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September 30, 2014 / 6 Tishri, 5775
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Overloaded

We have all experienced overload. It happens when our minds are just too full of worry, problems, or things that must be done now. The list is so long, the constant headache so great, that we feel certain that if we tip our head, a “to do” list will fall out of our ear and be lost forever.

Overload is not a comfortable state of mind. It makes decisions difficult. It leaves us vulnerable to scams. A person in overload might easily make a wrong or impulsive decision just to unload one more burden. Overload leaves a person fragile and sensitive to criticism, especially when he has shown poor judgment. He has already verbally beaten himself up for ignoring his inner monologue that told him to make a different choice. He feels guilty enough, reprimands himself enough, and knows well enough that at a calmer time in his life, he would have acted differently. Criticism when one is in such a state is not needed, wanted or constructive.

Overload is a constant state of mind for many well spouses. They are worried about their spouses, unhappy with their limitations, and concerned for their children. Most well spouses experience overload as a part of their everyday life. They know they are vulnerable to wrong decisions, make them anyway, and then beat themselves up for doing so. They need understanding and support – not criticism.

Brenda owned a tiny summer home. It was her haven. She was able to get there for a day or two every week in the summer when she had a caretaker for her husband, who was chronically ill. It was very hard to find help when something needed fixing there. If something broke, the burden of finding someone, coordinating her schedule to be there when they said they’d come, wondering if they’d show up and then rescheduling, often left her depressed and angry.

When Brenda’s deck needed fixing, she hired someone who came recommended. He wanted the money for the materials up front. She gave it to him. He gave her a receipt. He never returned to do the job. When she tried to reach him, she discovered his phone had been disconnected and the address on the receipt was non-existent. One friend told her how “stupid” it was to have given him the money up front. Another told she her to sell the retreat house since she couldn’t do the work herself. A third held her hand and told her, “Be kind to yourself. These things happen. Everyone makes mistakes, especially when you have so much on your mind.”

Shoshana had just had her yard landscaped. She hated yard work, especially now that her husband’s illness left all the heavy work to her. Wherever it was appropriate, she had the landscapers put down a weed preventing carpet covered with decorative stone. She hoped this would give her a pretty yard that was maintenance free.

She was showing off her new yard to a friend and explaining what she had done. “What are you talking about?” said the friend. “I can see plenty of weeds. Are you sure you got what you paid for?”

There is a difference between criticism and advice. The two just don’t sound alike. Offering advice, good advice, comes with an understanding of the situation. Not only an idea of what needs to be done and how to do it, but also an understanding of the person’s state of mind and what he/ she can cope with.

Criticism, on the other hand, just highlights mistakes, oversights or misjudgments and offers little in the way of dealing with the problem or helping the person in distress. Often, criticism serves to boost our own ego at the expense of another. We know only too well that we could easily have made the same mistake but didn’t – this time.

When dealing with people who are overloaded (a temporary state of mind for many, a constant state of mind for most well spouses) it is so important to think of what we are saying and how we are saying it.

What, if anything, are we offering the person with our words? Do our words give solace and make them feel better? Do our words give them ideas for handling similar situations in the future? Or do our ideas just add to their overload, make them feel worse then they already do, and encourage them to verbally beat themselves up some more? Are we using our words to comfort, or to add to their pain? The choice, in the end, is ours.

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More Articles from Ann Novick

When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/overloaded/2004/10/06/

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