People who equate truth with fact are missing the point.


FrozenSometimes, I get frozen.

Actually, scratch that. Often, I am frozen. I live long stretches of my life like a deer hypnotized by headlights and it’s infuriating and frustrating and as an excuse to hate myself, it’s powerful. As a good slippery place from which to descend into depression, it’s very effective, except neither self-hate nor depression is my goal.

Let’s say I just dropped Carter off at school or a play date. I come in from the garage, let the dogs out, and pour myself a cup of coffee. I’m good with all that but now it gets sticky because I need to make a decision: what should I do next? I haven’t posted to my blog in days or weeks and I want to write something, and I’m feeling some pressure because I hate that I don’t post more regularly. There’s a proposal for a column that I need to finish and I’m angry at myself because it’s an awesome idea, plus I need to make some money. There are submissions for my church’s literary magazine to be read. There’s a book for which I’ve promised a review and have only read half, a long list of emails to answer, and don’t forget my book, with its stacks of notes and half-finished chapters gathering virtual dust in their electronic folders! That’s maybe one-third of what beckons me from my office, but I assume you get the idea. It’s a mash of things, most of them fulfilling and interesting, but there is also some sense of…not exactly obligation, but my life is not as good when I don’t do these things. I am my best self in the office, when I am creating and exploring, but I also struggle in there.

I sit down at my desk and adjust my chair, put on some music, light a candle, open all the necessary tabs on my browser and…crap. The few words I’ve produced are awful. I’m feeling a little guilty because Carter wore dirty socks this morning, so maybe I should tackle the laundry. I get up and carry my coffee cup through the kitchen (need to clean! need to shop! try to ignore!) and down the hall. The green hamper outside the hall bathroom is so full, clothes and sheets and towels are poking through the little holes and things are spilling over the top. How this hamper is so full is mysterious since Carter’s room looks like a textile-factory explosion. I kick my way through the clothes so I can open the window because it doesn’t smell very nice in there.

To heck with this, I think. I’m not picking up Carter’s clothes. He can do that himself when he gets home from school. I’ll start with Brian’s and my laundry, and I head to my room.

Where I am hit over the head with the fact that my little red-headed apple didn’t fall far from this tree because every pair of socks I have worn in the past week is on the floor on my side of the bed. The bedroom hamper is no more than 5 feet from the foot of the bed (more like 4 feet, what with the over-spillage), yet I pull off my socks before I get in the bed every night and leave them on the floor. Here are more coffee cups (there are matching groups of cups on my desk and on the table next to my favorite chair in the living room), plus water glasses and a towering stack of books that belies the fact that I switched to e-readers years ago and much prefer them.

I sit down on the bed and clear a little spot on the nightstand for my coffee cup. I’ll just sort the laundry. I’ll start with that, and I’ll feel a little better. A little more in control. I get up to gather laundry baskets and discover that two of them are in my Abbie’s room, full of clean laundry she hasn’t put away yet. One is in the laundry room, full of soggy towels from Saturday when Brian gave the dogs their baths. Also, Spencer’s clothes are in the dryer and there is a load of sheets in the washer that smell musty because I ran them two days ago. I look around at the drifts of dog hair in the laundry room (which is also the dog’s “bedroom”) and decide I need to sit down and have another cup of coffee.

It all seems too much, too big, and the chatter in my head is unbearable. My folks, my sister, my ex-husband, my 10th grade English teacher, the psychiatrist I saw when I was 19, some therapists, a pastor from childhood, occasionally even my kids, all their voices bundled, amplified, and heavily distorted by my shame (except the voices of my sister and my ex-husband who would say my worst assessments of myself don’t go far enough). Except it’s all my voice. Sometimes I can drown them all out with an audiobook or loud music and actually get something done. Other times, I can’t get above the struggle. The voices are deafening and exhausting and I’m overwhelmed with guilt because I am wasting my day, my talent, or my life (Welcome to my ego; is it not an unlovely thing?).

I stir like this all day, almost every day. I feel like I’m witnessing a fight-to-the-death between my brain’s ability to focus, organize, and execute, and my life. I keep us functioning at an acceptable level: there is food in the refrigerator, clean clothes in the closets, bills paid on time(ish), and everyone gets to their appointments on time. I meet my obligations at church and in the other organizations I’m part of and I never miss a hard deadline (though the soft ones and the ones I set for myself are symbolic at best), but the rest of it is a relentless battle, and life is not what it could be. I don’t have energy for relationships, creativity, and fun because I’m exhausted from this internal fight.

