Reviving the Overdrawn Life

Nov 13, 2012

Three weeks ago my husband and I took a vacation.

I expected it to fix me. It did not.

When we returned, friends and family asked, “Do you feel rested?” I saw the  expectancy in their eyes, their hope I’d come back a new woman—or at least the “old Michele” they remembered.

I didn’t know how to answer without disappointing both of us.

“Rested? Not as much as I’d hoped.” I attempted to explain:

“I slept a lot while we were gone. Unplugged completely from phone and internet. I even read several books. But I feel like a $300 overdrawn checking account. You can deposit twenty-five bucks, which certainly helps move things the right direction. Still, you’re in the hole.”

I have a good life. Three adventure-loving boys, 15, 19, and 20. A hardworking, entrepreneurial husband and the thriving business he owns. Opportunities to speak and encourage men and women around the globe. A great team to collaborate with. A blog with a faithful and growing community. Coaching opportunities, writing projects and deadlines. Not to mention, a long list of projects I want to roll up my sleeves and dig into.

But last year three little people joined this already full life. For twelve months, we’ve continued life as usual, as much as possible, surrounded by unknowns. But here we are a year later, without any answers, still going full bore.

Most of the time, I can function at a high level, accomplish a massive list of to-do’s. This time, however, I spent more than I deposited, pushed myself too hard without any recovery time. The circumstances demanded it, to some extent. But the cost, steep. I want to sleep. And cry. A lot.

I’m being more frank than is comfortable because I know a few of you are overdrawn as well. I’ve read your emails, seen your bleary eyes over coffee. The private side of me wants to preserve my ego, wait for a few months when I’m rested and all this is wrapped up nicely.

But put-together people make overdrawn people feel like their failing. I don’t want you to feel like a failure; I want you to feel less alone. And have the courage for change.

My bankrupt status has become the necessary catalyst for change. If you’re overdrawn and want to climb out of your hole, this is me, hand extended, sharing what my stretched-thin, hyper-emotional, overdrawn self is doing right now to dig out of my own:

Brave an Honest Evaluation: For the past three weeks, I’ve been engaged in a gut-wrenching self-assessment. With a notebook, I listed my responsibilities and schedule. I looked at my expectations and motives, why I do what I do. I listed my true priorities, then measured how well I executed those priorities. I also listed my desires and dreams, what fills me up and I wish I could do more of.

Make Big Changes: A glance at my notebook, and it’s clear to see why I’m overdrawn. I’m trying to do it all. My output is greater than my input. Taking a trip or hiring a babysitter for a night isn’t going to reconcile my accounts. I need to overhaul my spending, say “no” to good things because I can’t afford the cost. I’m in the process of executing these changes. But, so you know, I’m heartbroken about this. Having to walk away from things I love is not easy.

Solicit Outside Help: One of my greatest revelations has been this: If I eliminated everything from my life except for my husband and six children, I still could end up overdrawn. I—we—need help. I don’t know what this looks like yet. I might need someone to clean my house or help with the kids from time to time, maybe hire a personal assistant or order pizza for dinner for a year. (Maybe not that last one). All I know is we can’t do these things alone. It’s up to me to ask.

Relinquish Control: This will be my biggest challenge. Now that I’ve made tough decisions and asked for help, I need to LET. GO. Isn’t this the rub for all of us? On some level, we know what we need to do. It’s the doing it that’s tough. Two friends offered this counsel (in separate conversations, no less):

“Do those things only YOU can do. Then let the rest go.”

Yes. Exactly.

You, too.

Have you ever been overdrawn? Are you now? What are you doing to dig out?

31 Comments

  1. Denise

    Oh Michele, I feel your exhaustion and discouragement… You are a brave soul to lay it out there, because so many judge us as not being good enough if we can’t do it all.
    I was waaaay overdrawn, too, a few years back. It was hard to start removing responsibilities one by one, then even the ‘good’ stuff had to go. As you say, it all has a cost.
    The litmus test for me was “Will this help or hinder me in my committment for recovery?” Hindrances had to go. I am finally able to slowly add things back.
    I hope you will give yourself permission to take as long as you need. The world kept turning, even after I did the unthinkable and gave up so many responsibilities.
    Think of the oxygen mask on the plane -they always say don your own first, then help others. This analogy helped me keep my focus. I hope you will find it helpful, too.

