September 10th, 2017. 2:09am. How very specific. Why would I know that exact time? I’d been lying awake, frequently checking the clock to see what time it was, hoping I’d fallen asleep for even a few moments – but I hadn’t. I hadn’t slept much since September 5th. I was lying on the floor – up against the door in the guest bedroom of our son, daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters, in their home in a suburb of Atlanta, GA.
September 5th, 2017. My husband, Jack, and I evacuated from our home in Naples, Florida. As had all of us in the southern United States, I’d been watching the path of hurricane Irma. By then I knew Irma was coming and was most likely going to make a direct hit on Naples, FL – which it did on September 10th. At that time, Jack and I were in the fifth year of living with his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Keeping him in a routine is vital to his ability to function and be at peace. I knew that. I also knew that whether we stayed or left, the storm would take him completely out of his routine. I didn’t know if I could keep him safe in Naples either during or after the hurricane. I did know we had a better chance if we evacuated, so off we went.
It’s hard to describe how incredibly difficult this was on Jack. Once we left Naples, I was the only person he recognized – even when we got to the home of our family. For three weeks, the only place he found peace in his waking hours was when he was sitting in church. The frustration and confusion was overwhelming for him.
With a neurocognitive disorder, your brain has to work harder. He was exhausted, disoriented, and frightened – especially at night. He would wake up to go to the bathroom, not recognize where he was, not be able to orient himself, and be deep in the throws of what I call ‘dementia moments’ – moments when his mind doesn’t support what’s going on. When your mind doesn’t support you, your behaviors don’t either.
I laid on the floor in front of the door at night so he couldn’t get out if he woke up and I didn’t hear him. Not recognizing his surroundings or the rest of the family who were in their bedrooms sleeping, not knowing there were stairs just down the hall, there was too much at risk for him to be alone. With his diagnosis, night time was the worst time for him and, if possible, I didn’t want the rest of the family to be impacted.
I’d get up with him, get him to the bathroom, try to calm him, and try to get him back to our room. None of this made sense to him. His emotions would escalate and it would sometimes take me an hour to get him the 6 feet from the bathroom to our bedroom, all the while trying not to disturb the rest of the family.
This was our life for the three weeks we were evacuated from our home.
Between the lack of sleep, staying by Jack’s side 24/7, not being able to eliminate his overwhelm, and navigating Irma having hit our home, I was definitely overwhelmed.
Have You Ever…
Have you ever felt that sense of not knowing what to do, that the strength of your feelings outmatches your ability to manage them, and you can’t think clearly?
Have you ever had that feeling of helpless and hopeless – wanting to do something and not knowing where to start or who to talk with?
Have you ever found yourself in a stressful experience and it seemed like things kept coming at you faster and faster? There was too much to think about and you couldn’t see what you later realized had been right in front of you?
Have you ever felt incredibly overwhelmed by something, gotten through it, one day heard someone tell their story of overwhelm and thought: “Wow, that’s worse than mine.” (Hint – No it isn’t. It’s just different.)
What is Overwhelm?
If you’ve felt any of these, you’ve felt overwhelm.
Even the definition of overwhelm is overwhelming:
- Give too much of a thing to (someone)
- To cause (someone) to have too many things to deal with
- Bury or drown beneath a huge mass
- Defeat completely.
Overwhelm comes from the word ‘whelm’. It means
- Engulf, submerge, or bury (someone or something)
- An act or instance of flowing or heaping up abundantly
- A surge.
None of these sound good.
Part of what’s overwhelming about overwhelm is it’s not singular. There’s no one cause. A band-aid doesn’t fix it and there’s not a pill to eliminate it.
It’s not something thing we just ‘deal with’ and move on from. Overwhelm has so many more layers than that. It isn’t meant to be compared, ranked, or judged – for ourselves or with others. It is a unique and specific combination of our thoughts, feelings, and actions in our experiences.
Help is All Around Us – We May Not be Able to See it
As you read the highlights of my story, you may have asked yourself why I didn’t mention getting help from our family. I did. They were amazing. Here we were, all of a sudden coming to stay with them, disrupting their schedule, and placing a burden on them. Our young granddaughters were confused by their Pop Pop – and a little afraid. He was normally so loving and during our visit he was anything but. I was trying to do whatever I could not to disrupt their lives and I didn’t want them to know how much Jack was struggling. (This is an example of being so overwhelmed that, at the time, I couldn’t see what was right in front of me. Of course they would have done more to help if they’d known or if I’d asked.)
I had made a reservation at a hotel, beginning September 10th, because in my rational mind, I didn’t want us to keep burdening them (Again, my thoughts, definitely not theirs!). As the days went on, I kept thinking of what I would have to do to keep Jack safe at a hotel, and I got more and more afraid. Yep, this added to my overwhelm. I finally realized on the 9th that the risks for both Jack and me were too high and I asked them if we could stay. They had been telling me we could stay and when I went to them, they were very supportive and I broke down in tears of relief. (Yes, there is another incredibly valuable lesson in this that I’ll share it in another article. It’s all about letting go of what seems rational based on the way things used to be. Stay tuned.)
During our time in Atlanta, I finalized my choice for the continuing care community I would move Jack into when we returned home. I’d already done my research and this trip clarified for me that what was best for Jack was to live in an environment that was simple and consistent. I moved him to his new home on October 7th, 2017, and his life has since become much calmer.
“I Got Through It”
Once Jack was settled in his new home, I finally had time to reflect on my experience. I knew I hadn’t processed it, I’d just gotten through it.
Have you ever had an experience that you reflect on and all you can say is: “I got through it.”? I’m sharing what I learned so you won’t have to say that – or say it again.