But dammit, the noise! If I shut down and shut it all out (books, Netflix, web surfing), I can get a little peace but I don’t get anything done, don’t even really live my life. When I try to accomplish something, the nattering begins. I’m not good enough; why didn’t I do this sooner; who do I think I am. If I wash the window sill above the kitchen sink, I notice the horrifying state of the front yard, and if I dust the window sills in the living room, I notice the horrifying state of the backyard. Carter needs his fingernails trimmed, we’re out of milk, I told a friend I’d write a piece for her new website, on and on and on and I am tired. I’ve read the books, taken the medicine, talked to the therapists, done the programs and I’m just…stuck. How did this happen, when I love my life? It’s a hard life sometimes, sure, but it’s good. It’s very, very good, so why am I not living, creating, and enjoying?

I believe there’s a solution, but all I really know so far is this: being hard on myself is not that solution. I’ve done that and it does not work. What I haven’t done is share the struggle publicly so let’s see where that gets me. Maybe you’ve experienced the same thing and I’m not all alone in the world. Stranger things have happened.

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33 comments to Frozen

  • Mickie

    You just described my daily struggle so perfectly that I am going to share this with my counselor. The voice in my head that tells me I’m fat, worthless, lazy, etc-I hide from it with tv, internet, mindless ipad games.
    Thanks for putting words to it.

  • This feels so familiar…right down to the pile of socks on the floor on my side of the bed.

  • Erika

    I can so relate to this feeling. I’ve started to get a little relief by taking a mindfulness-based stress reduction class; seems to address the worst of these moments for me.

    Thank you for your writing; I love your blog and your words help more people than you can ever know. Sending good thoughts to you and yours.

    • Thanks, Erika. My husband has had great results from mindfulness meditation for stress reduction. I want to try, though I’m a little afraid. If I let it all go quiet, the mean voices in my head could go totally wild! But I’m going to give it a go. Might help and can’t hurt, so…

  • -e-

    Love your blog and your writing, and glad to see several recent posts. I’m sure 95% of your readers completely relate to this overwhelmed feeling. For me, the trick is to force myself to focus very narrowly one one small slice of the chaos, but to do that consistently.
    1) buy everyone their own laundry basket- even your husband. Everyone is now responsible for their own state of affairs in this respect, and you let them each own that. Carter can get help in the way of reminders, but if possible, let him feel the pride of finishing the task himself This change alone is huge.
    2) Pace the rest of the cleaning by doing only one room per day- for no more than one hour only, early in the day. It is amazing how much easier focusing on your writing will be when you can already feel the satisfaction of having spent an hour making the bedroom calming and tidy. Do not pause and sigh over the state of the livingroom… today is bedroom only, and you have done it. nothing to feel guilty about!
    3) Once you are really seeing the results of your new 1 hour (or even half hour, if that works better for you) plan, reward yourself, and your family, by splurging on a pro cleaning service to tackle the stuff that’s just too much to realistically tackle yourself- dog hair filled basement, window washing, whatever. From this fresh clean place, things should feel easier to maintain… at least until they start slipping again!
    I hope this doesn’t come off as too preachy or simplistic…I just know that breaking overwhelming things down into manageable pieces like this has really really helped me, and I hope you find it useful too!

    • Thank you! Yes, I have thought to have Brian and Carter do their own laundry (the teens are already responsible for their own). Carter would need lots of help but I think you’re right; he would feel very grown up.

  • Renee Kleck

    A precise description of my day – and inner dialogue. I second Erika’s suggestion of a mindfulness-based practice. Elisha Goldstein’s book The Now Effect is very accessible for those just starting to look into mindfulness. Check out his facebook page. But for me, changing the inner voice, although still challenging, has made the most difference. I strongly suggest Cheri Huber’s book There is Nothing Wrong With You. Just read the first few pages on Amazon and see how it feels to you. I think you’ll enjoy it.

    • Thanks, Renee! I’m going to look at those books and choose one. So many people have suggested this (and my husband has changed dramatically since he started his own practice) that I’m convinced it’s the place to begin.

