When Life Smacks You Upside the Head – Handling Overwhelm

You know those times in your life that are so happy, so blissful, that you feel like something bad is creeping around the corner? And then you feel bad for feeling that way, like instead of something bad happening, you attract something bad toward you?

No? Is that just my version of mania?

Two weeks ago, I was so blissfully happy. I went to my bi-monthly therapy appointment with nothing much to say, so I rambled about activities in my life and made big gestures with my hands while sitting on her big, fluffy couch. I took a walk in the sun and enjoyed the rays of sunlight on my face. I eagerly took in each kick, roll, hiccup and rumble from the little boy inside my belly and encouraged him with my words and my hands. I sang.

Then the next week felt like all the pretty pictures were being knocked off the walls, and every time I put one back up, another would come crashing down. People I trusted let me down, arguments flared into places that made my eyes get wide and my head cock to the side while I thought, Did that just happen?, family let me down, and I had to take on more work and more stress in order to hold things together.

So I called on my support system. I spoke compassionately to those letting me down. I helped forge solutions. I straightened up the pictures on the walls again.

In the meantime, I went to a routine check up at my midwives office, the first checkup for my third trimester. All the regular checks looked great, and then I had to do what’s called a glucose screening test. This test is a routine test to screen for women who might be at high risk for developing gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes happens when the hormones from the placenta interfere with your pancreas and its ability to produce insulin. The result is that you experience greater blood sugar levels, which can be a risk to you and your baby. Because the condition is largely related to hormones, there’s not much you can do to prevent it. In fact, half of women who are diagnosed have none of the recognized risk factors.

So this isn’t a matter of doing the right things and having the right outcome, necessarily. But there is a cultural myth floating around that says that women who don’t take care of themselves get gestational diabetes, and those who do all the right things avoid it.

It’s a myth because it’s bullshit. But that doesn’t mean that some part of me doesn’t believe it.

The screening test does not determine whether or not you have gestational diabetes, it just indicates whether more accurate testing is needed. I was sure I would pass this test with no problems – after all, I exercise regularly, take extra walks, eat a low-fodmap diet (there aren’t many sugars in that diet!), I’m at a healthy weight, and there’s no family history of diabetes.

Basically, I thought that because I was doing all the right things, nothing bad could happen. This, my friends, is delusional thinking at it’s finest. It’s believing that you have complete control over life with your actions, as if you have no subconscious calling any shots. It’s believing that you are the exception, not the rule.

And from a highly sensitive person standpoint, this position is fairly common. Not believing we are the exception, but rather trying so hard to do all the things right in order to avoid the pain and confusion that comes from conflict, problems and pain. We often believe that if we just do everything right, everything will be all right.

The problem is that right and wrong don’t necessarily apply directly to our bodies and relationships. Or most of our lives, really. So believing in doing things the right way, and wrapping any of our sense of self or safety around that, will inevitably lead to disappointment.

That day at midwives office, I smiled as I left, feeling happy again. Finally. Because I felt in control.

The next night, after a lovely night of entertaining friends, I got an email from my midwife that my test had come back high and I would need to go in for further testing, which she would set up right away.

And right then, all those good feelings, all that effort put back in to righting things, disappeared like smoke from the campfire.

My body tensed. My mind started circling. I had only read a few things about gestational diabetes. I didn’t know what the protocol was or the possible complications. I didn’t know what my next 12 weeks of pregnancy might look like. I didn’t know if I was now somehow hurting my unborn baby, because I ate the wrong thing and didn’t walk at a certain time and didn’t have enough insulin and, and, and . . .

I basically got caught in an overwhelm spiral.

As highly sensitive people, this can happen to us at the drop of a hat. And while this can happen to all people, what I’ve noticed is that the stress it causes can be harder on our systems. For example, now that my mind was spinning, I couldn’t wind down to sleep. I stayed up researching. Then I had terrible anxiety dreams and popped awake in the wee hours of the morning. I cried a lot (that might just be the pregnancy, I’ve been extra teary these last six months). I developed a migraine. The next morning, I got up to make some decaf and sit and read, afraid to eat for fear that I might spike my blood sugar. When I did eat, I chose eggs and avocado, things I figured couldn’t affect blood sugar too much. Then I went for a walk, just in case.

I was a pile of nerves, talking in circles, reading articles, gathering information, and waiting for my midwife to get back to me (on a Sunday!) to give me more information about what the high risk testing meant. Did just going mean that I probably had gestational diabetes? Were there false positives? If I had it, how did I control it? What are the risks to my baby? Can I still work with you and the birth plan we’ve set out, or do I need to process the feelings of losing my caregivers and my plan, too?

Finally, at about two in the afternoon, I stopped myself. I took my mind firmly by the reigns and said, “Okay, let’s get a few things straight. You’ve got today to do this and that’s it. Today, you can fall apart and be sad and scared and let yourself spin out of control. But there will be none of this tomorrow. No adjusting your diet, no doing anything differently because you don’t know what is going on yet. Okay? So do your research, but call on your internal cavalry, too, because when tomorrow comes, we’re just doing this – we’re just going to bravely face the next step and the next, doing the best we can, and surrendering what comes next. Okay?”

Then I pulled out my bag of tools – the ones I teach other HSPs in the Sensitive Superhero Academy – and used them. My mind stopped fighting me and all the tension drained from my body.

I fell into a puddle on the sofa. I asked my husband to pick up my favorite burrito for dinner. And then I rested, knowing that tomorrow would be better. That I could see how I got caught up in a story of fear and worry programming that may or may not have anything to do with reality.

When you get caught up in stories of fear, you block the opportunity to learn something new. You essentially get caught up in the past, in how your mind learned to process threat back before you had words to identify threat. You lose the ability to let the present moment teach you.

This is why I gave myself that timeline – you have today to fall apart and that’s it. It gives me ample time to process my emotions – I get to cry and be as scared and as angry as possible in that one day. And here’s what happens when you give yourself that kind of permission – the emotions don’t last as long. Which means they aren’t as scary.

The surefire way to drag out an uncomfortable internal situation is to restrict your ability to feel your emotions. To save them for later. To be afraid to show them.

When, instead you let them all out – when you give yourself permission and say, Okay, right now, you’ve got 90 minutes to be as sad as you can – they release and then they are done. That’s it. They’re over.

And then the learning can begin.

Today, I’m emailing with my midwife and setting up my next test. I’m keeping my energy space grounded and clear. And I’m surrendering to this process. It’s not up for me to decide. I either have insulin resistance due to pregnancy hormones, or I don’t. Either way, I can manage. Either way, I can learn. And either way, I can surrender to what is and move on from there.


One Comment on “When Life Smacks You Upside the Head – Handling Overwhelm”

  1. Thank you Anna for sharing your experience! It so validating of the overwhelm I have dealt with in my life. And it helps to hear about positive and patient ways in which I could treat myself through it. Really appreciate this.

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