An exploration of the poetry of

To-Do Overwhelm

I have a love-hate relationship with many things, and my To-Do list is one of those things. I think the autism part of my brain takes great comfort in having a list to keep me organised, and certainly the ADHD part of my brain requires a To-Do list to remember what needs doing and bonus – I get nice dopamine hits when something is completed. And even the anxiety part of my brain can benefit from a To-Do list because it takes all of the jumbled worries about what I am forgetting and gets them out of my brain.

I feel anxious without a list. But the list can also be the source of anxiety. Sometimes just looking at the list will bring on anxiety. It can be really overwhelming.

And I am not 100% sure what ‘part of my brain’ is responsible for this, but I have seen it described as ADHD Paralysis, summed up nicely in this comic by Dani Donovan. When the list gets too long, or if I am dealing with too much ‘stuff’ in general, I don’t feel like doing a fucking thing. But it’s not some kind of laziness. And it doesn’t mean that I don’t care. Or that I am unmotivated. Trust me, I would love to cross things off my list. I really, really, really want to do all of the things. But instead I feel truly too anxious to do anything. Too anxious to make a decision about what to do. Too overwhelmed to know which things are priorities. Too stressed to take on the responsibility to determine what I am capable of.

Since my youngest was diagnosed as autistic, I have had a lot more things added to the ‘home’ side of my To-Do list. Since the kids have gone back to school, I have also had to do many more ‘home’ things. And work has picked up as well. And some days, it’s easier to manage because there are things that feel like non-negotiables. Things like appointments, or client work with deadlines. But other days, like today, I have no appointments. And a super long To-Do list. A list that I looked at on Monday, and I was sure I would make real progress on come Wednesday and Thursday when I would be home all day.

But today is Wednesday. And that energy is gone due to the things that have happened over the past two days. And when I am trying to determine which things on the list to do today I get stuck. I don’t even want to write them down. They feel like demands that I may not be able to meet. And I acknowledge that there are specific things I am putting off; things I hate dealing with. These are usually things that rely on asking for help from other people or things that trigger worries that I am doing something wrong. And today just isn’t the day to put those things on my list. And admittedly, it doesn’t come naturally to me to accept that. It’s a matter of conscious awareness of that. And making the choice to love myself through it rather than judging it. And knowing that the reality is that the world won’t end if I set these things aside for the time being. But I am even struggling with the simpler things on the list. Things that would take a couple of minutes to do, and are super straight-forward. But when I think of doing them, I feel my stomach turn.

And so this is where the compassion part of my brain can step in and take the lead. I wrote the bare minimum on my list today. Client work. One phone call. And ‘Write Blog Post’ because I have had words swimming in my head. There are so many ideas I have for blog posts that I have and I haven’t gotten to. And I love to write. And I wish it was the main focus of each day. But I am not there yet. And so that list alone is becoming overwhelming. But it’s not just the list. It’s the burning need to get words out in order to figure out what’s going on with me. To figure out what I need. And today I am feeling sad. And so it may just be one of those days that I spend most of my time writing, listening to music, and enjoying solitude rather than ticking tasks off my list. Because I won’t be able to attend to tasks until I give myself what I need in order to feel calm, settled, focused. And at this point, I only have 3.5 hours before I have to get the kids from school, and then my time is not all to myself anymore. The mother part of my brain will take over, and I will always find a way to take care of my kids’ needs, no matter how mentally fucked I feel.

On days like this, I believe it’s an act of compassion and self-care to add things to my list after they’re done. That helps me feel more accomplished. And I might even add things I normally wouldn’t. Like ‘Make Dinner’ or ‘Pick Kids Up From School’ – and this helps me recognise that I am doing more than I tend to acknowledge. These things are important too. And I am doing them. And sometimes when I have been really depressed, I may have added things like ‘Take Shower’ and ‘Get Dressed’ or even ‘Brush Teeth’ because sometimes even those seemingly small things are major accomplishments.