Benchmarking frazzled-ness
November 11, 2015 8:15 AM   Subscribe

I have some questions about my experience of the world, relative to others', sort of along the lines of the "What is it like to not be depressed" thread awhile back. I'm familiar with the emerging body of literature that people really suck at multitasking, no matter how good at it they think they are, but I'm starting to realize that I'm really, really bad at it. What I don't know is whether or not most people feel this way.

When I only had me to manage, I was fine at life. I was great at school, didn't have any problems being independent in grad school, or having a job with no kids, and I adjusted ok to job + one kid. But now that I have a job and two kids (each of whom has some issues that require extra management) it's really hard to cope. For a long time it seemed totally reasonable to be distracted and a little crazy, because we were always dealing with a new crisis du jour (new baby, spouse work, kid sensory processing flareup and eventual diagnosis, baby health problems). BUT we haven't had much in the way of crises lately, I've obtained a significant amount of household help, and I've started investing some resources in self-care. By all accounts I should at least be managing better. After more than a few months, though, I still feel like I'm constantly floundering, and it's getting to the point where the reasons are starting to feel internal.

As I try to address some behavioral concerns with my son, who has sensory processing disorder, I'm starting to realize that I have some of the same issues. Specifically, I get really agitated when I'm hearing two audio streams at the same time (like when my husband has the radio on and then starts talking to me.) I also notice that, while I'm great with the kids one on one, I feel anxious in anticipation of having them both at once. The anxiety feels mostly related to the need to switch focus constantly between the two of them. It's easier when we're all doing the same thing, but with a 2 and 5 year old you can't count on that for more than 2 minutes at a time. Similarly, I have a lot of anxiety about driving on highways with more than 3 lanes, or in areas with aggressive traffic, because I feel the need to track every vehicle around me and in those situations I can't track enough cars with enough detail to anticipate what every single one is going to do.

Like my son, I really really struggle with task initiation for boring mundane tasks. At work (and at home) if there's a crisis or a deadline, I can work really fast and handle it well. But the longer term, boring things, like cleaning? I go down every possible rabbit hole on my way to avoiding them. (As does he.) I have trouble accomplishing things that are part of being a normal adult, like getting my car emissions-tested and renewing its registration.

I don't have good benchmarks for how other people perceive their lives. Does any of this sound either distinctly familiar or distinctly alien? (If you are a parent of young children who are no longer infants, is taking care of two of them at once four times as hard?) If it does sound distinctly familiar, what coping tactics have helped you?
posted by telepanda to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
It sounds pretty familiar to me, but I probably have sensory processing issues. ("Probably" because they weren't a thing when I was a kid.)

I've found reading some of the books and online resources about SPD in adults to be helpful -- Sharon Heller being one of the authors. They have coping techniques that might work for you. They also help make it a bit more comfortable to establish WHY you have these boundaries and stand up for them -- for example, I no longer feel like I *should* go to crowded, noisy places or be comfortable in them. I avoid them. It's OK. I'm doing me.

On a completely different front, I also have been diagnosed with one of the many medical disorders that can contribute to extreme frazzledness. You could consider getting a checkup and asking your doctor to run iron, Vit D, Vit B12, thyroid, and all the rest of the usual suspects.
posted by pie ninja at 8:32 AM on November 11, 2015


My kids are well older than yours, neither they nor I have any processing disorders, and I would classify all this as "distinctly familiar." The things you think of as "part of being a normal adult" are things parents flake on all the time. I'd expect 5 more years of frazzle at least. You'll handle it!
posted by escabeche at 8:55 AM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sadly, even as a person without kids, I feel this way all the time. (Well, I don't have the sound processing thing, but everything else yes.) I'm pretty sure I'm normal, but maybe I'm not?
posted by samthemander at 9:02 AM on November 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is totally normal--I don't know any parents that aren't like that, even in families where one parent stays home and takes on running the household as their full time job. We like to joke that adding kids to a family increases the difficulty exponentially, not linearly.

Here are some concrete steps that my family has taken to cope (we have a two-year-old and an almost-four-year-old):
* Important dates go into shared Google calendars. We assign responsibility for the task (such as calling about our car insurance or whatever) at the same time.
* We have a weekly calendar white board on which everyone's schedule goes in a different color.
* Groceries are written down on a white board on the fridge as we run out or think of things.
* We email each other all day every day as we think of stuff that needs doing.
* We have a "no fault" rule for both forgetting stuff AND nagging. So I don't get upset when he reminds me for the fourth time that I need to call about the car insurance, and he doesn't get upset that he needs to remind me for the fourth time that I need to call about the car insurance. (Fuck. I need to call about the car insurance instead of dicking around on AskMe. )
* We sit down every Sunday night for a quick pow-wow to discuss what's going on and what needs to be done during the coming week. And we update the schedule whiteboard at the same time.

