I had a dream last night that I was drowning…
My gut tightened and my heart tugged when I heard those words. Especially from the mouth of someone I love. How could we let this happen? How could things get to a point where we feel so overwhelmed?
“It was just a dream”, but I believe all dreams have meaning.
Last week I was sick. Can’t breathe through my nose, sore throat, achy body, hot/cold sweats, pounding headache sick. I never get sick, so this was definitely a sign. A wake up call. But one that I don’t think that I answered. In fact, the phone is likely still ringing. I told my best friend that I wasn’t feeling well and that I hadn’t gone for a run or drank a glass of wine in days. At that point I believe she was close to calling 9-1-1.
As a self-identified “helper/rescuer”, I know that I have a tendency to take on too much. If it means helping someone and lightening their load, I was the first one to say ‘yes’. Often to my own detriment. Learning to say ‘no’ was counterintuitive, especially to a health care provider and “helper”. But I knew that it was central to my well-being. After spending many dollars on self-help, coaching books to help me to say “no”, it all boiled down to being able to understand what was reasonable and what was not. It all was about prioritizing and the realization that saying ‘no’ did not mean I didn’t care or would not help in any way, but “self care” needed to be the central component in the decision making process. I began to learn how to say no without guilt and yes without resentment.
But how do I manage taking on too much when what I’m taking on is for the benefit of my relationships or “the” greater good? I looked at my friend, as he finished telling me about his drowning dream, and knew that we had a lot on our plate and many goals, dreams and actions that we want to achieve and make reality…and we want them now. The dreams that we have, the ones we are working to move forward, are positive and inherently life changing and life affirming. We are both on board with bringing these dreams into reality. However, even positive and exciting changes, are still changes. All change creates stress. Whether it’s good stress or the traditional, gut-wrenching, can’t sleep at night, scary stress, it is still stress. There is a current trend to just keep taking on more and more and more…at least in mine…and our lives. Are we taking on so many exciting plans and goals that we are not allowing ourselves time to rest and relax together? When do we get to enjoy just simply …well being?
As I was driving to my spin class this morning, the words and images of drowning were heavy on my mind. I drove my small silver car up on to the Granville Street bridge deck and noticed that the buildings were reflecting a burning red and orange sky. The sunrise was brilliant. The sky was on fire. Illuminating the high rise buildings, all of downtown reflecting a glowing glorious red from its sea of glass. I was filled with a sense of calm. The serenity of that moment was overwhelming and I realized just how small I really was. I realize that I am very fortunate to have the luxury of choice in my life. The ability to choose to have “down time”, to postpone tasks to a more manageable time, to choose to rely on others and ask for help.
My initial reaction to the dream of drowning was to offer help. What can I do to help? What can I take off your plate and put on mine? I was filled with an overwhelming desire to help, to make it better, to take away the stress. But simply moving plates merely moves the contents of what is overwhelming. Perhaps a better approach would be to combine our plates? Learn to trust, depend and count on someone else to have your back and help with the big stuff. Perhaps if we approach life as a unified team, we can better learn to prioritize our goals and create more realistic and manageable timelines, together. Yes, many of the goals and tasks that I want to happen are of a benefit to my relationships, but that can’t always be at the expense of my health or my other relationships or of Tuesday Movie Night.
It takes strength to not only identify but also to admit to feeling overwhelmed. It takes strength to ask for help. It takes strength to say ‘no’ or ‘not right now’. It takes strength to realize that you can’t always help the way you want. It takes strength to understand that sometimes letting it go is the right approach. It takes strength to admit you can’t do it all. It takes strength to be human and humble.
But, at the end of the day, you’re stronger than you think.