Feeling overwhelmed by All The Things

May 20, 2021

I have a bad habit of doing too much. The problem is that I want to do All The Things. Something looks interesting or exciting and I add it to my long list of things to do, which I know I’ll never complete. Then something looks extra interesting and I decide to do it now. Or I notice a thing from my ever-growing list and think, I should really do that now. It seems like a good idea in the moment. But then…. Yeah.

I keep adding new things without taking anything away, and you know what happens? Predictably, I get completely overwhelmed. Of course. It’s so obvious right now, but when I’m in the moment, I don’t realize it’s happening. This time, it got to the point where I realized I didn’t feel like I had time in the middle of the day to read a book or enjoy a spontaneous phone call with a friend. I’m disabled and unable to work full time, but I’m trying to work or be “productive” during as many hours as I can. And sometimes that’s too many hours for my own good. Plus, even my current level is too much, but starting next week I’ll be adding a new, big thing. (It’s so exciting! I’ll tell you all about it after I start.) So last week I decided that enough was enough, and I pulled out a pen and paper and wrote down everything I’ve been doing.

It’s not like I didn’t already know what’s been filling my time, but I need to see it all listed out. I went through the last few weeks and the next few weeks in my calendar. I went through my weekly to-do list. I wrote down the obvious things like paid work and medical appointments. I included my volunteer work and time I’m spending on a book I’m writing. I added in social time with friends. I noted the less-obvious-but-completely-necessary things like cooking, cleaning, daily exercise, and not-daily-but-should-be-daily physical therapy. And then I looked at the list, shook my head, and said out loud, “No wonder I’m so stressed out and overwhelmed.”

The question was, what to do about it? Nothing in that list on its own was burdensome, but it added up to too much. We all have limits on our time and energy. We have limits from our health, jobs, families, and the number of hours in a day, among other things. For me, it’s mainly my health that limits me. I needed to get within my limits.

Everything on my list is important to me, but something’s gotta give. I eventually decided that I care enough about it all that I won’t remove anything, but I will reduce. That volunteer work is too much. So I talked to the other volunteers and one of them is happy to have me hand over several projects to them. That not only reduces the time I’ll spend overall, but also my stress levels and overwhelm, since I’ll have less responsibility there. (I’ll still be volunteering there, but on a lot fewer projects.) Instead of working on my book every week, I’m going to work on it every other week. I hate to cut back on paid work, especially since I have so little of it, but I have to prioritize health appointments and exercise, home stuff (like cooking and laundry), and social time with friends. To make room for those, I’ll be cutting back a little bit on paid work.

I want to do more more more. Always. But my brain is writing checks that my body can’t cash, and that’s no way to live. This past week I’ve been making an effort to take more breaks. I read a little more and worked a little less. That means that some things are getting done more slowly than I’d like. I had to order a supplement that was running low. I also wanted to add a new B vitamin when I placed the order. The week before I had researched several B vitamins online and then called a few companies to ask about their vitamins’ ingredients, and they either said the items contain gluten and/or corn, or they couldn’t tell me. It was stressing me out, and taking way too much time. I was running low on the necessary supplement. So you know what I did? I ordered that supplement and decided the B vitamin has waited this long and it’s ok if it waits a bit longer. Was I happy about it? No. But did I have less stress and a little more time to relax? Yes. And that makes me happier now that it’s done.

I am making a huge effort to not fill every minute. If I have half an hour free before a Zoom call I could try to catch up on email, but usually I just feel overwhelmed and end up scrolling Facebook, which doesn’t help at all. Instead, I am now trying to use that half hour to take a walk, call or text a friend, read a book, or pick up my knitting. Or I check in with my body and realize I’m tired and just need to rest. This is so much better than continuing to do things and not realizing until it’s too late that I overdid it.

The key now will be to keep it up, and to stop trying to squeeze so much stuff into my non-rest time. Just because I am not resting at this minute does not mean I have to “do something.” Ok, maybe at this moment I’m busy typing out a blog post. But you know what I mean. I’ve felt bad about writing on here so much less often, but I knew it was what needed to happen. Then I felt inspired to write on this topic, because it’s one that I’m pretty sure many of you can relate to and I knew I had something to say, and here we are. I had the time and I’m not feeling rushed.

I now have exactly 2.5 hours before I need to do a particular thing later. I have been making a big effort to have fewer items on my to-do list each day, and today I managed it. In those 2.5 hours I don’t have to do anything except take a walk and eat dinner. It would be nice if I could do a few physical therapy exercises, too, but it’s a gorgeous day outside and I might try to sit outside and read a book for a bit. That’s it. Sure, I did lots of things this morning. That happens. I dealt with some paperwork for a medical appointment. I finished filling out a 28 page form for my moderate-income housing and pulled together the accompanying 35 documents (seriously, WTF?!?), which I need to do each year. I took a walk. I spoke to my mom (while I walked – bonus for multitasking!) I ate lunch. I answered some emails and did a little client work and a little volunteer work (just a few minutes of each, but still.) I got advice from a friend. And now I am typing this. Seriously, that is already such a full day! And I feel the need to do more than that?!? That really has to change.