    Reply
  2. Mike Asbury

    Tha nail on the head has been hit. You couldn’t have written this at a better time for me, Michele. While in the infancy stages of launching my coaching practice, I have been juggling a myriad of other balls in the air, and I realize that priorities have to be in the areas where things to get done can only be done by me.

    You are right. I needed to hear that I’m not alone and not an anomaly. Vacation comes next week, and it will be empowering to spend some of that down time planning for the weeks that follow. Thank you for this post!!

    Reply
    • Michele

      Mike, thank you for being equally as open about your life. Launching a new business is a good thing, exciting even. But it can become all consuming, can’t it? “Do those things only YOU can do.” Enjoy every moment of that vacation …

      Reply
  3. Amy Theding

    Thank you for writing this Michelle. I find that this is by far the biggest struggle most people face. From single moms to CEOs there doesn’t ever seem to be enough of us to meet the demands placed on us. My dad was one if those over stressed busier than busy guys. When he suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack in January and life went on without him, I realized what a lie it is that we have to take responsibility for so many things. Stopped me cold and forced me to reevaluate my priorities and schedule. Thank you for writing this as a fellow struggler – not some one who has it all figured out. You are a blessing and you are loved.

    Amy

    Reply
    • Michele

      Oh, Amy. I’m so sorry about your dad. What a loss! But I’m guessing he’d be proud of what you have learned from both his life and death. It’s quite sobering to realize that life really would go on without us. Can’t help but change where — who! — we invest our best selves.

      Reply
  4. Stephanie

    Oh Michelle! This resonates with me – I have been there, exactly where you are feeling that way. For me, it took a lot of prayer, a lot of refocus on my real priorities and just saying no to many things. I had to deliberately simplify our life. Our home, our activities and really discover what was most important and only focus on those things. I found that eventually things got better – children grow older and more independent, and life gets a little easier. I spent much time in the word so that I could get refreshed in order to give. I hung onto Christ like a lifeline and he carried me through – right out of the mud and muck and onto solid ground. Praying for you sister in Christ!

    Reply
  5. Tracy

    Michele,

    I can relate with every word here. This fall I’ve done what every wise woman told me not to do once my youngest started kindergarten: over-volunteer. The position I agreed to fill on the board of the PTA is turning out to be a full-time gig. I pull all-nighters to make the my son’s football team videos. The list goes on and on. Ordering pizza for dinner for a year sounds GREAT.

    Here’s what I’m doing to dig out:
    1) Practicing this one little word: “no.” It makes me cringe to type it. I’m terrible at saying no, but I’m working on it.
    2) Establishing some routines. Every Monday morning I start the week with a run at the lake trail in Austin with my friend Aimee. Our kids go to different schools and we rarely see each other. We run, talk, encourage. And no matter what else my week holds, I can count on that replenishing time with her. It energizes me.
    3) Getting help with laundry. Ok, this sounds ridiculous. And indulgent. But just three weeks ago I hired help with the laundry. I have a wonderful woman come one day a week and do the sheets, towels, husband’s stuff, and one big kids load and put it away. (gasp! had to retrain the kids to look in their drawers for clothing rather than the clean laundry pile). I can’t even believe how much this is helping me. I would honestly rather have help with this than with cleaning. On a typical day I am folding laundry at midnight. It was killing me. I still have a lot of laundry to do the rest of the week, but it’s manageable and I can go to bed at a decent time.

    I love your blog, Michele. Thank you for sharing in a way that the rest of us can relate! It’s a comfort.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Ack! The curse of over-volunteering! 🙂 Been there, done that. More times than I can count. You’d think I’d eventually learn?! I love picturing you and Aimee running on the lake trail … BTW, getting help with the laundry is a great idea, because it’s PRACTICAL. Nicely done.