  • Vicki

    All the above comments plus – I pray. When I realise Im on the slippery slide of depression and self hate, I pray. I concentrate on who I am before God and remember to Him I am worthy and loved. I put together a small list of things I want to achieve and tick them off one by one as I do them. I find as parents of special needs children we put our world on hold for them. Everything revolves around them and when things go slack for while we don’t know what to do with ourselves. Or if everything is on hyperdrive we get overwhelmed by the pressure. Take a breath, make an attack plan, tackle it step by step. We don’t have to be perfect we just have to keep going.

    • I’m going to chant that to myself: I don’t have to be perfect; I just have to keep going. Maybe it will drown out the toxic chatter in my head!

      Your comment helped me see that part of what is happening to me is, after years of chaos and terror, life is fairly calm, and I’m having a hard time coming back to myself and finding my way after my world had to revolve around Carter for so long. So thank you for that. I hope it will help me be a little more patient with myself.

  • Jennifer

    This is me, every day. Every night before bed, it all spills out in what Brad describes as my self shaming hour, and yet nothing changes. I know for me, my years growing up with an extremely critical family formed so much of what I believe about myself, and I wish I had the ability to turn off that noise, but that internal shaming is just so strong. I don’t have an answer – just know that you aren’t alone.

    • Thanks, Jennifer. I never would have guessed. From where I sit, it seems like you do so much. I wish we could see ourselves the way we see each other. If I was inside your head, I would NEVER let you be mean to you because you don’t deserve that.

  • Yeah. I get what you’re saying. My yoga experiment was part of an attempt to try and stem the tide of that. Instead it made it worse. This time of year is particularly bad for me, as I go to work at dark o’clock and get home at pitch-black-thirty. I don’t have a good answer. I wish I did. All I can offer is that I know you had plans for our lives to be different, but the you you have become is the amazing, loving, wise, compassionate woman I try to be. You are enough, and your best, while not the best you had envisioned, is still no less than extraordinary.

    • I am going to keep you forever. I assume you know that but I thought I’d remind you.

      This time of year is usually pretty good for me, but then I can go out in the sun. Not only do I not have a regular job, but the sun is out in Abq virtually every day of the year. I don’t know that I could tolerate all that darkness. There are no windows in Brian’s office (which is more like a bullpen) and he goes to work and comes home in the dark. He’s started keeping a giant blanket and warm jacket in his car so he can take his lunch break out there in winter. It does wonders for his mood, but that would never work where you live. Way too damn cold.

      Which is way off-topic. And thank you. Life was so chaotic for so long and now, I feel pressured to accomplish everything I can before it turns chaotic again. I know how ridiculous that is (Maybe Carter will stay relatively stable forever? It’s unlikely, but how do I know?) but it thumps at the back of my head. Make something of yourself! Hurry!

  • Heather

    Wow. I feel the same way. You are not alone–and it is such a relief to know that it probably isn’t some manifestation of ADD in myself that causes my life to be this way. (except the pile of socks usually ends up by my computer because that is where my feet get too warm…)

    • Well, I DO have ADD, so maybe? I don’t know. Sometimes I think that maybe, it’s partly a result of being so deeply depressed for such long stretches of my life. I’m not depressed now, but some parts of depression sort of become a habit, you know?

  • This is exactly me so much of the time. And the sock thing! My husband gets pissed at me for leaving my socks on the floor next to my side of the bed!

    • Heh….my side of the bed is such a nest of…well, everything. All my stuff. I make a messy nest in each of my favorite spots in the house and I barely notice the mess most of the time. Very frustrating!

  • Renee Kleck

    There is something very real about the feeling of restlessness and hyper anticipation when you’ve lived it for so long. It’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop. I think it’s like a form of post traumatic stress. Be gentle with yourself.

    Another thing that works for me is doing the household chores with love. I know it sounds out there to some people, but if I change my mindset from one of “have to” and “should” to one of “I love taking care of myself and my family and I’m happy I can contribute this to our family”. It’s not really an affirmation. It’s the result of digging deep enough to realize it really is true!

    And don’t forget Dory in Finding Nemo …. Just Keep Swimming ….

    • You know, I think there’s something to that. Life was so hard and so chaotic for so long, how can I expect to bounce back from that all at once? Especially when I’m living with low-grade fear about it all returning! One step forward. Just keep swimming.

  • Shannon

    Wow, I was just having a discussion like this with my boyfriend this weekend. I freeze. All. The. Time. On a bad day (when we’ve fought, or work sucked) freezing is simply not doing anything. Sitting there, thinking about what I should do, how I should be able to make myself feel better and more productive, but never starting. Times like that I can’t even make a simple decision. Should I was laundry or the dishes first? Do I want Sprite or Dr. Pepper from the drive through b/c there is no way I can bring myself to cook. On a good day freezing becomes working like crazy on something that doesn’t need to be done. I’ve got a million things to do, but I will focus so intently on making my budget spreadsheet on Excel look nicer (that never gets used btw).

