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Back home in Brooklyn, I’m still sorting through years of collected stuff. Some of it is junk, some of it is inspiration for creative DIY projects, and some of it is useful or needed but misplaced. It takes a painfully slow time going through it. It doesn’t help also having ADHD. Thinking back pre-9/11, I remember feelings of overwhelm while organizing, and often organization went on the backburner out of procrastination. I no longer procrastinate, nor do I “feel” overwhelmed. What exactly is overwhelm?

At the departing airport getting here, I boarded the plane and started crying. I could not explain why. Tears just produced. I didn’t feel sad. The lead flight attendant stood by and asked, “Are you overwhelmed?” I didn’t know. But I nodded.

Merriam-Webster defines overwhelm as:

1 : upset, overthrow
2 a : to cover over completely : submerge
b : to overcome by superior force or numbers
c : to overpower in thought or feeling

I guess I was overwhelmed as in definition 2c. I suppose I was overwhelmed in thought. I saw it was a plane I was getting on, and the tears just came out. Even thinking the word plane causes my eyes to well up. When I close my eyes and pay attention to the physical sensations in my body at the thought of the word, I feel weakness in my torso and tightness at the bottom of my jaw. It’s what I felt while on the hospital hotline with dozens of callers on the night of 9/11 as I took in their desperation and their grief. While others heal from their grief, the grief those callers passed on stayed in me for years. But finally I’m healing too.

Looking at the stuff I have to sort, I realize it’s from years of living with that grief and in total denial. Overwhelm? Yes. But it’s not feelings of overwhelm. It’s that these items came around during years of unknowingly living with PTSD; some of it, factors of hoarding. My thoughts are overwhelmed by that one thought. It’s as if a single intrusive thought blocks access to the executive portion of the brain and only a single lane allows passage in and out. What should take one day to do takes three or four.

When things are organized and my room looks neat with everything put away, my mind is at ease and can focus on other tasks, including relaxing. Until my home is like this, I go through piles and boxes single file.

Time to be the overcomer.


Reading over what I just wrote, I came to the word plane and tears didn’t come back. Perhaps sensory regulation worked. I see now that on the plane I was overwhelmed with grief and simply numb to it.

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