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A sprained thumb and the truth about overwhelm

A few weeks ago, I fell. To break my fall, I put my right hand out. My thumb took my entire body weight and it was badly sprained. Beyond the pain which has turned to discomfort over the past 2 weeks, I had no idea how important my thumb on my dominant hand was. Of my 10 digits, it’s the most useful. By far. I could have written a list of all the everyday things it’s needed for; but I can’t because writing is one of the things I can’t do! As I type this, I’m adjusting for it right now. The buttons on my shirt. Putting on socks. Picking up a tea-mug, a plate or a bowl. Opening a bottle. Washing my hair. Turning taps on and off. Opening the front door. Locking the front door. Using a knife and fork. Scissors. Using my aero-press to make coffee. I could go on. And on. Here’s the point: I only realised all these things, and the countless others, one thing at a time. Thank heavens! If I had known all the things I could not do or struggle to do all at once during the moment I fell on it; I might have freaked out. I was already in agony from the physical pain. Then came the self-recrimination of “I really should have learnt by now not to run up stairs” and “What a clumsy clot I am to have tripped on the top step!” Then: “Well, I need to find a hospital to get this thing checked out – that’ll be fun” in my sarcastic self-talk voice. Add in the list of things I couldn’t do, and I’d have been in overwhelm. Deep overwhelm.



Each of the things I needed my right thumb for revealed themselves to me one thing at a time. And I adjusted, one thing at a time. Squeezing toothpaste on my toothbrush using different hands than I’m used to; the toothbrush using a different grip with my right hand. Gripping a bottle with my right forearm, twisting the lid with my left hand to open it. Using my index finger instead of my thumb to take my socks off. Each of these things and all the others, I figured out. One thing at a time. Everything I’ve ever done, has been one thing at a time. Yet, some mornings when I look at a schedule I might have for my day ahead, and all the other things I need to get done in between my client sessions; I can easily feel each of them stacked on top of each other. And me, under the weight of them all. All at once. Because I make up that I need to do all those things, all at once. And when I make that up, I feel the weight of all those things, all at once. I forget that I always do each thing one at a time. And I do fine, one thing at a time. Even challenging things, I figure it out the best I can, one thing at a time. Or I fail, one thing at a time. And I keep getting back up to face the next thing on my plate. One thing at a time. I rise to the occasion, in real time, one thing at a time. I always have: every moment, every day of my entire life. I’m designed to do things one thing at a time. Every time I remember the truth of that, I fall out of that heavy, imaginary ‘all at once’ thinking. And overwhelm has gone. In a flash. As quickly as I made it up. My sprained thumb has reminded me of that once again. Thank you, thumb!

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