The Overwhelm

Personal / Thursday, November 5th, 2020

I started writing this weeks ago. That I’m posting it days after election day is a bit on the nose, but that wasn’t even totally the catalyst for this, so much as just *gestures broadly* everything going on. And of course the election/government is a big part of that. Also this is long and stupid so if you aren’t me revisiting 2020!Jen, there’s no pressure to actually read this monstrosity.✌

I seize up more often. I sleep less. I eat less. I move less. I cry more. I create less. I spend less. I read less, write less, watch less, do less. I feel less. I feel more. I feel too much. I feel everything, every tier, all at once, and it has no where to go but deep inside of me. It’s made its home in me, the overwhelm.

I wish it was easier for the emotional part of my brain to not take complete control like it does. The logic is there. All of the above things are concerning individually, and alarming as a whole, I know. I know. I know.

I’ve been in therapy for over a year now and I’d be remiss to not mention it, to not sing its praises as helping me and making things Not As Bad. I had to stop taking the anti-depressants my doctor put me on almost instantly because they gave me constant headaches, so that’s still to be determined while my doctor is on a leave of absence, unfortunately for me.

Ironically, I have had so many stress headaches the last two weeks, reminiscent of that week on pills, and no ibuprofen or prescription migraine pills have been able to help.

My husband has been an endless stream of support, and I feel a bit bad for him (and me) that the pandemic ate up almost half of our first year of marriage. If we felt sure we were compatible in the Before Times, truly what a trial to know with even less doubt that I’ve found my person. Both of these relationships–with my husband and with my therapist–require patience, trust, and lots of small steps. It’s hard to remember that some times with therapy though. Some times, again, despite all logic, I get frustrated that I’m not “fixed” or “cured” or that one bad spell means all the progress I made cancels out, or any other harmful and unrealistic thoughts about the thing I’m going to to avoid those things. That, just because those thoughts are still there, that I still wander off to the Dark Place as my partner and I call it, doesn’t mean it isn’t working. It just doesn’t work like that.

This is all a me problem, plain and simple. It’s been, well before I even knew he existed and became a partner for the rest of my life. It’s been before I even knew it lived in me, before I had the words and courage to articulate and challenge it.

We are taught to view progress as a consistently increasing line up, when in reality it is all over the place. Progress is a mountain range, filled with escalations and dips, plateaus and other areas of flat ground. There are unexpected obstacles and moments of respite. Maybe you get mixed up and take the wrong trail, have to back track. Maybe you get hurt and have to do a full retreat until your better again. Like actual hiking, it makes me feel like I am never enough. But you keep going because you don’t really have much other choice.

Whenever I sit at my desk to work on my own stuff, for my own company, my heart just starts beating wildly. Not in a Mary Oliver way, mind you, but in a, oh, I see we are very anxious about ~pUtTinG OuRSelVeS OuT THerE.~ I haven’t written anything for myself in months outside of a few pieces that I either blasted out in one spaced out moment, or trickled out slowly over weeks as if each keystroke had been a pin prick to my thumb.

I’ve always struggled with not feeling good enough, feeling like, “who am I to act like an authority figure on this subject” or mentally removed myself so far from the possibility that I could do something that I never let myself ever try so many things. I’ll be paralyzed due to high expectations whether it’s something I’ve done for decades and am quite confident in, or something I’ve never done before and high expectations are foolish, unhelpful, and illogical. Ideation has always been a struggle for me. How in depth do I go about a topic? Am I educated enough to be the one to speak on this? Am I good enough to do the things I want to do?

All of these are a bit silly because the problems would all go away if I just worked more. Got out my shitty first draft, my several shitty first drafts, my 10,000 attentive, active, intentional hours of practice

Progress isn’t a mountain with an uphill climb, but a full, goddam mountain range. Lol progress is not the mountain emoji. We have to stop being so reductive about it.

One of the biggest takeaways from hashing out my mental health with an absolutely wonderful hired stranger weekly is the sentiment that empathy without boundaries is self-destruction. The same thing can also be immediately uncovered in a 70 minute phone call with your mom, apparently. Thanks, Mom!

So much of this year has been about balance–or a lack of balance. Of staying informed without becoming despaired and overwhelmed. Of knowing when you need a break, of knowing that you aren’t able to function at maximum capacity like you could previously, even if everyone around you seems to be, or are equally plagued by capitalism and tying their identity to their productivity. Right now I struggle with the desire to get more involved but being aware of how fragile my mental state has been. Of knowing how sensitive I am to things and trying to guard myself. But because of that gift/curse, I should get more involved. I should put myself out there. Diffusion of responsibility and generally apathy are very real things that scare me in the fallout, no matter what the next year holds.