    I have found that talking about it helps. I froze the other day and couldn’t decide if I should get food on the way home, or eat with him after his game. So I called him. Asked him which I should do. And once I got moving it got a bit easier. I’ve also found that the freezing, for me at least, is pretty directly tied to how often I eat. Which sucks a bit since when I’m feeling bad I don’t eat much, which makes things worse.

    I didn’t mean for this to be so long. It’s odd to see so many people respond that run into the same difficulty. The best thing I’ve found that helps me is to eat something (even just something snacky) and make a list. The list may seem way too big, but getting it on paper helps me feel better, then when I cross off even one thing it lightens the weight that keeps me frozen just a bit.

    • Hah…no worries about length, not on MY blog! I have what we call The Curse of the Verbose. I have made some progress but I always have more to say!

      Anyway, yeah, I like this. One things that helps me sometimes (not always, but often enough that I keep coming back to it) is to make an excruciatingly detailed to-do list. So, instead of “clean bedroom” I put “tidy nightstand,” then “dust nightstand,” etc. I try to keep each individual job to 5 minutes or less. I’m not great at narrowing my vision or breaking jobs down (I think that’s really where this overwhelm problem comes from; we can’t see the trees for the forest!) so this can help.

      I like other people’s suggestions for mindfulness practice, too. I’m kind of intimidated by that but I’ve been playing with it a little. It works great for my husband and has massively reduced his stress so definitely worth a try!

  • Peg

    Oh do I so relate to this. I get so overwhelmed sometimes by all that needs to get done around here that I both beat myself up for not getting enough done and not give myself credit for what I actually do get done. Laundry is my worst enemy…it’s like the sisyphus and the boulder…it never ends 🙂 When I’m frozen I either surf the web reading blogs I love (case in point), watch mindless tv or when no one is around take a quick nap to refresh. If you ever figure it all out please post…I’ll definitely be reading. Hang in there!

    • Well, to be fair, reading this blog can’t be wasted time!

      Oy, that’s so cheezy. Sorry. 😉

      I wonder, why do so many of us respond to all our personal problems by beating the crap out of ourselves? It NEVER works, yet we keep trying it!

      I’m going to try playing around with this problem and see what new solutions I can find, and I’ll try to share them. Too often, shame (because I failed) keeps me from writing about stuff like this, but knowing I’m not alone is so helpful that I’m going to try to push myself.

  • Whitney

    ai ai ai my life! Really…you’re definitely not alone. I mean, I don’t have kids, I have only myself to take care of (so props to you for motherhood and all the incredible work that entails) but it’s like life becomes so overwhelming with all the stuff that you have to do or should do that it’s easier to do nothing but have another cup of coffee. Keep on keeping on.

  • Eliza

    OMG, Adrienne. Lol.

    I hate to tell you how much I enjoy this, because I am RIGHT THERE WITH YOU. My son just started preschool on Monday and all week I’ve been #notevenworththebullet.

  • Oy, this is me! Every, single, day. I have ADD, but I can’t handle stimulant meds because they trigger my anxiety something fierce.

    Major suckage, indeed.

  • Me

    Adrienne, I came across your blog because of your Kelli post, which was very helpful to others. What you are doing everyday no matter how small is helpful to others be it your pets, family or cyber friends. You are important. I love the way you write, your honesty is refreshing. Don’t pressure yourself, you are doing the best you can as we all are. And on a side note…You must be my long lost twin because I could not have described myself better than you just did. Keep it all up Adrienne…in your own time.

  • I just found this article, and it will make you cry. THIS is why I am planning on moving my family to Israel:

    (Note – 2,000 NIS is equal to about $500.00 US)

  • I just found your blog today. You’re a wonderful writer. I really appreciate the honesty.
    Re: Frozen. I’m in the same place a lot. We, too, are in post-crisis period, a time I dreamed about and feared would never come. Now that life is easier than it’s been in years, I have no idea why I can’t be as brilliantly functional as I thought I’d be. I wonder if my brain was seriously altered by cortisol elevation. I wonder lots of things. But I’m hanging on. I’m glad you are too.

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