I have a confession. I have a touch of the obsessive-compulsive traits. Most of the people who know me are now screaming out, “A touch?!?” Yes, a touch. I know that it is just a touch because I don’t break out in hives walking in my own very messy house. I can actually reside with the man I married who never seems to notice the clutter that to me looks like an audition for an episode of Hoarders. Also, as a psychologist, I know I don’t actually meet the criteria. I don’t have rigid rituals or counting or irrational unbidden thoughts of doom if I don’t complete those rituals.
So, I don’t have the full blown disorder, and while I am a control freak of the highest honor, I am not going to melt down if someone goes through the house making every picture crooked. No, that is not a challenge! However, in the last year or so, I have developed at least one ritual that intrigues and even concerns me a bit, if I’m completely honest with myself.
I’ve started making lists. I don’t mean the shopping list, or the going-to-the-store-don’t-want-to-forget-the-one-thing-I-actually-needed list. I mean lists for tasks, lists for packing, lists for work, for after work, for vacation, lists for the day, the week, the next trip, and the next six months. Yeah, I admit it. I’m a little worried. At one point, it was genuinely just a way for me to make sure I didn’t forget to do important things, especially during the health crisis of the last year. However… it has become something more.
It may be that my life has quite literally developed way more irons in the fire than any one person can technically manage. On any given day, I have too many tasks, too many things to worry about, and way too many places I’m supposed to be at any given time. I know this. And, it most definitely calls to mind other articles I’ve read and advice from other people about simplifying my life and learning to say “No,” but that might be a bit advanced for me at this point. The overall outcome to the plate spinning and balls in the air is that I’m always afraid that they are going to all come crashing to the ground in a gloriously, unholy mess. The result is that I get anxious, very anxious… occasionally finding myself holding my breath without realizing it. I do all the normal, healthy things for this. I use my belly breathing techniques that I use with trauma victims and clients with anxiety. I use the yoga and mindfulness techniques that I have learned from Mary NurrieStearns (awesome lady, by the way). I focus on my breathing and the sensation of my feet on the floor and my ass in my chair… and it works… for approximately 10 minutes. It isn’t that the techniques aren’t good. It is that my brain is ruminating and still processing all the things that I need to do, and it is in a muddle and swirling around, and very unlike the clouds passing (Another Mary technique), they buzz around in my head like a swarm of angry yellow jackets.
So, I succumb to what has become my most reliable coping mechanism. I start making lists. Like magic, the anxiety dissipates. Now, in this world of technology, smart phones, personal planners, smart watches, electronic assistants (Siri hates me), wearable technology, and every other means of keeping us on time for our very busy lives, you would probably think that I’ve got it all on my phone ready to notify me of every upcoming meeting and missed appointment. Nope. Not this time.
Our electronic babysitters are actually contributing factors in my occasionally overwhelming angst. My phone pings, my computer pings, my alarms go off… hell, the car even yells at me for seatbelts and fuel. The point being? I fluctuate between tuning out the pings, beeps, pongs, and boits… OR I jump out of my hide for every blessed one of them. Either way, it isn’t particularly helpful to my anxiety levels, stress, or me actually not forgetting any of my obligations. There is also something just amazingly therapeutic to writing out a list of things that have to be done and crossing them off… sometimes like Zoro with a rapier! It helps to write my tasks out where I can see them. It takes them out of the buzzing cloud in my head and makes them physically present in the world in front of me. I can actually look at them and assign different priorities or deadlines. When I actually do the task, I can cross it out, or I can erase it on a dry erase. (But I have to tell you, there is something much more satisfying about crossing it out.) My typical habit is to start out the week with a list of tasks. Some of them are actually tasks that I do every single week, and technically, I shouldn’t need to write them down to remember them. They are almost habit, but I put them on the list first thing on Monday morning anyway. Throughout the week I cross accomplished ones off, and others get added as fires crop up to be addressed in my work/life balance. When I get to the end of the week and there are a few tasks still there, they move to the top of the list for the next week and so it goes.
Maybe it isn’t so bad. So far, I haven’t gotten into the quagmire of ruminating and circling the same tasks that rotate from week to week without ever being crossed off. It works for me… so far. It helps me stave off the overwhelming urge to run away and join the circus… so far. It hasn’t let me forget anything really important… so far.
So far… so good. I guess I will go ahead and accept my coronation as Queen of the List-Makers.