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September 2, 2009 @ 1:05 pm

Cleaning Up The Chaos

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clean-upI started this entry back in January and it’s been sitting in my drafts since then.  I finally wrote another entry that touched on the topic, so I guess I’ve “broken the ice” of discussing this publicly, although this is still really, really hard to admit.  There are a lot of other things that most people would probably consider far more personal than this that I would be more comfortable writing about on the Internet (and actually have written about in the past, on my old online diary, though those entries are password-protected now).  I’m willing to write about this here for two reasons:  It might help someone else who has similar issues, and it will probably be healthy for me and may even help me to stop feeling so ashamed.

I’ve been feeling for years as if I’m really only capable of either holding down a job or handling the rest of my life.  The last time I was organized in my personal life was in 1994, when I was laid off from the job I had at the time and was out of work for a few months.  Since then, it seems that my energy (physical and mental) has been able to go into only one part of my life or the other, and in the last several years most of it has gone to trying to hold down my job and not screw up.  When my focus is on work, I tend to be clueless when I get home.  I look around me and see things that need to be done, but I just can’t seem to get from the point of recognizing it through the planning stage to the doing stage.  Likewise, if I focus on personal things that need to be done, they are still on my mind at work and all I can seem to think about at work is what I would be doing if I were at home.

But I’m learning.  One step at a time.

I wrote an entry in my old online diary, back in September of 2003:

One night, I was watching “Oprah After the Show” on Oxygen, and I missed the beginning but she was talking about “the papers” – these papers she has in a room in her house that I guess are all over the floor or something, and she was trying to figure out what was symbolized by her inability to deal with them (they were talking about people’s strange habits and quirks and the underlying reasons for why we do what we do).  She said she would go into the room, all ready to tackle it and take care of it, only to look around and then leave, closing the door behind her.  This made me laugh and also made me feel better.  See, as I was watching this show, I was sitting at my desk in my office at home, surrounded by a sea of papers, boxes, and assorted crap that is never where it’s supposed to be.  For the most part, I am not much of a self-starter.  In fact, the more I have to do, the harder it seems to be to get started.  Once I start, I’m ok (for a while), but I can sit and look around at everything that needs to be done, and whatever synapses have to fire in my brain to make me get off my ass and get started just don’t fire.  The night before last, though, I found the office floor, and I had forgotten what a nice big room it is.  I separated some of the papers into separate boxes based on where they go and what they pertain to, with one box for stuff to shred. What was left, I put into another box to sort through this week.  If doing that removed the intimidation factor, I may actually get them sorted out AND maybe, just maybe, have my files reorganized by the end of September.  I wonder if Oprah ever figured out what the papers mean to her.  I don’t know what mine mean, but it doesn’t matter — I just want to get it together.

I actually never finished that project.  It snowballed into the one I’m dealing with now, six years later.  A few times during 2004 and 2005, I had things looking neater, but they still weren’t organized; I had simply scooped up everything that didn’t belong where it was and shoved it into boxes that I hid away somewhere, so that I could have company over without being ashamed.  Then came 2006 and I haven’t even done the “fake neat” thing since.

It must have been around the end of 2005 or the beginning of 2006 that I began to systematically shut down parts of myself.  2006 was a particularly rough year, during which most of what was wrong in my life reached its peak.  It was the year before I finally figured out my gluten intolerance and those symptoms were at a high point; I was a few years into pre-menopause; my antidepressants had stopped working after taking them for an extended number of years and not knowing that this could eventually happen over time, and I was still fumbling in my attempts at what to do about it; my PMDD had not yet been diagnosed or treated; I was not in therapy yet, so many older issues I’d been carrying with me for years were still problems I didn’t have clear understanding of or solutions for; and I didn’t know I had ADD.  My physical, emotional, and mental symptoms were all sort of jumbled together and it was impossible, at that time, to determine what was causing which symptoms, and everything I tried seemed to help for a short time and then stop helping, as I was not yet anywhere near close to seeing the full picture.  To top it off, in 2006, I got involved in a relationship I was not healthy enough to begin, and for other reasons, neither was he, but neither of us realized it.  The failure of that relationship felt like a “final straw” to me, and sealed my conviction to never again open myself up like that; to never make myself that vulnerable again or let anyone become that close to me again.