      Reply
  6. Cole Carley

    Michele:
    I enjoyed meeting and listening to you during the SCORRE conference which started me following your blog.
    While our circumstances are not that similar, I went through a tough period 12 years ago when my first wife died of pancreatic cancer. I learned a few things that helped me during that time.
    The biggest one was acceptance. It’s difficult to accept the idea that your life has been turned upside down and many people have a tendency to try to just “plow through it” or hunker down and wait for the stress to pass.
    It doesn’t pass without a lot of help.
    This is a time to be very good to yourself and also very patient, sometimes to the point of seeming selfishness. Take advantage of every opportunity to rest and be alone. This requires determination but it yields great benefits.
    You may also notice that your stamina and ability to concentrate have diminished. It’s normal. Go with that, hence the rest and alone time. You’re on the right track by giving up responsibilities when you can.
    Finally, and you probably already know this, accept that this may be a long process. Your emotional bank account has been overdrawn and will require some steady deposits.
    All my best and thanks for your insights during SCORRE.

    Reply
    • Michele

      This is great counsel, Cole. I hope our friends here take time to read your comments — a wealth of wisdom. Thank you!

      Reply
  7. Risé B.

    Oh, have I ever felt spent! I feel like a dog chasing it’s tale and the spinning rarely ceases. It’s an awful feeling. It is not nice feeling like you’re grasping on a frayed rope, hoping it will hold you for just a little while longer. My brain is functioning like a computer that has no memory left for storing anything of value – you try to save it, to store it and ‘insufficient memory’ persists. I hate it. I even attempt to sit down to get priorities straight, to try to figure out what I can do to simplify my life – and even that causes me anxiety. I have dreams and desires that go unfulfilled because being a wife and mom tends to override those other things I so desire to pour my heart into.

    Thank you for sharing … it does make a soul feel less alone, knowing that I’m not the only one.

    Reply
    • Michele

      You are definitely not alone, Rise! Thank you for sharing your heart here.

      Reply
  8. Sarah Beckman

    Wise woman, wise words. love the overdrawn bank account analogy woven through here. : ) Really helpful. And the rest of what I think you already know! and you’re awesome.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Thank you for the wisdom you continue to serve up in big portions …

      Reply
  9. Jennifer Major @Jjumping

    Michele, one of the most important, amazing, life-affirming and liberating win the English language is “no”.
    Christian women know it, but live in mortal fear of using it.

    Shouldn’t we aim to out Proverbs 31 everyone else?
    Shouldn’t we accept that our worth is tied to what we do?
    Don’t we know that we are judged by what we do for others?
    Don’t we need to look like the most perfect, busy, giving, caring, impressive people on the planet???

    NO.

    Drop your swords.
    Look up.
    Be loved by the Father.
    Ask HIM what you should do.
    Say ‘no’ to the rest.

    Reply
  10. Brent Johnson

    Michele, this is so good. Your blog and all this discussion. I love that you are authentic and admit where you struggle. Thanks for that. Being overdrawn is almost an American right and a badge of honor. So our workplace environments feed on being over your head in a list you will never get done. So what is a guy or a gal to do?? I can so relate to the struggle. I love being with people and someone that can be relied on and doing something that is effective. I want to make an impact on people and projects. So my involvement is overdrawn and emotionally and spiritually as a result too. Such a treadmill!

    What concerns me is I could say no to everything and still have an overdrawn problem. So the activities are only part of the problem but can mask the real problem of emptiness or whatever is an emotional/spiritual issue.

    My situation is busy for the next few months and it is a result of others tasking me where I don’t have a lot of control over. Only thing I can control is my response to the pressure and areas that I feel overdrawn.

    Okay I’m rambling now. Thanks for such an encouraging discussion. Blessings to you and everyone in your walk with Christ. Perhaps we can let go more and allow God’s Grace to more full envelop us where we are and lead us to that abundant life! God Bless!