Also, being an adult with kids is kind of a slog sometimes. Like, it's not mostly fun stuff (although the fun stuff is great when it happens). It's taking care of all of the unpleasant mundane crap that keeps everyone alive and healthy. Seems like normal adulting to me.
posted by asnowballschance at 9:11 AM on November 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


My trick for multitasking? I absolutely refuse to do it. People try to make me and I tell them to fuck off and go to hell and point them in the direction of research that shows how crap we are at it, how human brains don't work that way.
What I do instead? I think ahead. When working on A I ask myself 'what's next?' By the time I've moved on to B I've figured out C,D and maybe E. By the time I hit E I have my list for the rest of the day all sorted in the queue and am free to think about all the new pictures they're downloading from Pluto. Have you seen them? They're awesome.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:15 AM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


You sound like my twin, so this sounds distinctly familiar. At a very fundamental level, I think this is incredibly common in any situation that combines work life and taking care of kids (and any number of other combinations of complicated adult things, whether or not kids are in the mix).

I was a hellion until I met my partner and became stepdad to his three kids. I was 27 at the time, and his kids were between 5 and 13. The shock of the transition is still with me, because there's just suddenly so much that needs to be done. Life with kids in a contemporary American sense is, for better or worse, a stream of doctor visits, school stuff, scheduling, extracurricular stuff, test prep, and general instruction and consoling and discussion. As kids get older, their needs and special circumstances develop in different ways, so those activities tend to fracture in divergent, additive ways. We dance around those things with work obligations over which we have limited control and, for most people, limited flexibility. Try and work your own interests in there and tasks that bore you or assault your senses are suddenly a boondoggle.

My feelings on multitasking, especially for work, is that it's bullshit. It's a myth of the productivity and ambition focused Work Culture, and beyond one or two things at a time it's meaningless and causes suffering. We work within it as best we can and try to find a groove. In my case, I opted for a lower paying job that aligns better with my personal beliefs and allows me to work from home full time. Cutting out a commute (since my partner travels for work weekly) was a huge boon not only to my family, but to my sense of self. I gained a couple hours of my life back each day, and a good portion of that I try to keep to myself--no kids, no chores, nothing but my self-directed interest--to stave off the frazzle.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:17 AM on November 11, 2015


You mentioned investing in your self-care: are you getting enough sleep for you? Are you doing the anxiety dance before bed, or when you wake at 3 a.m.? One thing that has helped me is getting to bed at a consistent time, and reading myself to sleep. It turns my brain toward something other than the million things of my day, and functions as bandwidth allocation practice. I co-slept with each of my two kids because it was just easier--we both slept better. But life became MUCH BETTER when they were on their own, and I could ratchet back the high-alert listening for kid noises thing. Do you have someone else to share night duties with? If so, are you taking turns?

"Bandwidth" for me is "sufficient energy for the task at hand." The sad truth is that I have a finite amount of it each day, and that levels fluctuate day by day. I think that's normal, despite what we see others posting on FB, or via other media. I try to remember that. Taking the car for an oil change is necessary, though I hate making that call and actually doing it. But what's *worse* for me is the mental/emotional energy of 1) having it hanging over my head; 2) worrying that the oil light will come on when I'm far from the mechanic, and the kids are in the car; and 3) beating myself up about not being a competent adult. So that call ceases to be a source of dread, and becomes something I am doing for my self-care! That reframing helps shift an annoyance into something I can invest my bandwidth in. (Also important to note: the rise of shadow work is real, and a new-ish burden. Instead of using, say, travel agents, we book trips ourselves. There's definitely more of that in play than there used to be, and you are spending more of your bandwidth on it! We will not discuss the levels of parent involvement in their children's lives. Brigid Schulte's "Overwhelmed" speaks to this.)

I encourage you to follow up on your questions about sensory processing. That said, I'd also encourage you to listen to this discussion with Daniel Levitin, much of which is about the myth of multitasking's glory. It suggested, at least to me, that two audio streams at once *is* too many.

As for your son... do we share a child? One method that works (sometimes) is for us to do the boring tasks together; to have good conversation and, yeah, we might as well put the sheets on the bed while we're talking, or go through hats and gloves. It de-centers the overwhelm for both of us.

