Sunday, February 4, 2018

Sunday Stroke Survival: It's Overwhelming!

How many times have you looked at your to-do list and just felt overwhelmed? It feels like you are drowning and you haven't even started yet.

Before my stroke, I was a master juggler. I could do it all. I'd turn mountains of receipts into concise profits and loss statements and do the tax returns for multiple sole proprietorships, partnerships, and corporate entities. Tune the tune of 250 returns a year. At the same time, I'd write multiple books every year, run my own international consulting firm, and care for a family of four or more depending on how many grandkids were around. I didn't feel overwhelmed at all. I had it made until two life altering thing happened. My elder in-laws moved to town and my husband's illness became worse. I still was a master juggler. I kept track of everyone's medications and doctors appointments including mine. I prepared meals to go around, clean and organized everything. I still wasn't overwhelmed by it all. I was Superwoman, Supermom, and Wonder Woman rolled up in little, old me.

And then, I had my first stroke and my second. A screeching halt to not being overwhelmed was the price I paid with them. Everything went into overload to my healing, damaged brain. Instead of handling everything, it became one job at a time. And, I still felt like I was drowning.  By now, the children were grown and my in-laws had passed. God knew I couldn't cope with the extra burdens.

Family get-togethers of more than three people was overwhelming. A load of dishes to wash (even if it was for two people) was overwhelming. A conversation with more than one person was overwhelming. Trying to organize the chores list like cleaning the bathroom was overwhelming. Taking a phone number was excruciating overwhelming without having the other party repeating the number four or five times. Life was/is too complicated.

After almost six years since my first stroke, I wish I could say it has gotten easier, but it hasn't. This from a person who flew across the country for a movie premiere, has talked to numerous groups about living post stroke, buried her husband, and uprooted herself from her previous life to follow her dreams. I have two definite coping skills I use every single stubbornness and my ability to use math. I may not be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide worth a hoot any more, but stay tuned how I used my math skills to cope.

My stubbornness is basically self explanatory.  I refuse to ask for help as a first option. I raised my children to be problem solvers because I was one. They couldn't ask for help until they tried at least twice before they asked for help. Could I do any less? No, I'll try six or seven times. What can I say, I'm an overachiever still even if it's in my own mind.

To establish macro to micro vision, it's simplifying every task. As all of us learned in every math class we ever took, I hear y'all groaning out there.  Break the problem down to the smallest components, and then work the problem. Small things are easy to accomplish. Do those first.

Take a sink load of dirty dishes.
Example: Not my kitchen!
We don't wash dishes every day. There's only two of us so it takes a few days for this amount of dirty dishes to pile up unless it's a heavy cooking day. But when it does my overwhelmed factor kicks in. I've got only two choices: leave it and it gets bigger, or do it.

You simplify the overwhelm into doable. So I'll break it down to the simplest elements. All the silverware and cooking utensils goes into a mug or dirty pitcher. All the individual plates and bowls get stacked. Dirty pots are stacked on the stove as an extended counter. You get the idea. Now my sinks are empty. I'll clean them first. I'll fill one sink with hot soapy water. The other is left empty. I don't look at the huge piles of dishes, I just focus on the silverware. I'll empty the jug into the sink. Then I'll throw all the plastic containers and glasses into the sink. Grease sticks the worst to these so they get the hottest water and the strongest amount of soap. The silverware and cooking utensils soak while I wash up the plastic and glassware. These are put soapy dishes in the empty sink. Then I'll tackle the silverware and utensils. Once the empty sink is full, I'll rinse them all under hot water. I'll use my dishwasher racks to hold them all to dry. By using hot water only to rinse them, the glasses and flatware dry without spots. Pretty neat, huh?

Next comes the mugs and small stuff, dishes and bowls. By this time, the wash water is pretty dirty so I'll drain it and run a fresh batch of soapy water for the pots and lids. When stacking the dishes in the dishwasher, by doing it this way, I fill the top section first, and as  the dishes get larger, I'll use the bottom section only. This way, I only have one rack at a time open instead of switching back and forth. I also know all these dirty dishes won't fit on a standard drying rack. You might ask why I didn't use the dishwasher to wash the dishes in the first place. It's broken and I haven't gotten around to replacing it yet.

By emptying the sink first of all that mess, I was able to work in smaller, more doable batches. The job wasn't so overwhelming. It's just steady work until it's done. I wish the same could be said for the laundry I do.

With family get-togethers, that's another coping skill. I have a huge family. Three generations of 50 people or more at the moderate get-together. Even a small one of just my kids, their spouses, and my grandchildren is 18! It's more than I can handle at one time. I'll find a spot to sit in that's not in the crowd. This way, I'm not surrounded with five or six conversations going at once. I make people come to me. They come in ones or twos and that doesn't overwhelm me. The old days of having ten at the table playing Canasta are over for me. It's a sad reality of my living post stroke and stopping myself from being overwhelmed.

Now, each task I do is simplified first into its smallest components to keep them from being overwhelming. It works with most problems I tackle. I can look back and see that I had a good time or a big job and got it done. I wasn't stressed or overwhelmed. I took it all in stride. This has gotten easier with time. I don't have to think about it so hard any more. I just take tasks from the macro view to the micro view and back again. Then when finished, I can pat myself on the back for a job well done.I may not be a master juggler any more, but I can still conquer a mountain and if I break it down into molehills. But then again. It's harder to trip over mountains. Molehills, that's another story.

Nothing is impossible.


  1. I think we could all learn from that. Breaking things down into smaller chores makes it easier - and more likely that we'll do them.
    For some reason, I'm always the one to rinse a plate for the dishwasher only to discover it's been run and needs to be emptied first...

  2. How do you keep plates, bowls, pots, and pans from spinning around when you wash them with one hand?

    1. Rebecca, Mel crochets these thick dish cloths. I put one in the bottom of the sink. You could also use that rubber shelf liner in the sink. They don't help with glassware, but everything else works.

  3. I just can't leave things to pile up. For me, preventing the overwhelming task is the solution - I don't walk through my house anywhere without picking up as I go. It's important to me that the kitchen counters are always clear, washed off and wiped down (to prevent streaks), so every time I go in there, I'll move things to recycling, carry dishes to their cabinets, or stick things in the dishwasher.

    PLus, plates get stacked neatly in the sink, with a bit of water in each one (to soak before it gets brushed for the dishwasher) and silverware in a bowl to soak. Our sink is deep, so the pile never goes over the top.

    BTW, I've become much more compulsive post-stroke - everything must be in its correct place. That helps me not be overwhelmed.

  4. {{{{hugs}}}} I do understand in a different context. Getting older is making the increasing Fibro even more challenging. Small steps are necessary.


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