That Time I Failed at Emojis (A Story of Overwhelm)

Pictures and images have the unique power to portray meaning and emotions difficult to convey in words alone. Knowing this, Apple has fatefully employed thousands of emojis since the late 2000s.

Long before the rise of adults using cartoons to communicate, there were paper sheets with hundreds of emoji faces on them. And they were used in therapy offices (or at least the one I went to as a middle schooler). Wanting to study people and become a better communicator, I even laminated my expressive face sheet and hung it next to my bed.

What Are You Feeling?

The psychological premise behind using cartoon faces with young people in therapy is quite sound and well-founded. Some people struggle expressing themselves, identifying their feelings, and consequently - identifying the feelings of others. 

Sometimes I wonder if I have studied and memorized insights on human behavior, but my innate tendencies are absent, superimposed, or still covered by the gigantic emoji discussed below. 

The Overwhelmed Face

Each week as a middle schooler battling anorexia, I was given a sheet with about one hundred different expressive faces on it. I was prompted to discern the sad/smiley face emotions and choose which one best described how I was currently feeling. Granted, I was allowed to choose more than one, but I pretty much always chose the one labeled “overwhelmed.” 

Maybe she has a bigger palette of feeling that isn’t on the sheet? 

I was given a sheet with even more faces to choose from… firmly planting my decision to always choose The Overwhelmed Face.

I could almost hear the therapist thinking, “Does she really have the same reaction to everything.. to every single life event?”

As the world is thrown into chaos, my answer (even as an adult no longer in therapy) seems to be, “Yes.”

I can even look back while assessing my life growing up, and my use of The Overwhelmed Face seems to be excessive. 

  • falling in love + fear of rejection = straight overwhelmed face
  • being a full-time musician + having no work benefits = straight overwhelmed face
  • death in the family + extreme gratitude for being alive = straight overwhelmed face
  • getting the job I want + afraid I won’t be good at it = straight overwhelmed face
  • elated telling a secret + fear of hurting someone = straight overwhelmed face
  • purchasing a nice house + the responsibility of having a house  = straight overwhelmed face
  • small wedding of my dreams + people offended they weren’t invited = straight overwhelmed face
  • natural birth + unexpected pain of breastfeeding = straight overwhelmed face
  • world shuts down + lots of time at home = straight overwhelmed face
  • my husband won’t get laid off + they took away the company retirement contribution = …..

I could keep going. Feeling a lot and choosing to live a lifestyle where I reflect on it has continually made it really hard to tell what I’m feeling at almost any given time. 

Know Thyself

Only in the past decade have I come across books with insights about high sensitivity, overexcitabilities, and unexpected insights linked to experiencing the world in a fundamentally different way. The confusion of feeling so many things at once can sometimes come across as feeling nothing at all. But journal upon journal, song after song, and blog post on top of blog post confirm - that’s probably not the case.  

In these crazy times of communicating almost exclusively online, The Overwhelmed Face still seems like the best choice. But I know how easily it can be misunderstood. Therefore, when I am doing collaborations or working with potential freelance clients on social media, I use the thumbs up and the fist bump instead.

Are you overwhelmed right now? Do you feel several things at once? How do you sort out what you are feeling so you can know yourself better?


4 Replies to “That Time I Failed at Emojis (A Story of Overwhelm)”

  1. i don’t think i’ve felt overwhelmed in a very long time. i guess that’s lucky and i feel for you going through traditional happy and sad events and all the others with that sense. i think you have a good life if you judge on whatever you allow us to know on here.

  2. Thank you Freddy. I’ve had a very awesome life full of ups and downs. It took me a long time to realize I feel things at an intense level, and therefore need to control my environment and what I let into my head. Once I figured out the power of environment (including what I read and watch), my life become exponentially better. I’m still overwhelmed a lot, but I know how to break it down internally and find out what is really going on and where to go next. (Thumbs up emoji).

  3. Oddly, I’ve recently been in more of an underwhelmed funk which isn’t my nature, but these are anomalous times. It’s certainly sapped my motivation for creativity. That said, I can generally be prone to overexcitability, particularly when there’s a zillion things I feel need doing NOW and that emoji certainly fits the bill.

    I guess it’s natural to be happy/scared=overwhelmed at times, but like Freddy alludes to, from what I read about your life here, things generally seem to work out well for you, so good to see you embracing some 👍 & 👊

    1. I’m always curious to see how people are doing across the world as we handle this together. Thanks for sharing your recent changes. Underwhelmed is an emotion I haven’t explored in awhile. I probably feel it at times but don’t even know it. It wasn’t on my radar… I think creative people in general bounce between far more emotions than they have labels for.

      Here’s to good times ahead for all of us. I sure think some people out there need a break from this craziness.

Comments are closed.