WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH … I TIDY
After a five month stay in the hospital, I returned home so weak I could barely stand. My worried husband found me folding towels and sheets in front of the linen closet. I didn’t have an answer for his shocked demand to know what the h I was doing. It took several days and a plethora of sorting and tidying to realize I was taking back control in the only way I could. My body had let me down repeatedly over the past five years. Crohns had taken over my life. At any time, I could experience a new and frightening symptom. Sorting my linen gave me a sense of control – a least my towels were all folded the same way.
Early this year, a friend lost her husband quite unexpectedly – a great shock. When I asked her how she was doing a week later, she told me she was tidying her kitchen cabinets, the next week it was painting the trim in her condo. I identified immediately with her need to reassure herself she had control over something.
Proponents of the chaos theory would say that disease, death, even a pandemic are part of the complex and confounding behaviour that comes from simple pattern of events. Probably one of the simple patterns Henri Poincare identified was our human need for control.
Covid -19 has left many people feeling control is out of range. Employees have lost control of their work situation, parents of their children, students of their set goals, others their finances, and many people of all ages fear they are losing control of their mental health. Nurses and doctors have little control over the hours they work and are unable to keep a healthy balance in their lives.
This past year government recommendations, social mores, individual principles, and time have acted as intangible controls; while border closings, limited transportation, and social distancing controlled tangibles like our locations and movements. It is no wonder, when we dip our net into the control pool, we most often come up empty. We search for a sense of control in strange places and peculiar ways. An exercise regime, eating program, timetable or ritual around how one gets dressed are all ways of maintaining a semblance of control. The athlete who must wear his lucky green socks, and put the left one on first, fights the chaos theory with superstition.
Chaos is not a great look on me. I often have my toe just touching the line of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). A place for everything and everything in its place keeps me content. When I put pepper on my egg yesterday morning, instead of getting the soft sprinkle I expected I got a shower of black. My left-handed husband had put the cooking shaker down backward – and I assumed I still had control over the placing of items in my kitchen – foolish me! These unexpected happenings convince us we have little or no control.
Possibly, control over environment or your life isn’t an issue with you. You easily surrender to ‘what is’ – while driving the control freaks around you into a frenzy. I have never met a person who isn’t fighting for control. I believe it is hard-wired into us as much as our fight and flight response. When people tease me about needing control, I respond, “I don’t want to control anyone, I just don’t want anyone controlling me.” But then we tell ourselves all kinds of stories!