My vote is for sounds familiar: this stuff is hard, and tiring in multiple ways. Practice unitasking. Defend your bandwidth. Get good sleep. Forgive yourself, and recognize how much you're doing and those parts of it that are going well. Good luck.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:54 AM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


No kids here and no diagnosed issues, but this absolutely sounds like my life --especially when I try to fit too much in. I've been meaning to cancel my pet insurance for oh, 6 months now. There's random laundry that was dirty when I moved to this apartment a year ago, and it's still dirty. I find most driving to be intolerably nerve-wracking because the level of focus seems impossible. My partner has a habit of watching chatty TV/listening to NPR in the mornings and if I'm trying to work or talk or think this will drive me completely batshit. I don't even listen to music much while trying to work. Also similar to you, completing tasks isn't as hard as initiating them, especially when they are boring/dreadful.

None of this used to be an issue for me, at all. (Well, procrastinating dreadful things has always been.) I used to work most effectively with a radio on; driving used to be no big deal. For me, I think it's more age and tiredness than anything pathological--my partner has diagnosed sensory processing issues and while we share certain annoyances, there's definitely a difference between my "can't hear myself think" frazzle and his sensory overload. But if your kid has a diagnosed issue, it seems like getting yourself checked out on that score would be good.

Still at the outset of figuring out my coping mechanisms honestly. I did cut out my commute to work from home, which leads to more sleep, which helps a bit. I did start setting more timers and reminders so that I can unitask without letting other stuff slip as much. ("Don't need to worry about the laundry, I can wait to worry about that until the laundry beeper beeps. Until then I can worry only about work." etc.)

More structure in general seems to be better than less; it is easier to multi-focus if at least part of the situation is on autopilot. This probably can't be easy with two young kids, but kids supposedly love structure also, so...maybe they'd respond really well, and that would be reinforcing?
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 10:21 AM on November 11, 2015


I'm not sure what kind of answers you're going to get besides anecdotes, but -

I get really agitated when I'm hearing two audio streams at the same time (like when my husband has the radio on and then starts talking to me.)

I don't feel agitated about things like this except when the radio is too loud for me to actually clearly hear the person speaking. I'm not multitasking, I'm switching focus as needed, which mostly I can do with little or no conscious effort.

I also notice that, while I'm great with the kids one on one, I feel anxious in anticipation of having them both at once. The anxiety feels mostly related to the need to switch focus constantly between the two of them. It's easier when we're all doing the same thing, but with a 2 and 5 year old you can't count on that for more than 2 minutes at a time

I don't have kids, but I have friends with multiple kids, and while I think parents generally tend to be more frazzled than not, this anxiety is unfamiliar to me. I don't feel a need to focus equally on all the kids all the time - once the toddler has shown me the neat worms he's found under the rocks, he'll happily go back to quietly turning over the rocks on his own, and I can talk tea parties with the 6-year-old. This is multi-tasking, of a sort, because you're keeping half an eye on the toddler to make sure none of those worms go down his gullet, but it's only half an eye, my main focus at any given moment is on one child. Which seems to be how my "calmer " friends-who-are-parents approach things.

I have a lot of anxiety about driving on highways with more than 3 lanes, or in areas with aggressive traffic, because I feel the need to track every vehicle around me and in those situations I can't track enough cars with enough detail to anticipate what every single one is going to do.

Again, this seems fairly alien - mostly unconsciously I'm tracking the vehicles only in my immediate vicinity (nowhere near every vehicle), and simultaneously analyzing driving styles: i.e. "the person one car length ahead and one lane to the right seems to be a solid driver, I can mostly ignore them and instead keep a closer eye on the person who keeps drifting in and out of my driver's-side blind spot." Again, it's a kind of multi-tasking, but it's not about paying equal attention to All The Things.

struggle with task initiation for boring mundane tasks. At work (and at home) if there's a crisis or a deadline, I can work really fast and handle it well. But the longer term, boring things, like cleaning? I go down every possible rabbit hole on my way to avoiding them. (As does he.) I have trouble accomplishing things that are part of being a normal adult, like getting my car emissions-tested and renewing its registration.

OTOH, this sounds more familiar, but, y'know, we're all just hairless apes - boring tasks are boring, and avoiding boredom is quite possibly hard-wired into us, to some extent. And things like emissions or registrations that don't happen very often are easy to forget - I'm sure I wouldn't remember if my state's BMV didn't mail me reminders.


