Overwhelm - how it can creep up on us
Reading the latest Psychologies Magazine (December 2018), I was drawn to the self-analysis quiz - ‘What’s the Root Cause of your Overwhelm?’ Answering the multiple choice questions I found I scored highest on ‘Perfectionism’. Reading through the other 3 categories I could just have easily identified with any of them! The others were self-doubt, over-thinking and people-pleasing.
I have been staying at my mother’s intermittently over the last few months helping her get ready to move home. Staying with her means the daily routine for the dogs and I changes quite a lot. On one of my visits I was woken by one of the dogs, Jack, in the middle of the night who, unusually, wanted to get out to the toilet. Reluctantly, I heaved myself out of bed to let him outside. We went back to bed and I struggled to get back to sleep.
The next evening, at 4 am, one of my other dogs, Archie, took his turn to wake me up. He was not content with being let out in the yard for a pee. Growling, in the dead of night (that's me that was doing the growling), I took him to the orchard and waited in the dark for him to do his business. We went back to bed. I was grumpy.
At 7:00am the following morning Archie was up again, pestering me to go outside. In my own house this isn’t a problem, I can just let him out into the garden. At my mother's house I have to go with him because the garden is not enclosed and she lives near a road. So still in my pyjamas, I donned wellies and a raincoat and followed him out. I stood and waited in the grey November morning.
What was going on for me?
I was trying hard to ignore the feeling, but I was angry. I was angry towards him.
"Why was he doing this to me?”
“Didn’t he know I had a whole lot of other things to do today?.”
“Why can't he just go to the toilet when I take him out?”
I know, totally irrational, but I’m being honest.
These thoughts were followed by my familiar self-recrimination:
“why can’t I be a nice person and just look after my dogs? Instead I seem to nurse this resentment. Other people would be accepting and just want them to be comfortable.”
They had chicken for dinner the night before. I had previously wondered if Archie had developed an intolerance to chicken. But then again, dogs with allergies? Am I succumbing to the latest fad for pet owners?
'I knew there might be a problem, I shouldn’t have fed chicken'.
Archie wasn’t even trying to pooh, he was just eating grass. So I knew he was self-medicating. Why was I angry?
Eventually, with quite a bit of resistance on my part, I started to question the emotions I was feeling. What could I learn? I soon recognised that I didn’t want to think about faults in myself.
‘I’m the creator of "Anubis Therapy," an innovative way to self-awareness with your dog as your guide'
I needed to believe I was the expert, omnipotent! That need was incompatible with finding faults in myself! Hmm Perfectionism. a little reminder in my mind of the magazine article the day before.
I was facing a dilemma. ‘Knowing myself’ is, for me, one of the most important things I can do in my life. What anyone can do. It's what my therapy is about. Do I only want to know myself if it shows me that I’m super-duper great at everything? A reminder that working on yourself is not always an easy route 🙂
What else was going on? I acknowledged how it terrifies me that any harm will come to anyone I am responsible for, humans or animals. I realised I was trying to block that fear from myself and instead blame it on Archie and his inability to toilet at the prescribed time. (There’s a great YouTube clip from Brene Brown on how we project blame on others to protect ourselves. It has helped my understanding of blame)
I was blaming Archie and this situation for my frustration, but the build-up of emotion was actually to do with a whole host of other things that were going on: helping my mother clear out a lifetime from cupboards, visiting the solicitor, getting the dogs walked, organising removals and running my own business. All vying for my attention. While I desperately wanted do the best for everyone.
Then I tried to stop thinking and analysing it all. Archie continued to eat grass. I stayed present with the feelings. Gradually some tears squeezed out. Not a full release – so I know there will be more to come - just enough to know that I’m on the right track, that there’s more to be discovered.
A few minutes later, I’m relieved to say, Archie had managed to move himself too (all puns intended).
I had managed to step a little closer to knowing (and accepting) who I am.
I am left wondering how our dogs’ digestive upsets can be caused, even just a little, by the wider emotional landscape that they are being subjected to.
PS If you are interested in trying out this sort of analysis for yourself the process I use is described here Self-Help for Dog Owners (but only if you ever get annoyed with your dog!)