I Am Not Absent — I Am Overwhelmed

I am still here, silently shutting everything out because it’s just too much.

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The child of silent destruction has re-emerged.

She is the one who will hide from the world and play quietly in the corner, hoping to remain in the shadows, unnoticed. 

This child always returns when life becomes too much. In the past, she has held the space for long enough periods to enable previously constructed foundations to crumble and rot.

And I have let her. I didn’t give her the attention she required and just let her get on and do whatever she pleased — which was pretty much nothing.


She wiled away the time, watching Netflix, playing games, ignoring all the important tasks and the emails that came in requesting some response…and achieved nothing.

Sometime later, when she finally got bored and went on her way, I took control again but often it required starting afresh…again.

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Instead of addressing her presence when she was there, I found ways to keep her at bay for as long as I could. Until I couldn’t any longer and she would return to wreak havoc on a world of relative order.

Believe me, that order took everything I had to achieve. Keeping a physically or mentally uncluttered and orderly space is something that doesn’t come naturally (and is a big part of what I believe to be a manifestation of my own neurodivergent side) so it feels pretty major when she pulls it all down.


A child called overwhelm

If you hadn’t already guessed, that child resides in me. She is the one who shows up when everything gets too much and, internally, I go into a meltdown.

She appears and says “Don’t worry, I will take over.” And she does.

Rather than allow me to cry and scream, to tell everyone to go f*ck themselves and stop demanding the world from me, she pulls back the covers of my bed, fluffs up the pillows, downloads another mindless online game, and finds a Netflix series to take my mind to another life, another world, and another time.

Far away from my own.

Yet, whenever someone — a friend, a member of my family, one of my offspring, or someone connected with my work life — drops me a message or tries to call me, that little feeling called stress hits the button that manifests intense fatigue, reminding me that it hasn’t gone away.


Or when an email arrives reminding me that I have to get on with completing some work that I have committed to, my mind does a quick calculation.

Unknown content + energy required to think = too much

And I shut the phone off and refuse to open or respond.

This child resides in me.

She is the me who becomes floored with overwhelm when the world feels too much to contend with.

She is the me who doesn’t want to disappoint those who need some lifting but haven’t the mental strength or physical energy to do so.

She is the me who could just do with a real break for a week of my life but has no time or opportunity to do so.

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Sometimes we take on a lot.

It can be too much, even though it was the right thing to do. And while I don’t believe I have taken on too much, I know that there is a too-much-ness about where I am right now.

Like many times gone by, I know that I can handle this. The question is how?

Space and time can heal a great deal. I know that this works for me because it has many a time in the past. But when and how do I take that space and time so that it’s meaningful and productive?

Because if I let the child take over — the child called Overwhelm — then the space will be filled with numbness and the time will be devoid of anything productive.

How to take space and time

Here's how: Speaking the truth. Honesty and vulnerability.


The frankness with those who count.

“Sorry, Dad. I am keeping things quiet at home this week. I will catch up with you next week.”

“Sorry, Sis. That February trip to The Pyrenees sounds awesome but I need just a week of being in the now before I start planning more future expeditions.”

“Sorry Business Client, I am unavailable for extra tasks this week but if you need some social media content written, I will be available next week.”

“Sorry kids. If we run out of bananas because you already got through the twenty I bought in just three days, you know where the shop is. Oh, and I am unavailable to give any lifts this week.”

The only ones it doesn’t work with are the dog and the cats, so we can work around that. Fortunately, their needs mostly remain consistent and they give plenty of love in return. In fact, during this week of additional space and time, I can do feeding, walks are good for me, and I can avail my lap for a cat.


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Child, thank you for visiting but you can go now

Recent times have been busier than I have experienced in years.

Life is always busy as a parent during the school holidays.


But when you add in the arrival of a new family member from another country, a major (necessary) clear-out, a boiler replacement, a plumbing crisis in the kitchen, and an onslaught of friends and family suddenly visiting the area at once — all while trying to support a daughter as she collects her GCSE exam results and enrolls for college and another daughter who is stressfully leading a hectic social life while planning another trip abroad — things can all become too much.

Usually, I love my work. I love my writing, and my reading, and I love the editing work I do. But with everything I have been contending with, I have struggled to focus or even muster the desire to type absent words — words that usually come flowing.

Yesterday, the child re-emerged and began threatening to stay awhile.

Normally, I let her. Until she has tired of being in control.


But, today, I decided that I don’t need to.

Today, I decided that I can love her and let her go. I can thank her for her willingness to help and then show her the door.

Once upon a time, she was in charge. But today, I am.

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Sally Prag writes on mindfulness, life lessons, travel, parenting, and more.