Aug 19 2011

Thoughts on Doing Too Much

There’s several aspects to the phrase “doing too much”, not all of them bad. I’ll explore some of my thoughts on this here, but do feel free to add your own perspective in the comments.

Sometimes you gotta.

We’ve discussed that many a time here in the blog, so I won’t go into it again this soon, but when a thing must be done, and you’re the one around to do it, well…

And then there’s defining “too much”, which is a phrase whose definition really changes daily, when you think about it.  Stamina, willpower, energy, and more aren’t constants, they’re variables; and you’re unwise to treat them differently.

Sometimes I think a large part of life lessons revolve around learning our limits.  What do “limits” mean on that daily changing basis; when to push them and when to accept them; when to keep them and when to free yourself from them however you can.

There’s not much out there like facing terminal life conditions to make oneself face up to learning these lessons.  Too many of us get an easy pass to skirt around the issue.  I’m not saying life still isn’t hard, for most of us, much of the time.  But lessons like how to say “no this is too much for me right now” or “I need help with this, I can not do it on my own” are ones I’ve noticed many of us get to avoid facing head on.

When we finally must ask these things, reach out for this help, it often comes with a whole heap of guilt — and not always internal, either.  Asking for help is often scary, for those doing the asking and those receiving the request.  And if your requests for help have to change from “hey, I could use a little help on finishing this task,” to “help me clean up the bedsheets I just wet myself on”, your perspective becomes much harder to maintain.

But this is supposed to be about doing too much, isn’t it?

Anyone who knows me knows that I run at the equivalent of 110% nearly every moment.  Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but only a bit; I throw my full self into whatever I do, try to be as fully present in each moment as possible, whether it’s building and reorganizing a first aid kit (a long-overdue task that’s been on the to-do list for months that was completed today), feeding a 4-month-old a 6-month-old-sized helping of rice cereal and enjoying watching her race through it, or passing out over a keyboard as I atttempt to reorganize and make sense of a medication regimen that will keep me as pain-free and functional as possible while giving myself more space between constantly taking medications.  (All tasks done today, not counting the occupational therapist appointment, the physical therapist appointment, the open house meet-n-greet for The Teen’s school, or the several hours’ visit and chat about business and other sundry topics with a friend using our kitchen to make and share tasty banana bread.)

Now mind you, the only out-of-house activity of all of those was the school open house, but that’s still more than some people I know do in a week, much less a day, much less three weeks out from a two-month hospital stay.  And sure, I’m exhausted and I hurt (but I always hurt these days, and have been told to expect that I may always have some chronic pain issues from the damage I took to bones and nerves from this metastasis).  When one has experienced enough pain to completely incapacitate, it’s an effort to readjust one’s pain scale to know when to pay attention and slow down.  That’s a mental adjustment I do work on, daily.  Ha, but then again, that’s another task as well, isn’t it?

Tomorrow I’ll leave the house again; this time for an informal support group luncheon.  (And very much hopefully picking up the rest of my medications, or it will be a much more painful weekend than I’ve had for a while.)  I’ve never been to a support group, even an informal one, so it’s a new experience.  The rest of the day is scheduled around “resting”; visiting with my mother, discussing salary issues with the live-in help, hopefully a household board game in the evening for some fun.

And yet there are still items on the to-do list that have sat there, some for months (amazing how much cancer interrupts life flow).  This blog post has been written on all week, and isn’t the one most of you are waiting to read (the scans were overall good, and details will be forthcoming, I promise).  My physical therapist doesn’t understand why I can’t find time to do my PT exercises twice each day, and she’s unfortunately right in that if I did so, my endurance would increase accordingly and I could get more done of what I want or need to get done.

I think that you’ve done “too much” when your body shuts you down against your will.  If I want to finish this post, but I wake up 5 hours from now with dffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff across a paragraph’s worth of screen, it’s quite likely I did more than I “should have”.  But that’s an “after the fact” tell, not a signal to stop before I get to that point.  And I do agree that sleep should get its own fair 110% along with the rest of daily activities, though that’s a lesson it’s taken a stubborn while to accept and learn.

It’s made harder by the fact that other people can’t tell you what your “too much” is.  When I say I need to write more, and someone responds that I really need to focus on visualizing a healthy self and resting and taking care of me before “worrying” about more writing, on one level they’re right (especially their own level, of what they can imagine they’d need to do under similar circumstances — may none of you ever have those).  But when a blog post or fiction snippet I finish at four in the morning rejuvenates my soul, gives peace to my mind, allows me to actually, deeply, rest for three solid hours, it becomes harder to believe that taking the time to write was “too much”.  And you can’t always know ahead of time that I “should have” made that choice instead of taking my ambien and trying for just the resting part.