How is there supposed to be balance when things are so weighted down in one direction? Having event after event thrown at us this year and being expected to act like things are “normal.” How can I judge others from turning away when that’s all I want to do?

Now I’m the one being reductive. Of course it’s not a binary situation, where you’re either Involved or a hermit. It’s…a balance.


Ideally, you can gauge when it’s time to take a step back, and how big of a step it is you need. It’s just harder this year because there are not past experiences to draw from for comparison. Nothing in my life has been like this. I’ve had days or weeks of extreme pain via injury or loss of a loved on. I’ve been so stressed about a project or school or work to the point of despair. I’ve seen stories around the world and have been grateful to not experience many things. But I have not experienced this constant humming of uncertainty for such a ridiculously sustained period of time, with little support and no reprieves while new things get added to it daily. I haven’t experienced an administration that acted so apathetic to the average civilian.

I retreated on election day. I retreated for the whole Halloween weekend, avoiding my phone, avoiding social media. I avoided activities on my computer even, knowing I am very prone to mindlessly Ctrl-T and open twitter, or catch myself opening Instagram, closing it, then immediately doing it again. This week has been ebooks and my record player. I’ve been thinking about deleting facebook and even floated the idea on there (and ultimately didn’t since I have lots of friends from different events/periods of my life on there…) but now I do want to. We won’t know the full election results for a bit, and however it goes, I’m disheartened at this country. I’ll obviously be a lot more if it’s red again. Between the environmental protection rollbacks, mishandling of the pandemic, and blatant racism, my mental health will not be great. So that will absolutely need time to figure out some sort of false balance. But I think that sentiment will be true regardless. Things won’t suddenly get better. I’m still not a fan of the blue guy, and am fucking over the dnc’s centrist “safe” bullshit.

So it’s me figuring out what I want to do and what I can do. For myself and for others. For my internal life and my external one.

I said this in my last blog post, but I’ve been struggling to figure out what sort of goals I want for myself for the next four years of my life. That’s not because of the election cycle–that’s just when I’ll be 35 and that’s as good a benchmark as any to see if I am continuing to become the person I want to be. It will hopefully help me stay on a course I actually want before I blink and I am 40 and officially “over the hill” as they say, with so many empty promises I made to myself. I don’t want that. At the same time, it feels selfish to focus on myself, even though this is my blog, and it’s my life.

I guess that sort of thinking is what I blame for us getting into this mess in the first place–of people being so uncaring of others’ experiences. That things have split in such an unnaturally binary way that nuance and actual discussion and debate on issues has died. That people don’t want their way of life to change in the slightest to make others’ lives significantly better. And I know that’s not all of it. I know so much of it is systemic and caused by a few at the top. Disenfranchisement and disinformation. Anti-intellectualism and a lack of media-literacy. The idea that a group is easier to control when divided. Infighting to distract from real issues. Blaming and holding average individuals accountable instead of corporations and people with the majority of the wealth.

At this point I’m just rambling I guess. I’m just not sure what to do with myself. But that’s sort of been the norm for a very long time.

I guess I am wondering what I should be doing for myself and my career and my stability for the next few years, but I am also wondering what I can start doing now, in 2020 to try to make it so that we don’t have an election where more people voted for a misogynistic apathetic environment-hating racist than they did before he actively showed us through policy action (and inaction) what he was and what he valued. That more people voted for him despite everything he’s said and done… is not shocking. He wasn’t a catalyst the way we like to think he was. He was a mirror reflecting what was already there.

So what can we collectively do now to empower progressives in red states to continue fighting? To continue trying to understand more people? To ensure they aren’t disenfranchised? How can we get the dnc to stop being so fucking centrist? How can we get them to fucking fight fire with fire? How can we get people to stop lumping Latinos together when we’re all from very different backgrounds and have very different priorities and are not a monolith? How can we get Fox News to not be allowed to call itself ‘news.’ How can we get people to abandon facebook and/or hold them accountable? How do we get rid of the electoral college? What do we start doing now to make sure this never happens again? What are we going to do about people with media illiteracy and technological illiteracy who have now been conditioned to not question random things floated to them on places like facebook? How do we patch the clear loopholes and technicalities he exploited during office because no one ever thought a president would do certain things? How do we actually hold people who didn’t follow the hatch act accountable? How do we get men and self-loathing women out of other people’s vaginas so I’m not screaming about my birth control and bodily autonomy every other month?

