When We Stretch Ourselves Too Thin

This is not me; it’s a Creative Commons Photo. Also, I have my cup on the right side of the laptop and my phone on the left side, not the other way around (really, it’ll throw me off if I switch!). And I also never use a notebook these days.

A tendency I’ve had since at least my mid-teens when I first started working at the Original Pancake House, is to take on too much at once. Another way to put that is to say, at times, I have an inability to say no until I take on too much, which then manifest my justification for backing out and saying no.

My latest example of this is that around August/September of 2021, about a few months after therapy began and I was beginning to feel more confident in forging an identity beyond, I Am Depressed Man, I took on a number of gigs and volunteering efforts that began to stretch me thin.

Added context: I work full-time as a newspaper editor, with Monday-Tuesday being my busiest time, as that’s when the greatest pressure arises to get the newspaper together and out for print. That entails reporting out, writing, editing, editing other people’s pieces and a myriad other things to ensure the paper is finalized. It’s stressful, but often a fulfilling sort of stress (and relief) when the paper is put to bed late Tuesday night.

On the gig front for nice side money, when I had free hours from the newspaper during the week, I was DoorDashing, Instacarting and Amazon Flexing. Not all at once, of course. I was dipping my toes in each here and there. I did a blog post comparing and contrasting DoorDash and Instacart, and I believe I’ve talked about Amazon Flex before.

DoorDash sort of fell by the wayside and I only did Amazon Flex through the Thanksgiving holiday because they were offering a particular bonus. Instacart has become my main gig and on average, I would say I’m doing about 15 hours or so a week of that. Some weeks I do less, like 10 hours, and some weeks I do more, like 19 hours (the previous week).

When I envisioned my life without depression and anxiety, I mostly envisioned it as being of service to others through various volunteering opportunities I had denied myself because of my depression and anxiety. So, over these last few months, one of the volunteering efforts I took up was fostering dogs. I’d like to do a whole blog post about that, but suffice it to say, as anyone with a dog knows, they are a lot of responsibility! And particularly when I’m tasked with being hands-on and active in trying to get them adopted out.

In addition to that volunteering effort, I also began volunteering with a local organization in my area to help the refugees coming in from Afghanistan (as well as Syria). It’s an issue that means a lot to me and again, I’d like to do a separate post about that as well. But that effort often included organizing the warehouse where donated furniture and other items are housed, as well as actually setting up the houses for the refugees (which entails moving the furniture to the house, setting it up and such).

Which, that wasn’t even my initial intention. I volunteered to be a driver for refugees, where I’d be tasked with taking them to various appointments. I took the initial orientation class to do that.

And the final item on the volunteering front: I took on a mentorship program through my university. The alumni of the college newspaper got together to each mentor the next generation of journalists and writers (as well as basic networking).

I bring none of these volunteering items up to pump my chest out about what I’m doing, only to show how I tend to overextend myself, these items being only the latest example.

The final element of trying to envision a life beyond depression and anxiety was to put myself out there more when it came to family. That is, instead of living a life of a hermit crab and always being the No Guy when invited out, I’d push myself to go. I haven’t always done this these last few months, but there seemed to be a string of weekends where I was doing something with my brother, sister(s) or parents on a regular basis.

To be honest, I wish my therapist would have established some … brakes? Guardrails? I know he was concerned to an extent when I brought up the Instacart because he was worried it would only exacerbate my social anxiety, an issue we were still working on. It actually didn’t, which is great!

But overextending and indulging is my mentality and it always has been. Let’s take it all on; I want all the things. GIVE ME ALL THE THINGS. And then I realize, whoa, that’s too many things and start slinking back from them. I suppose you could say it’s a form of burnout, but I’m not sure what I experience is burnout, so much as feeling overwhelmed?

Why I do that to myself, I do not know.

I haven’t pulled back too much yet. I did pull back on the refugee volunteering, even though I’m still open to helping set up houses and move furniture when the availability arises. But after going through the orientation for driving the refugees around, I realized I couldn’t take that on, too and that would exacerbate my social anxiety (the volunteer would be tasked with checking refugees into medical appointments and things like that and I already don’t like doing that for myself), as well as stretching me even thinner. Not to mention, that would be more wear and tear on my vehicle beyond what I’m already doing via my work commute (albeit, that’s not as much as it used to be) and Instacart.

This is something I need to work on. As I’ve said, I’ve done this in the past, too. For example, working full-time while trying to get through college and that manifest its own “slinking back.” At least with the current slinking back, it’s slinking back from things I have no obligation to do (although that doesn’t necessarily help the thinking in my head, as I want to be helpful and useful to these organizations and people in them), whereas then, slinking back meant missing a class or sleep deprivation or whatever the case.

I’m not sure how a therapist would see this or assess it; why do I overwhelm myself and submerge myself under too many tasks and obligations? Why do I stretch myself thin until I need to recalibrate and slink back?

At least this time, I did it for I think good reasons: Feeling more confident, thanks to therapy and medication. That I could take on more and do more and be more. Alas, I still ran into the same problem!

Can any of you relate to this? If so, why do you think we do it?

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