So far I seem to be in the minority, most of the above answers think your life sounds very familiar . . . . so obviously you're not so far from the common experience as to be abnormal or anything. (Maybe I'm the weird one.) But I certainly don't think it could hurt to look into whether you have a level of SPD or other medical or psychological elements at work that could be a factor in how frazzled you feel and how smoothly you are coping with your life.
posted by soundguy99 at 10:43 AM on November 11, 2015


I went to therapy after a series of family medical crises passed but I still felt frazzled and stuck. I took a private course of MBCT. I hated it but the mindfulness techniques proved helpful. Therapy is cliché for a reason.

Perpetual crisis mode is exhausting and it's not too surprising in my view that you're having trouble adjusting to "new normal". There's now this hyperawareness to any twinge suggesting recurrence. Honestly this took me years to manage and I am still learning. Give it time.

The hardest part was more aggressively taking time for myself. I scheduled exercise classes and have my husband accommodate this schedule. I went on holiday to visit my family by myself. I went to some trendy float houses to meditate and quiet the brain down. I allowed myself to let paperwork slide. It helps.

Take whatever it is you need to feel like you're not always on the precipice of crisis. Sounds to me like you need more self care than you have. Ask for help, lower your expectations in yourself, and take your time. Crisis takes a long time to unwind. Good luck.
posted by crazycanuck at 11:59 AM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Does any of this sound either distinctly familiar or distinctly alien?
Oh yeah, totally familiar. Two young kids (15 months and 2.5 yrs here) and it is frazzled city. I have no idea if it's normal or what. I had actually chalked it up to being an introvert and almost never being alone to recharge those batteries. But you might be on to something with the sensory connection -- I wonder if there's a connection between folks who have some sensory sensitivities and finding social (often noisy/chaotic) situations draining? Interesting idea...

If you are a parent of young children who are no longer infants, is taking care of two of them at once four times as hard?
Sometimes, yeah. As you point out, when I have to divide my attention between them (when they are doing different things), especially when they are both needing my attention (mommy, mommy, mommy, etc.). When they are able to play together, or at least one of them is self entertaining, managing it's not so bad. The problem is these quiet/demanding periods seem to come in waves, so there will be weeks + where it's very challenging b/c teething/sick/transition/new life skill/etc. And I suspect there's more of this the further apart in age the kids are since their interests and needs are more likely to be different.

If it does sound distinctly familiar, what coping tactics have helped you?
I tried a number of things, mostly behavioral/environmental and some helped some, but I still felt like I had this underlying tension. It took me a while to figure out that I was dealing with actual "Anxiety" and was constantly hyperaware, so even when things weren't hard and demanding all of my resources, it felt like they were. I talked to my doc and decided I wasn't ready for trying prescription meds (youngest is still nursing, and I wasn't in crisis), so I started looking at what non-rx options there were. On something of a whim I decided to try this stuff, natural calm magnesium a couple of weeks ago, because trying it was EASY (my schedule being what it is) and it is about as benign as you can get. And I don't know how to say this without sounding like a shill or dupe, but holy shit! I felt better overnight. I even convinced my husband to try it, and he had the same experience. We both feel like we can think more clearly, deal with the chaos more calmly, have more energy and enjoy more of our chaotic life. It's only been a couple of weeks but damn. I have no idea if it would help you at all, but it's made such a huge difference for us, and it's so easy, that I wanted to mention it.
posted by pennypiper at 10:00 AM on November 12, 2015


I have a 3 year old and a 6 year old, and other than the sound stream thing, this sounds pretty alien to me (sorry!). The two sound streams thing only bothers me if more than one of them actually requires my attention, though. Like, two kids asking me questions at once, for example. The tv and the radio, or even the radio and one kid are not a problem, to me.

I generally prefer watching both of my kids over just the younger one alone. The older one alone is fine, so maybe you're in a particular rough spot with these particular two kids at these particular ages.

I have had anxiety with driving, but not regarding keeping track of multiple lanes of traffic.

I do sometimes have issues with procrastination, but I've found that setting a day for everything even if it doesn't really NEED to be done that day can really help.

I did have a really hard time when I was dealing with physical therapy for myself, "regular" therapy for myself, feeding therapy for my kid, other medical stuff for me, both kids, and both dogs, and work. It wasn't the particular issues you have mentioned, but with my stress levels up, everything was more stressful and harder to manage. I have noticed a lot of your posts, and you have been through some really stressful times recently. I know you say things are more even keeled now, and I think it's great that you're thinking about all of this stuff, but I'm also hoping for your sake that part of it is that you need a little more time to get over the stress of the past while. Thinking good thoughts for pandafamily!
posted by freezer cake at 9:17 AM on November 18, 2015


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