What do we start doing now to make sure this never happens again…

How do we live with balance with ALL OF THAT AND MORE to worry about?

There’s no such thing as truly linear progress…but I can help clear a path through the mountain range. I’m sort of a crappy hiker though…so it’ll certainly be a challenge for me to even figure things out for myself.

Growing up, it always seemed like I’d cross this invisible threshold, enter a magic circle of adulthood and I’d be a competent, fully realized human. As I’ve gotten older it’s clear how little anyone really knows what they are doing. It’s amazing to me that there are people like surgeons who have to have such rock solid certainty in themselves. I could never fathom that for me. I’m glad there are people that are able to muscle through feelings like that and truly specialize in a skillset. I just feel like I’m three kids stacked on one another in a trenchcoat trying to sneak into an R-rated film.

It is I, Vincent Adultman.

So how can I be sitting here talking about all these things I want in my personal life and things I want in this country when I am barely hanging on to the back railing of the caboose of the adult train? I guess part of it is accepting everyone is Vincent Adultman? But even that’s not true. Frankly politics is a clear indicator that too many people have a very inflated ego. Not saying everyone, but enough that we as a country are so jaded by it. But that’s largely because we chose to ignore it instead of speak up when it started to get ridiculous. When at least half the members of Congress are millionaires, there’s a problem, right? Like, these aren’t people with your best interests at heart. They stop representing everyday people and we collectively get resentful. That’s been the last four years in many ways.

I have no answers. Only questions, and mixed feelings. It’s irresponsible to turn away. To say this is all above (or below) you. If I was ever, ever going to have to a kid, I’d have to know I was doing something to make sure they weren’t entering an absolutely shithole planet and country. I guess at times like this when I’m pretty low, I often feel like the least I can do is try to stay connected, hence my earlier issues of, well, being too connected all the time. Maybe that’s just guilt from not being an active participant, despite it being a pandemic. If blue wins, I just don’t want it to be a reason people can emotionally check out like so many of us did in the past with politics, because then everyone is going to act surprised when this all happens again.

We all have to figure out where we fit in that.

My first short film was me attempting to make a dialog-less film about empathy. To see if I could convey that. I’ve noticed my next two films are shaping up to be direct and indirect films about mental health and empathy again.

When I talk to my therapist about filmmaking we always end up talking about Studio Ghibli (they are a fan too!, WHICH IS SO HELPFUL HOLY FUCK). And one of my earliest sessions with them, we spend 2/3 of the time talking about it. And I felt so dumb, but they were quick to point out that it was clear those are the types of films I want to make. Films that fucking mean something, as pretentious and grandiose and simple as that is. That I want to share things with people and maybe have them think a little differently about their experiences and how they see others experiences and the work that others produce. To get as many people to realize they are not the Protagonist of Life, but that every random person they pass by is the Protagonist of their life, is living a life as complex and vivid as your own.

Is this just an excuse so I can keep doing what I’m trying to do guiltlessly? That’s not not part of it. Does that seem egotistical to think I can be someone who can do this? Sure. Ego isn’t inherently a bad thing? Shock shock, there’s a balance. Being mindful when trying to put things into the universe.

I felt like shit for years working for Fox–sure, I was in their film division, but it was the same company as Fox News. I wondered, somewhat hyperbolically but also truly how much of those Ice Age dollars were going to them (lol I don’t actually know anything about how the different branches and profits and what not were structured, BUT IT DIDN’T STOP ME FROM WORRYING), but….it didn’t worry me enough to change my course of action. I didn’t quit Blue Sky. I still needed a job, and I got this one before I could start pondering the moral implications. I said in my earth day post and I say it a lot, that in general there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism. However many layers deep we want to go. There’s a good chance most of the clothing and items in your home were made by underpaid laborers in Asia. Your vegan lifestyle, noble as it is, was likely aided by underpaid migrant workers. There’s no not living with guilt the more you learn about the world.

But again, empathy without boundaries is self-destruction. I spend too much time passively worrying when I can be acting more. We don’t need huge grand gestures (not all the time at least), but small sustainable steps. So I need to figure out my shit.

Nothing’s really changed in that regard.

Licensed therapist and youtuber Kati Morton has been an endless resource to me for years. One of her latest videos put a lot of my feelings a lot more succinctly, which is a skill I severely lack:

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