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On Being Overwhelmed

Back when I was four and a half, I went to have my tonsils out. I do not really remember anything about this. Apparently, for at this point, this is really my mother’s story, I was distressed when she arrived later than promised to take me home. A not uncommon event, but for her this was the time my difficulties started; I was no longer the “good baby” but “difficult” and “problematical” for being upset.

In later years, before we got beyond this, she would return to it, as sign of things going wrong for me, with me. Looking back, in a sense she was right, although not in the sense she meant at the time. Which is where it becomes my story, told from my perspective, through reflection, not just through my experience, but through the eyes and thoughts of those that I have worked with psychologically and philosophically.

Through this work, which is not always as easy, as it sounds here, I came to see that it was perfectly normal for a young child to feel distressed when his mother was late to take him home. It is not really a question of good or bad, if one thinks in terms of common humanity.

Equally, for a mother, whose baby is distressed a lot of the time, disturbing them, making rest all but impossible, the temptation to compare babies, in terms of good and bad, is quite normal and totally human. This is all part of how the world goes round.

I have been thinking of this, of my own history of feeling overwhelmed, sad at being left on my own, partly because of my work and partly because I saw my mother’s birthday coming up in my diary. She died six years ago and would have been eighty-two on the 16th June. With my father dying this year and me becoming an orphan, I found myself missing her greatly. We had our difficulties, but we also loved each other, and had a rich rewarding relationship, for which I am thankful.

This sadness of absence, which can overwhelm us, is something we all have to deal with, at all ages. What can change is how we deal with it. We all learn in our first few weeks, months of life, habits that can stand us in good stead or not depending on the fortune of our circumstances and parents. As we get older the responsibility devolves onto ourselves, to stop, be aware of our sadness, to acknowledge it, to accept it. This involves recognising the other side of sadness that can overwhelm, the panic that can overtake. Both go together, and quite often the panic becomes a panic, not just of being alone, but of accepting and or showing we are sad. There really is nothing else to do but to accept and understand both, for which some sort of mindfulness practice, I use Alexander Technique, is an useful foundation for a way forward, which evolves into an internal dialogue and relationship with ourselves and then others.