfectly all the interactions that were going on in my family, and I finally began to understand them, as well as see the bigger picture of what was going on. If you’ve never read it, it’s an eye opener about how people are relating to you, and how you, yourself, relate to others.

I will write more about this subject, which is of utmost importance in my life, in another post.

In the meantime, today was my second day taking the anti-inflammatories I started back on, as I explained yesterday. Interestingly, I have started to feel the results immediately, both good and bad. My right lower back pain, where the osteoarthritis is, has pulled in its head, pain wise, but my stomach is not real happy with this new turn of events. Well, my stomach may just have to grow a pair (how’s that for a confused metaphor?!) and deal with it, because the pain relief is more important. I’ll simply have to take more drugs to cope with the gastro-intestinal issues!

I lie in bed when I wake up, feeling the muscle pain before I take my first-thing-in-the-morning drugs, and then the discomfort in my stomach, and I feel overwhelmed at the thought of getting up. It all seems too hard. I know there are extreme pain levels to face now ever since I went off the Cymbalta three months ago, plus the new side effects, plus the chronic fatigue that I battle every day. It’s all waiting for me as soon as I get to my (newly-come-back-painful) feet.

  • So I take my drugs.
  • I get up.
  • I make coffee.

I go back to bed and start my daily Internet checking on my phone (so I can lie on my back):

  • Email
  • Various favorite sites
  • My Horoscope (can’t beat Astrology/Horoscopes – Jonathan Cainer’s Zodiac Forecasts. He’s eerily right so often.)
  • eBay (I save money by buying lots on there, plus sell a few things.)
  • Huffington Post
  • Salon
  • Facebook messages (Usually just Farmville requests as I cut my Facebook “friends” down to about 10!)

By this time, the drugs and coffee have kicked in.

I start to go over my “To Do” list to see what I REALLY need to get done today, and what can be moved to another time. I do this because I unconsciously overwhelm myself by trying to get too much done that isn’t really necessary.

I make any phone calls that can’t wait.

I send any emails that can’t wait.

I decide if I actually have to leave the house at all for any errands, or if I can spend the day at home, instead, working on my freelance projects. I know that once I leave the house, I start using up all my Spoons (see my post, “The Spoon Theory”), and will feel like I’ve been hit by a truck the next day, in effect “losing it” completely in terms of functioning. I try to keep all my errands compressed to single days, with the next day allocated for recovering.

Bird by Bird

Anne Lamott, author of "Operating Instructions" and "Bird by Bird", among many others. She is also a very strong, interestingly unconventional, Christian.

And so I organize and run my life, and avoid feeling overwhelmed as much as I can. What makes it possible is the same principle as “just get started”, with that first step out of bed. The way I take that first step is the inspiration I got from reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott.

Many years ago, David and Katie gave me her first book, “Operating Instructions”, about her experiences being a single mother, and I identified with it so much, and laughed so hard I almost wet myself, and have loved her ever since. She has now written many books, and has lots of her expressions of wisdom published online, and I feel like I discovered her! If you’ve never read any of her books, try “Bird by Bird”, which is a book about the writing process, but is not only relevant to writers. It’s a book full of general wisdom, as well.

In it, she says her brother had to write a paper on the birds of the world, and he’d left it until the night it was due. He felt overwhelmed, and didn’t know how he was going to get it finished. His father said something to the effect of, “Just take it bird by bird, buddy, bird by bird.”

That really spoke to me. It spoke to my daughter, too, because she is more like I am than my son, whose personality does not get easily overwhelmed. Sarah and I are always reminding each other, “Bird by bird”, if we see each other stressing.

I recommend the principle to anyone reading this who’s feeling overwhelmed. Stop, take a breath, then just get started … bird by bird.

I’m organizin’ my birds …

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