I realized the changes were happening to me – not for me. I’ve learned we’re meant to thrive in our lives and this was an example of anything but thriving.
I didn’t want this just to be an experience I got through. If I did, I realized the next time – and I knew there would be a next time – would be more of the same. I wanted to learn from this experience so I could intentionally navigate changes in my life, and when they occurred they would serve to positively transform me.
Three things frame how I now navigate transitions, so they take me from where I am to “What else is possible?”
1. You are always at choice.
You may not think you have choices. You may feel like choices have been made for you and there’s nothing you can do. You may not like the choices you have. You may not know what other choices there are. You may not want to make a choice – that’s actually a choice.
Any or all of these may be true – AND – you are always at choice.
The definition of choice is:
The opportunity or power to choose between two or more possibilities
The opportunity or power to make a decision
A range of things that can be chosen.
When you know the questions to ask so you see your choices, shift your perspective, and open up to new potential and possibilities, you won’t be stuck in overwhelm. You’re now able to select freely and after consideration. You’re now able to choose.
You are always at choice.
“You are not the victim of the world, but rather the master of your own destiny. It is your choices and decisions that determine your destiny.” Roy T. Bennett
2. Unless it is the end of the world, it’s not the end of the world.
We all survived our evacuation experience. There were moments I didn’t know if or how we would. When we left Atlanta for the ten hour drive back home to Naples, I was trying my best to stay calm for Jack and I was on edge the entire trip. I was continuously looking at Jack to make sure he didn’t open the door to get out, making sure I could get him in and out of the car at rest stops, and yes, making sure we drove safely home to whatever home would look like when we arrived. It was something I never want to experience again, but, while at times I thought it might be, it wasn’t the end of the world.
Knowing I’m at choice, and knowing how to see my choices, I’m now able to look back on this experience and choose my perspective – choose how this experience frames my world.
“While our pasts remind us, they don’t have to define us.” Andy Stanley – Lead Pastor of NorthPoint Community Church
When I look back at this experience do I want to have felt like I was the victim of a terrible disease? Do I want to remember constantly feeling overwhelmed, not remembering joy in our moments together? Do I want to see that I used this experience to frame the rest of my journey with Jack as frustrating and challenging?
Do I want to look back and realize how much I learned about myself, how deeply I began to understand the disease so I could help Jack live his best life. Do I want to feel gratitude for how valuable these insights are for me now living my best life and my life purpose – helping others live their best lives?
I am always at choice. I get to choose. You’re always at choice. You get to choose. When you’re in a challenging experience, it may seem like it’s the end of the world. It may not seem like there’s a path. You may not yet know your path, but there is a path.
With each change that comes my way, I’m now able to map out my path. It’s more than just a wandering path. I have the guideposts of knowing the questions to ask that light the way of each step on my path. I have the guardrails of clearly understanding how my personality, purpose, beliefs, and values support – not sabotage – me. They keep me from straying off course – or falling into the abyss of overwhelm – or feeling like it’s the end of the world.
Unless it is the end of the world, it’s not the end of the world.
3. The Only Thing Constant is Change
This popular phrase had its origins around 500BCE, when Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher of Ephesus, is quoted as saying:
“Change is the only constant in life.” Heraclitus
He was a wise man!
Change is Part of – Not Power Over – Our Lives
Change and choice depend on each other. With each change, we face choices. When we give ourselves permission to choose the path of our change we’re able to change our choices.
When we know how to make choices, it’s easier for us to live the best of the definition of change:
- To make a shift
- To give a different position, course or direction to
- To undergo transformation, transition, or substitution.
It’s Reasonable We Wouldn’t Know
It’s reasonable we wouldn’t know how to navigate transitions, these changes in our lives. It’s a learned skill. Perhaps we haven’t:
- Been taught how
- Had it modeled for us, or
- Seen intentionally navigating transitions in action.
I Learned it The Hard Way – I Don’t Want That for You!
I wasn’t taught a process to navigate them and I wasn’t very skilled at navigating them. I hadn’t thought about what it looked like to be intentional about them. I’m sharing this with you because I learned it for myself – yes, the hard way.
When I was feeling like it was the end of the world, didn’t know I was at choice and changes kept coming at me, I realized I was not going to live my life this way anymore. I created the 5-step process to intentionally navigate transitions in our lives – first for me and now for you.
Today, I move forward confidently, with the clarity of what I want, why I want it, how to get it, how I’ll feel, and what my life will look like when I get there. This is thriving, living my best life, in each experience of my life. I’m able to make wise choices in the most challenging moments and see beauty in the tiniest moments.
I don’t want you to experience struggles like I went through. I do want you to experience what your life can be like once you learn to intentionally navigate these changes, these transitions in your life.
Imagine waking up every day feeling confident and secure. When changes come, whether gradually or instantly, whether amazing or challenging, you have the process to have them happen for you – not to you.
Imagine changes not leaving you feeling overwhelmed. You know what to do, how to do it, what you want to do, and why. Even in your most challenging moments, unless it is the end of the world, you’ll know it’s not the end of the world. You’ll know you are always at choice.
“When you are finished changing, you are finished.” Benjamin Franklin
Reimagine overwhelm being replaced by unquenchable curiosity to explore and embrace what else is possible.
Four Questions for You
Here are four questions for you to find your starting point on your path forward:
Stated in the positive, specifically what do I want?
For what exact purpose do I want this?
How will I feel, what will I think, how will I act when I’ve achieved it?
What will this outcome get for me or allow me to do?
If you’re ready to explore what’s possible for you, let’s have a conversation. My email address is: email@example.com