I don’t like change and I work hard to avoid it. Except sometimes. Mostly, however, that’s a truism.
I don’t change my schedule. I don’t go to new grocery stores, even when I could save money by doing so. I don’t buy gas at the store across the street from my bodega even when it’s cheaper because I’m not familiar with it. I don’t vary the route I take through the neighbourhood when I walk. I don’t welcome new people. I do the same things at the same time on the same days and rarely change. I keep the same doctors and dentists, even if they aren’t doing the best job. Change is difficult for me. It’s agitating and anxiety-provoking.
It was difficult when my adult daughter and her son – my grandson – moved in. The big changes to my home environment challenged my mental health.
It was difficult when my son moved out. Because I will miss him and his leaving is a hole in my heart, but also because the house is now different. Things are missing. It sounds different. I don’t get to hear him play piano anymore. My anxiety is heightened because of the differences. I am vigilant now, watching for slippage.
Sameness is good. It’s safe. Things are predictable. There are no expected occurrences, and no new people. Living this way helps keep my agitation low and my anxiety at bay.
It is, perhaps, at bit rigid but we do what we need to do to make things work.
New books are fine. New ideas are fine. New actions, people, and environments, not so much.
However, there’s one thing I change a lot and that’s my immediate surroundings. I’m forever rearranging rooms and organizing cupboards. Furniture, pictures, and assorted bits and pieces are all shifted, re-ordered, and reorganized on a regular basis.
I’m searching. Searching for the ideal layout. Searching for the perfect way to put furniture and decor together, a way that will create an oasis of calmness and serenity that will transform my brain overnight.
I just know that if I could get the couch and the wall unit and the end tables and the television put together correctly, I’d never feel anxious again. I’d never be depressed. In my head it seems like a logical and worthy goal no matter that part of me knows I’m asking a lot of a credenza.
I’ve spent a great deal of time and engaged in a great many behaviours in an effort to make the anxious feelings go away. They crawl around my brain and under my skin almost all the time.
This domestic re-ordering, this attempt to make a perfect space is eating disorder behaviour that has spilled out into other areas of my life. An eating disorder isn’t a contained problem; it doesn’t stay in its corner, it doesn’t only come out at mealtimes. It fills you up inside, takes over every little space.
The pursuit of the perfect body, because if you had a perfect body everything would be fine and you wouldn’t hate yourself and be sad and depressed and anxious, extends out and away. In me, it manifests in the pursuit of the perfect environment.
If only I could place the ottoman correctly; then my life would make sense. Then everything would be okay.
But internal problems rarely have external solutions.
It would be nice if they did. If I could buy this or arrange that and miraculously, things would be all right with my world. It would be an easier fix.
Working on the self is hard. Changing behaviours is hard. Changing behaviours that seem hardwired in, that seem to be your default operating system no matter that they’re negative and life-destroying, is ridiculously challenging. It’s odd having thoughts and beliefs that run counter to the drive to survive and thrive.
I shoot myself in the feet with my behaviours all the time, ad nauseum.
It gets old. I get frustrated with myself. Why can’t I simply be “normal”. Why is everything so much work?
Sometimes, I just give up. For a day or a week, I give in. I stop trying because what’s the point? I ignore the headway I’ve made and focus only on how far away I am from the goal. That suits my neuroses fine. They don’t really want me to get better because if I did, they’d have nowhere to live.
I picture them as dark, bat-like creatures that dwell within. If I fixed myself then they’d have to fly off and find some other hapless victim and that seems like work so they’d rather stay where they are, cozily tucked up inside me.
It’s okay to give up for brief periods. To take a break. Fighting with yourself day in and day out is tiring. It’s okay to rest and just be, even if just being means sitting on your easy chair undressed and unwashed for a few days while you catch your breath. Even warriors need a break from the battle.
And, it’s okay to do things that seem weird and compulsive to the outside world. They aren’t inside, they don’t know what it’s like to battle the thoughts swirling around your head. You use the tools you have at hand, even if at a later date, they too will need to be discarded.
After all, rearranging furniture compulsively is a better choice than eating half the food in the fridge before vomiting it up again into the toilet.
So, today I will be rearranging the pictures in my office and trying to find the perfect wall on which to prop up my bookshelf. Because pursuing ease in your thoughts and feelings is never a wasted effort, especially if the behaviour, though odd, is essentially benign and harms none.
Do you have coping strategies that look odd to the outside world but keep you moving forward in recovery?