Looking back, I can understand why I shut down.  It really didn’t seem that I had much choice.

I’m opening up again, though, bit by bit.  It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when it started, this re-opening.  I suppose there was a lot of behind-the-scenes changing going on all along, since I started therapy, and since I began to find various answers to the various physical and mental symptoms that have been problematic for so long.  I’m sure it was all leading up to this, but it began to become apparent to me in the last few months.

. . . And it is allowing normal to want to return.

I remember feeling normal.  It feels like part of another lifetime, to me, but I remember it, and occasionally I get hits of it, out of the blue, when something reminds me what it felt like.  In fact, it has been happening more and more lately, as I have opened up in other ways.  I may suddenly remember a day when I had a friend over and I’ll feel how calm I was and how spacious the apartment felt because the clutter and chaos was not there.  Sometimes I get a sudden sensory memory of an unidentified fall day, when I would have had the windows open, and I can feel and smell the cool breeze as I aired out the apartment, and again, I can feel the spaciousness in the apartment.  Memory-moments like that make me want to feel normal again.  I want to feel as if I am in control of my environment.  I realize that in fact I have been all along; it’s just that I’ve been using inaction to control it and keep it small and fortress-like, rather than using action to control it and make it feel welcoming and pleasant and free, so that I can invite friends and family over for something as simple (to most people) as coffee and a visit.

In the last two-plus years of therapy, we’ve gone over this many times, and I’ve tried to figure out the psychological reason(s) for my chaos at home.  I’ve come up with so many plausible reasons, and I think that all of them play a part in it. ADD; ingrained resistance to structure and routine that began with perceptions gleaned from having been bullied; paralyzing obsessive indecision; hermit-dom and the completely illogical but still strangely irresistible obsessive-type thought that, somehow, if I get everything in order, I’ll have no way to stop the throngs of people from inviting themselves in  (eyeroll; I don’t even think I know throngs of people).  One day a few months ago, I cleared my front hallway, allowing me to walk through without stepping over anything or feeling like I was running an obstacle course, and out of nowhere, I was hit with this halting “Wait a minute” kind of feeling that went with the thought, “What if I forget what it felt like?”  After I thought that, I realized I’d had that same thought a lot of times before, when I’ve made a little bit of progress. I didn’t (and still don’t) understand why it would be so important to me, at that point (just barely clearing one little spot) to worry that I might forget how it felt to have so much stuff in my way all the time.  I can understand feeling that way after cleaning the whole apartment and not wanting to slip back into old ways by forgetting how awful it feels.  But this felt like I was purposely keeping it that way, so I won’t forget what it feels like, and that doesn’t make any sense.  It feels horrible.  Why would I want to keep feeling that way?  And why wouldn’t I remember how it felt, when I’m still perfectly able to remember what “normal(-ish)” felt like, prior to 2006, in its absence?

I recently began to talk with my therapist about obsessive thoughts, and I’m beginning to see how many of the items in the previous paragraph fit into that category.  I’ll write more about that in a future entry.

For now, though, I’m just going to say that opening myself up again has led to the beginnings of a beautiful new relationship and a whole new reason to finally dig myself out of the chaos and allow myself to start feeling normal again . . . this is my project for September, and a good topic to blog about for NaBloPoMo.  It is even fitting that the theme for the month is “beautiful”.


  1. Comment by Jenny:

    Thank you for writing this. It is helpful to hear about other people struggling with the same issues. Thank you. Jenny

  2. Comment by lifeischange:

    Thank you, Jenny. It sure helps me to know I’m not alone, as well. 🙂

  3. Comment by kate1975:


    I do have this kind of thing too, about the need to have your own space and not be overrun with others, so I can totally relate to that. I get that way too. It is the reason that I keep my place really messy. However certain family members have insisted on overruning my space anyways and so it is hard to cope with that.

    I think that what happens is that the energy that is supposed to circulate gets stuck and stuck energy contributes to health issues and clouded and fuzzy thinking.

    It is okay to say no to the hordes. I know it is hard but nos are a big part of boundaries and healing from issues. I am still learning how to say no.

    Thanks for writing about this again. I know how shameful and negative this can be. Good and healing thoughts to you.



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