This has been a problem for me for many years. I do too much, cut back, feel like things are going better, add in some new things that strike my interest, and get overwhelmed again. I don’t believe I’ve broken the cycle completely, but if I can be in the “doing better” stage for a little while, I’ll be happy. And for now, that will be enough.

So tell me in the comments, do you struggle with this too? How do you handle it? How do you cut back when you want to do All The Things? I’d love any tips you can share!


How can I be around people?

April 26, 2021

It has been 410 days since I first entered isolation. More than 13 months. At the time, people kept talking about how long this pandemic might last, guessing it could be several weeks, doubting that it would be more than a few months. At the time, I felt that it would be at least a year, maybe closer to two. After all, that’s what the science seemed to say. A few friends agreed. But at the time, that was hard to imagine how much of that would be spent in isolation. Now, more than a year later, I’ve been doing it, and what’s hard to imagine is how it will end for me.

A quick note for context: I live in Massachusetts. Unlike many other countries, the United States never full isolated at the start of the pandemic (or at any other point). Different regions have lifted restrictions in different ways: some have stopped requiring masks, some have reopened schools, some have removed capacity limits on businesses, etc. However, infection levels have never gone low enough to safely open without further spread. I know that many of you are in regions where there were few, or zero, infections at times, and so things reopened. That has never happened here. Yesterday, Massachusetts had 1214 new cases, and today thousands of kids returned to in-person school for the first time, and we continue to reopen more businesses.

Of course, many people have not been isolated this entire time. Some go to work. Some go to restaurants. Many go to grocery stores. But I haven’t done any of that. In some ways, though, I haven’t been isolated, either. I have seen a few doctors. I have seen a few friends and family members at a distance while wearing masks. But up close, there’s been nothing. No visits with loved ones indoors. No hugs. No kisses. No sex. No physical connection. The only people to have touched me the last 13+ months were a few medical practitioners and, well, that’s just not the same.

Now, though, there’s a light on the horizon. I am supposedly fully vaccinated. I will get an antibody test this week and if it is positive, I will feel much better. If it’s negative, though, that’s harder. There are a lot of false negatives, unfortunately. Even if it’s positive, I won’t be going back to “normal.” I will still be mostly alone, but the difference is, I won’t be entirely alone. The plan is to first see my parents. With any luck, I will get to spend Mother’s Day with my mom! We will even get to hug! They will isolate for 10 days and so will I. Then I will spend a night at their home. I’ll get to leave my apartment. I’ll get to be in a house. (It’s strange to think that I haven’t been in a house in more than a year!)

After that, I will visit with a close friend. She and her family have been isolating nearly as much as I have, and when I ask about her exposure risks, she’ll be forthright and honest (and she and I agree on how risky various things are.) At some point soon, I’ll have her kids spend a night or two at my place. It’s something that we did before the pandemic, and in fact, they were supposed to have a sleepover at my place just as the pandemic picked up and we all went into isolation. I have been doing Zoom chats with the kids regularly, but it’s not the same. The visit will be wonderful.

I am excited for all of this. There will be a lot of hugs and snuggles. We’ll hang out indoors without masks, and it will feel somewhat normal. I can hardly wait!

But I am also dreading it.

The idea of being around people, indoors, hugging, without masks, fills me with anxiety. I know, logically, that it will be fine. They will isolate. I will isolate. All of the adults are vaccinated and the kids are doing school remotely from home. I am at higher risk than my friend or her family, or even my parents, and my doctor says this is ok. But still, I am nervous.

I have always been a nervous, cautious person. I have travelled and gone on adventures, but I also used birth control pills and condoms while in a monogamous relationship, just in case. I like having a backup plan for big things. And this virus, well, it’s a big thing. But I can’t stay in isolation forever. Well, I can, but I know that I won’t. Sooner or later, I will be around people again. I could wait, I know that, but now feels the right time to take these baby steps. It’s not like I’m going to eat in a restaurant or attend a concert. Visiting my parents would be me going to their house, and us staying in their house, except for maybe a masked walk in the neighborhood. Ditto for my visit with my friends (or them visiting me – we haven’t worked that part out yet.) But still, I’m nervous.

My hope is that once I am there, in person, that I will feel better. My hope is that it will feel normal and natural and safe. My hope is that I will relax and enjoy myself. I just can’t quite seem to picture any of that. Yet.


