Monthly Archives: January 2015

Being Overwhelmed.

It’s been a while since I have written a blog post here, though I have written one here


I’ll be writing a blog post there on the 21st of every month from now on, and I’m honoured to have been asked. But I know I’ve neglected my own blog. I have been a bit snowed under with editing, and I had a cold and….

Actually, that’s true, but mostly I’ve been a bit overwhelmed. Lots of reasons: first Christmas after my mum died, massive attack of self-doubt about writing, tiredness, catastrophic thinking about penniless future etc, worry about wars and rumours of wars, climate change, world poverty, Ebola, hospital closures, state of the laundry, state of the house, state of the nation, state of the world, state of my dogs’ ears -you name it, big or small, I’ve been fretting about it.

Plus the boiler broke.

And so today I thought I’d write something about being overwhelmed and reducing it to just being whelmed.

But just being whelmed means, so the OED tells me, being overturned and capsized. So forget the whole whelming theme. For now.

So. I am v keen on twitter. Without it I don’t think I would be a published writer. It enables shy people to network and chat and be opinionated and enthuse when they might just be tongue tied in the corner at a party or conference. I have met lovely people on twitter and I also have learnt lots and lots of interesting facts and found out lots and lots of things, which I frequently re-tweet (RT)

Things about (off the top of my head)

Dogs, Frogs, green house gases, sustainable logs,
Paddington, Hamsters with pouch
& whether the singer James Blunt is a grouch
Fines for missed parties,
funny ripostes,
Bombings and murders
And that’s not the lot

Austerity, misery, homelessness too
And unhappy elephants pictured in zoos
Magnificent stories, & glowing reviews,
Fab illustrations – there’s so much to choose.
whimsical tweets to RT and to fave.
Petitions to sign and a whole world to save.

I can get a bit overwhelmed.

So first of all, sorry if I’ve passed on the angst by RT or posting too many things.
Secondly, how can we survive being overwhelmed? Because, I bet I’m not the only one. (It’ll be a bit embarrassing if I am!)

When I was a child growing up in the ‘70s in a very religious Irish Catholic family, I got a bit obsessed with saving souls from Purgatory. I had read in a Catholic Truth Society leaflet or some such other publication, that we could pray for souls in Purgatory ( a sort of waiting room place where people who weren’t ready for Heaven but not bad enough for Hell suffered and longed for release). I read that by praying we could get them out and safely into heaven. It was a bit like an other -worldly Amnesty International campaign. So I lay in bed each night and in my head I pictured lots of anxious, very sorry people, waiting in a queue, and I decided that I would try to pray for the person at the front of the queue to get them into Heaven. At first it was intoxicatingly satisfying. They were SO HAPPY going through the gate, AND IT WAS MY PRAYER THAT GOT THEM IN. The trouble is, that the queue was endless. The person at the top was replaced by another hopeful person, and I felt it was very mean of me not to say an Our Father and a Hail Mary for them too. It wasn’t much, after all. And so I would do another set of prayers, and another, and another, until I was really so tired that I just had to stop, so I would say ‘sorry’ to the person left sadly at the top, and fall asleep worrying that I was selfish and should perhaps have just made a bit more effort. I was overwhelmed by the responsibility.

I’ve realised that, having thought I’d got out of that particular theological cul de sac many years ago, I am in danger of having a similar relationship with twitter. Twitter and the links to petitions and news items can make me feel that it is within my power to stop Greenhouse warming, bring about Peace in the Middle East, keep A & E Departments open, find lost dogs and teddy bears, revolutionise dementia care and save millions of starving people. It becomes very difficult to stop reading tweets and RT them.

It isn’t as if these stories I read on twitter aren’t true. I feel bad walking away from other people’s pain, but sometimes I feel a bit like that scene in Bruce Almighty with the emails. I have promoted myself to God and I’m (unsurprisingly) not up to the task. I know I am deluding myself if I think I can save the world by a RT, but it’s surprisingly hard not to feel bad if I don’t.

It’s hard to find the balance. I’ve learnt so much from twitter. I think it is a wonderful resource, and twitter campaigns DO have impact. If we shut out the world and only care about our own lives and our families then we run the risk of a mafia type mentality – a sort of ‘I’m all right Jack’ stance. I do believe the Gospel imperative of ‘Loving Thy Neighbour’, but in this age of global trade my neighbour can live thousands of miles away; a simple thing like, for example, buying a shirt DOES impact on those who made it on the other side of the world – were they paid fairly, were they exposed to pesticides etc., are their working conditions tolerable? Can I do anything to improve things for them? And even in our own country today there are people who are homeless or having to turn to foodbanks, or stressed because of zero hours contracts or simple unemployment.

It IS worthwhile campaigning. Things DO change. Look at amazing Martin Luther King, or Emily Pankhurst, or Sojourner Truth, or William Wilberforce, or Elizabeth Fry. Look at the founding of the NHS (don’t get me started on that today!)

But (I’m talking to myself here!) we all need to sleep. And live our own lives. We don’t live in the twitter sphere – we are not social media angels, or deities, changing the world with a click of a finger or 140 carefully chosen characters.

I don’t really know how to conclude this blog post. Maybe nobody else is feeling overwhelmed by twitter and this will be received with embarrassment or the equivalent of a polite cough. But I have noticed quite alot of despair today on twitter, for example, about the re-emergence of Page 3, and would like to share a couple of things which help me.

Firstly it’s good old Medieval Mystic Julian of Norwich, who was pretty keen on telling people how much God loved them and how, in spite of tempests, they would not be overcome. So here’s a link to some encouraging quotes from her about not being overwhelmed, which may cheer people even if they don’t share her (and my) religion:

Her book is called ‘The Revelations of Divine Love’, available at all good bookshops centuries after it first came out! If that isn’t aspirational for the writers amongst us I don’t know what is.

Lastly, something I don’t remind myself enough about. I do know it, but I keep forgetting it.
There IS something to stop us being overwhelmed in a bad way. It is free, it is universally available with or without broadband, timeless, beyond us and within us, but not us. It is other than us. (thank goodness – literally)(that was specially for me to tell myself) It is not limited or exclusive to any religion, or race, or gender, or nationality or political group, it is present in the pages of a children’s book or a joke or witty tweet as much, if not more than a political manifesto, and it has to be received before it is given.

And it can whelm and overwhelm us again and again – but in a wonderful way. It can and does and should turn our world upside down and it is always there. (I am a massive hypocrite as I keep forgetting this. However, as I tell my children practically daily, just because I’m a hypocrite doesn’t mean I’m wrong.) It was evident in, for example, the auction organised on twitter to raise money for the Philippines, and it is also evident in the many many tiny acts of love and encouragement that happen daily in the twittersphere. It is evident in the respect for women aspect of the Stop page 3 campaign, and is undefeatable, indefatigable, so campaigners mustn’t despair. As Julian of Norwich would say, it will never be overcome. It is evident in the tenderness of the Finding Lost Teddies tweets, and in the gorgeous children’s illustrations and books promoted (I’m biased here!). It is evident online (especially on twitter!) and offline. Outside us and Inside us.

And I don’t know why I’m so embarrassed to write it. I don’t want to seem twee, or saccharine, or silly. But I need to say it because ultimately, I do believe (in spite of my own delusions of grandeur) it’s the only thing that matters and the only thing that can save us. It is the ultimate reality. And luckily, it really is everywhere. And for everyone.

It’s Love.