    Reply
    • Michele

      Yes, a treadmill! And rarely do we get off, until it throws us off. In particular, I liked your comment: “Only thing I can control is my response to the pressure.” In many cases, this is so true. In my situation, I can make some work changes, but I can’t change the inherent tasks and pressures of mothering six kids. I can control how I choose to think about it, the expectations I heap on myself, and I can do things like BREATHE (literally, inhale and exhale throughout the day) to change my physical response to the tasks and pressures.

      Reply
  11. Jon Stallings

    “But put-together people make overdrawn people feel like their failing” – I really believe that “put-together” people are really few. Most are just good at putting up a facade. At the end of the day we are all a work in progress. I too struggle to focus on what is really important in life. Thank you for your honesty. Continue to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9)

    Reply
    • Michele

      I agree, Jon. Truly put-together people are rare. I don’t know if I can think of a single one off the top of my head. Every person I treasure is imperfect and in-progress. That’s part of what I love about them.

      Reply
  12. Dan Erickson

    I’m a single dad with a full time job. I’m also a writer, blogger, musician, and outdoor enthusiast. It’s a lot on my plate. I agree we need to relinquish control at times, ask for help, etc. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful support system. There are days I feel overwhelmed, but with a higher guidance I’m able to find balance through the “intentional rhythms” of life.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Asking for help (and then letting the help happen!) is key. There is no weakness in a team approach—only strength.

      Reply
  13. Ashleigh

    Michele, I’ve always valued your transparency. I read this during a study break on 15 hour day in the library and it’s refreshing to hear us overdrawn people are not alone. How selfless you are to stretch yourself so thin to give those three littles the home they deserve. May the Lord bless you for your sacrifice and refresh your mind, body, and spirit as you find a positive balance in your overdrawn life. Praying for you.

    Reply
    • Michele

      No, dear Ashleigh, we are not alone. Just read the comments above. Brave souls, every one. Imagine how many more didn’t have the strength to say so right now. I think about you all the time, and how you’re working tirelessly for so many other littles who need a chance. Proud of you.

      Reply
  14. Cheri Gregory

    Michele —

    You/this will have top billing on next weekend’s blog round-up. I’ve already forwarded it to everyone I know with the gentle hint “MUST READ”!

    I’ll be re-reading this all week…and I’m digging out my copy of The Power of a Positive “No” for Thanksgiving Break re-reading.

    Thank you so much for sharing beyond your comfort level. I needed to hear it!

    Reply
    • Michele

      Thank you, Cheri. How did your Thanksgiving week go? Get some quiet and rest? And thanks for the reminder about “The Power of a Positive ‘No.” I need to read that one …

      Reply
  15. Kylie Dunn

    Wonderfully honest and brave post Michele. I think that the more people who seem to have it all actually have the courage to tell us all what it costs, the better our society will become. We have been living under this lie that we can have it all for so now that it is only through posts like this that people will realise that it is not true. Choices have to be made, by everyone, since there are only so many hours in the day that we have to devote our energy to.
    For me it has been a very freeing experience to let down the armour and allow people to know that I am not perfect (far from it) and when I am not coping. I still have a way to go to get my life properly aligned with my purpose and values, but learning how to say no and let people see when I am struggling have been huge changes that have come from my Year of TED project.
    I will certainly be sharing this with others Michele, thank you.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Yes, choices … Such difficult ones to make, at times. Thanks for sharing, Kylie. By the way, nice site. 🙂

      Reply
  16. Tammy Helfrich

    Great post, Michelle. I can definitely relate!

    Reply
  17. Chris

    So finally I comment on this spectacular post. I really appreciate your willingness to be transparent and honest about the overdraft life. You have made me love your blog all the more. Recently, my wife and I took a weekend away and the comments were wild, “do you feel rested?” That wasn’t the point. We just had enough time to take our blood pressure. Little breaks do, however, give us space to gather up our No’s and prepare to use them.

    Reply
    • Michele

      How kind, Chris. Thank you. So glad to hear about your weekend getaway … Sometimes people don’t do anything because they think a couple days isn’t enough. It’s not, but it DOES make a difference, especially if you schedule a few consistently throughout the year. Doing nothing, however, is sure way to burn out. Glad you could take some time to breathe.

      Reply

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