Vaccine ableism

March 19, 2021

For weeks, whenever someone asked me when I would be eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine, I told them I would be eligible at the start of Phase 2. They nodded. It made sense. It made sense to me, too. After all, I have a bunch of risk factors. Phase 1 was for medical personnel, and Phase 2 would be for folks with risk factors due to age and/or health conditions, as well as essential workers who weren’t covered in Phase 1 (grocery store worker, utility workers, delivery workers, etc.). Phase 3 was for everyone else. The first part of Phase 2 was for folks who were 65+ or had 2 or more co-morbidities, which I knew I had. But somehow, oddly, I was wrong.

I started to suspect something when I saw the list of conditions that Massachusetts was counting as co-morbidities. At the time, the state’s website simply offered a link to the CDC’s website. The CDC (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) offered two lists. The first list was for more serious conditions. I didn’t have anything on that list. The second list was where I fell. I have 5 different conditions/medications that fit into that list. But for some reason, Massachusetts wasn’t using the second list, only the first one.

Then Massachusetts did something mysterious: they added smoking and obesity to the list of eligible conditions. So now people I knew were qualifying because they smoked and were obese but were otherwise totally health. Meanwhile, I wasn’t eligible yet despite having multiple autoimmune conditions and taking an immunosuppressant medication, in addition to other things that were also suspected to be co-morbidities, like central complex sleep apnea. In fact, I wasn’t going to be eligible early at all. Nope, I was getting lumped in with the general population in Phase 3. WTF???

Over and over friends would ask, when are you eligible? Over and over I responded, “I’m not eligible until the general population.” I lost track of the number of times someone said, “I can’t believe I’m eligible before you!” or asked “Why the hell aren’t you eligible before me?” (Spoiler alert: the answer is ableism.) I watched friends with similar health conditions getting vaccinated in other states. I watched friends get vaccinated because they were technically eligible, even though it wasn’t intended for them. For example, one was eligible because she works for a hospital, even though she works in administration, having no contact with patients, and has been working at home all year.

Meanwhile, at my last medical appointment my doctor said, “You need to get the vaccine as soon as possible.” That was immediately followed with, “You aren’t eligible until Phase 3.” I tried to convince myself that waiting wouldn’t matter. After all, I’m staying at home, right? But what happens when I can’t stay home? What really changed my mind was the breast cancer scare I had several weeks ago. I absolutely had to be seen in person. What happens the next time I have to see a doctor in person? Because sooner or later, it will happen again. The vaccine won’t protect me 100%, but it’s a good start.

And to me, that’s the point. Yes, everyone wants the vaccine. But while some folks want to get it so they can eat at a restaurant or hang out with friends (both very important, and I’m definitely not negating the importance of either one), those are optional. There are ways to see people outdoors and at a distance with masks on. Meanwhile, some folks must get medical care, in person, up close, and indoors. Yes, medical offices take precautions. Still, these are not optional visits, and we should be as protected as possible.

Are there folks who need a lot more medical care than me? Yes. Are there folks who are at much higher risk of Covid complications? You bet. I’m not suggesting that people like me should have been first in line. Not for a second. I am saying unequivocally, without the slightest hesitation, that we should not be last in line. It is inexcusable.

This is nothing short of ableism. I have had many doctors tell me that I am at higher risk. My rheumatologist keeps reminding me to stay isolated. I have been following the science. I see folks who have higher risk factors than me who are likewise not eligible until the general population. And yet, Massachusetts did not take us into account. Who determined the order of the vaccine eligibility? Were there doctors and scientists involved? How on Earth did this happen? Why allow folks on that first CDC list but not the second? Why allow people who are obese and have type 2 diabetes to get vaccinated at the start of Phase 2 but not allow someone with type 1 diabetes and severe asthma until the end of Phase 2, and not allow someone who is 54 years old with type 1 diabetes and liver disease until the general population? This makes no sense.

This reminds me of one year ago, in the spring of 2020, when we were first learning about the risk factors of having severe complications from this horrible virus. Over and over people said that most folks shouldn’t worry too much because it mostly just effected the sick and elderly. They were saying, “I’m not worried because I’ll probably be fine, it’ll just kill others.” They were saying that they didn’t care about our lives. That our lives didn’t matter as much. That our lives had less value. Well, fuck that. Our lives have plenty of value and suggesting that it’s okay for those who are sick and/or elderly to become incredibly ill and possibly die is horrifying and inexcusable.

And now, one year later, so many who are sick and older are told to wait because their/our co-morbidities don’t count. What bullshit!

This week, Massachusetts announced that in one month everyone will be eligible for the vaccine. So many disabled people, already at a disadvantage because of difficulty accessing the system, will be forced to compete with healthy, less-at-risk folks for those coveted timeslots. If the past is any indication of the future, a lot of disabled folks will end up at the end of the line, behind healthy folks. This is not ok.

