Overwhelm and exhaustion


It is august 2012, I am on holiday in the south of England and I am trying to prepare for a workshop on sensitivity. I am attempting to get a general idea about what I would like to cover and I have started looking at questions to discuss, exercises to do and other ways of making it “participatory”. My hope is that people will walk away with ideas and tools to care for the sensitivity as well as others.

But I am going through a period of exhaustion and not feeling greatly inspired to prepare. I know there are things I want to write for this workshop as well as work on my blog but my body feels like I have been running for months – sore, tense and tired. And my brain is like a swamp; the more I struggle to get some clarity the more I am dragged down into a strange underworld. A state of incoherent thoughts and suddenly occurring emotions that seem out of the present context. Time seems to have a life of its own and I do not get much done during a day; I eat, clean up, go for a walk, read a bit, have a Skype or phone call with a friend, go on Facebook, watch a bit of tv and then it is time for bed again… It seems like weeks have passed like this and I am getting impatient. I know from experience that at some point this exhaustion will lift, I will feel regenerated and my mind will feel fully functional again. I just don’t know when and right now I have a deadline.

Today I had a good realisation, though… Using this time of exhaustion to describe what these periods can be like. Because this is the downside to being highly sensitive – this is where I really struggle with it, curse it and hate it. Where I feel like there is something fundamentally wrong with me. That I am malfunctioning. Some days I even get paranoid thinking that I was purposefully created this way by a malicious God just for the sake of entertaining higher powers as they watch me fight this never-ending battle. Wondering if I am the incarnation of the myth of Sisyphus*

Being highly sensitive is a very real, very present challenge for me. Everyday. And wishing that is was not so does not help it much…

Right now I am sitting at a café. Outside, because the heat inside made me uncomfortable. I have my   but not listening to any music; I just need them to keep the sounds from the cars to a minimum. I am wearing sunglasses even though it is grey and cloudy (actually raining a bit) but to me it still feels very bright. I could have gone somewhere with a quiet backyard but I chose to come to this particular cafe because I am used to coming here. It reminds me of a cafe back home and I like the routine of going somewhere familiar. It makes me feel safe. But when I walked out the door earlier I knew I might run into problems with temperatures, light, noise etc and so I had to prepare myself. Wearing clothes that would keep me cool and warm all depending on my surroundings. Packing a bag with sunglasses, earphones, MP3 player, book, notepads and other little things that can help stay safe and sane when venturing out in to the world. Planning and preparing is always a necessity for me and even more so when feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. It can take energy but not doing it is likely to drain me even more…


The workshop never happened; after months of exhaustions, struggling in some of my important personal relationships and not being able to prepare as I would have liked, I had to cancel the workshop on the day. Ironically I was feeling too sensitive to do a workshop on sensitivity… Since then I have done a couple of workshops together with my partner and enjoying it; sharing the responsibility with someone else helps me relax a bit. With my partner there I also feel more able to be my own sensitive self and not step into a presenter/performer-role, which, even though it can be protective at the time, will drain me massively afterwards.

*In Greek mythology Sisyphus was a king of Ephyra (now known as Corinth) punished for chronic deceitfulness by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this action forever

Extreme Overwhelm

It seems to me that every time I experience overwhelm somethings are different about the state but somethings are the same. I also find there are different degrees of overwhelm and I wish I had words to separate and categorise those different degrees or stages.
Before the overwhelm there is stimulation building up to over-stimulation becoming arousal and over-arousal. Then the overwhelm hits me, like walking into a wall.
At the moment I am going through (rather feels like being stuck in, to be honest…) an intense state of overwhelm. One of the heavy ones that affects everything; my energy levels, my experience of pain in my body, my way of thinking, my memory, my concentration, my ability to speak coherently, my emotions, the way I sense things.
These states are odd and I used to think them to be deep depressions. It seemed to me that the only reason I didn’t go catatonic, was because of my high level of self-control.  Somehow with the self-control I would stay able to make myself do a minimum of things during the day; even if it is just to eat, bathe or listen to an audio-book. Now I find it helpful to think of this as extreme overwhelm rather than a depression and I know that if I gently look after myself, wait for time to do its trick, I will slowly move into a more meaningful way of being again.
The horror of the extreme overwhelm (and what used to make me think it was depression) is the deadness inside – nothing matters, nothing feels meaningful or worth doing. If I indeed am even able to think of something to do. Or say. It is like a dark-grey woolly fog with no sense of up or down, no ground or gravity, no directions, no life. I still sense things intensely; my hands touching each other in my lap, the shouts from children playing, my breathing, the colours of flowers. It almost feels like I have become this super-detached mindfulness-master – the moments are prolonged, the sensations intensified and yet I feel nothing inside, nothing is awakened by these sensations. There is just the experiences of that moment. And then the next. And then the one after that. But none of it matters to me, it is just the world, life passing by and I might as well be dead for all I know.
It is a sad state. And when I feel something it is this sadness. Deep, existential, painful grief. Grieving for myself, for the state I am in. Grieving for the world, for human kind, for the conflicts going on everywhere, the abuse, the violence, the ignorance. All the fear everywhere. So much grief it is impossible to bear and the fog sweeps over me again, like a tortoise I withdraw into my shell and resign to not living for a while. Just gently surviving, waiting.

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