So, conclusion:  No easy answers on what “too much” is, when to know when you’ve found it, or how to avoid it.  But I’d adore for this to become a discussion in its own right and hear about your own experiences or attempts to control this urge.  If you have any, share your thoughts here.

3 Responses to “Thoughts on Doing Too Much”

  1. Cheryon 19 Aug 2011 at 9:27 pm

    I’m much better at noticing when those dear to me are pushing too close to “too much” than I am about my own over-extensions. Fortunately, for me, for him, sometimes when I take the time to help my significant other relax at the end of a stressful day, or take a particular task off of his plate and put it on mine, or just be there so he can rant about his work, or let him problem solve by bouncing ideas off of me (even about subjects I know little about), doing those things is also rejuvenating for me. Giving him my attention and helping take care of his needs takes some of my attention off of my own issues for a bit, and sometimes gives me the time and space for my problems to sort themselves out to some degree.

    At other times, I use the writing much as you do- a way to regroup, look at things differently, process experiences, and sometimes just escape the mundanities of life for a little fantasy world. When I finish, I may be exhausted or I may be invigorated, but it does serve a purpose in some way. Perhaps even just giving me a mechanism to let go of concerns by writing them, allowing me to move past them.

    Otherwise, it seems I, too, have the signal that I have done too much only after the fact. I don’t know any good way around that one for most of us. The best I can do is try to stay aware of myself and my tension level, take deep breaths often (even if I don’t feel I need it!), and take those moments when I can find them which give me happiness and joy to balance some of the others. Kind of a preemptive approach to the fact that I will do too much sometimes, but will try to take care of myself along the way.

  2. Holly Elioton 20 Aug 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Yes, I get the signals of “doing too much” toward the end of the work day - empty stomach, annoyance at other people socializing too loudly, irritation that I never got a chance to delve into the project that requires deep thought because my day has been splintered by interruptions. I find myself with my fingers in my ears just trying to think which of the many tasks remaining has to be done before I leave. But I’m getting better at leaving no more than an hour late instead of three hours past quitting time. Some day I will have a work load that actually fits into an eight hour day. I’ve asked for some of my tasks to be shifted to others, which means that I now put a lot of time into training, but eventually that may lessen. And I’ve asked that my desk be moved out of the central entry/mailbox/machine area, and that will happen in December or so (after I’ve managed the move of a dozen people to another building). I have refused some absolutely ridiculous demands and explained why. It ain’t easy, but I’m getting better at it. And I’m counting the years until I can retire - ten more. But before those 10 years are up I intend to be the one WITH an assistant.

  3. Mary Basson 23 Aug 2011 at 10:44 am

    Lessons, lessons, lessons. Pain screams “too much”. Unbelievably crushing fatigue screams “too much”. Emotions stretched to the limit and resulting in seemingly unstoppable tears scream “too much”. These are the most evident signs and there are more.

    When one has extreme chronic pain, extreme chronic fatigue and deals with these elements 24/7/366 NO ONE outside yourself can tell you ANYTHING you don’t know as to what you can do and what you can’t and how long you can keep going and when not. They try to tell you, though, all the time. Some mean well as they love you and want the best for you. Some are just ill informed. For the most part, however the messages are delivered, we must forgive them FOR THEY KNOW NOT.

    When I am forced to crash and have no choice about it then I know for sure, even if I’ve been trying to convince myself otherwise, that I’ve done too much. Often I know it before that time which is better but I must admit that I don’t always stop when I should.

    I feel like one pushes past endurance for many reasons when one is chronically ill. I believe it is partly because we are trying to compensate for what we know we don’t have within ourselves; for what we know we can’t really do; for what we’ve lost. And, I believe this is necessary for the chronically ill in order to keep going emotionally.

    We have to push to do anything and everything. We have to push all the time. We have to push to do even the things we’d like to feel are “fun”. There’s no other choice. It is a way of life.

    Pushing to keep going achieves just that. Otherwise, we might not keep going. We might quit. So, it is very important that we always decide for ourselves what is “too much”. We must only listen to our own minds, hearts, and bodies and only this as the most definitive answer.