There is nothing I can do about this. I called the governor’s office and reached out on social media. I have spoken up about it in the few ways that I could. I know that this post won’t change anything. But hey, this site is called Chronic Rants, after all, so I am ranting. I am ranting because once again, the government is being ableist and getting away with it and it makes me want to scream.

Maybe we shouldn’t be first, but we absolutely should not be last.


Waves of relief

March 3, 2021

Waiting for the biopsy results was the longest two weeks I’d ever experienced. Why did the pathology lab have to be backed up now, of all times? I was terrified. If it was breast cancer, I wasn’t sure if I could handle it. This might just be the thing that broke me. The thing that was one thing too many. Who even knew that breast cancer could present as a skin irritation? I thought I was seeing the dermatologist for something weird, but benign, and now I was suddenly waiting for biopsy results. Would would I do if it was cancer?

That was more than a dozen years ago. The results came back negative, and I was relieved, and went on with my life. Until two weeks ago. Two weeks ago, I happened to see something weird in my peripheral vision as I passed the bathroom mirror. I looked closer. I had something weird on the side of my breast. It looked like maybe a pimple that had gotten irritated and popped, then scabbed over. Weird. I know pimples on breasts are possible, but I don’t usually get them there. I moved on.

The next day I took another look. The scab looked green-ish and the red area around it had grown larger and darker. Uh oh. I thought of that other time, more than a dozen years ago. It was after hours, but the next morning I called my nurse practitioner’s office and set up a telehealth appointment. My NP is a women’s health specialist, and really knows what she’s doing. I waited anxiously for the next day’s appointment. Then it occurred to me to send in photos. As soon as she saw the photos, the NP told me to come in, and mentioned that we might need to schedule a mammogram. Now it was Saturday, and they were about to finish seeing patients for the day. They didn’t see patients on Sundays and the scheduler wouldn’t be in until Monday. I waited. And waited.

Finally it was Monday, and I reached out first thing to get an appointment. The soonest was Wednesday, but I asked the scheduler to call me if there were any cancellations. I was a nervous wreck. For the first two days I had told myself that I was overreacting by even considering the possibility that this was anything other than benign, but when my NP mentioned a potential mammogram, I knew it wasn’t all in my head. Like I had all those years ago, I wondered if I could handle cancer. I wondered if it would be the thing that broke me. But this time, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be. I would deal with it, somehow.

I was fairly sure that even if this wasn’t cancerous, it was probably infected. The center scab had come off, then scabbed again, then come off again, even though I was careful not to touch it. Each time the scab came off, it oozed. The center was yellow/green and the surrounding area was red. This was not good, whatever it was. But I had to wait.

The timing was odd. I had my first period in at least a year. I was taking antibiotics for SIBO, a gut issue. Those antibiotics target the gut, though, and wouldn’t help this. I hadn’t been indoors anyplace in 5 months. But if ever there was a time to go indoors despite the pandemic, this was it. This all ran through my head for days. Then on Tuesday, as I sat at my kitchen table sewing masks, the phone rang. There was a cancellation at 1pm. I looked at the clock: 12:21pm. I live 35 minutes away. I took it without hesitation. I shut off the sewing machine, threw my things in a bag, and ran out the door. I ate my lunch in the car with my hands, thankful that I had leftovers available. A cold hamburger patty, cold roasted potatoes, and cold salad never tasted so good.

Even while highly on edge about the thing on my breast, I noticed and was grateful for the office’s excellent Covid protocols. The assistant took my vitals. Then I sat in the room while my NP called me on my cell phone (which I’d been instructed to bring for this purpose) and asked me to explain the situation. This minimized our time together in the room. She came in and washed her hands carefully while clearly trying to distract me with neutral conversation. Then she came over to examine me. It was my first physical contact with a human in months, but I didn’t even notice that part. The only thing I processed was her response: she was relieved. It wasn’t cancer.

I left that office with a prescription for antibiotic ointment and with the confidence that that open sore was not indicative of breast cancer. Then I celebrated. The day before I’d baked cookies, which I ate as comfort food because I was stressed out. Now I ate them to celebrate. I blew off all responsibilities and spent the afternoon playing computer games, taking walks, and relaxing. I happened to see a neighbor’s adorable puppy on one walk, and had a lot of fun playing with him. What a joy!

The next day, I woke up and remembered it all immediately. Again, I felt relieved. Again, I had a relaxing day with few responsibilities. It was just what I needed after such a harrowing week.

Of course, responsibilities can’t be held at bay forever, and I am back to doing the things that must be done. Still, I am hugely relieved. As I put the antibiotic ointment on my breast three times a day and notice that the scab has not reopened and the redness has continued to shrink and fade, I feel the relief all over again. This could have been so much worse. So many times, my body has defied the odds and given me some new terrible condition, but not this time. So this time, I’m celebrating.


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