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When I feel I have lost control in my life, I get angry and then I clean. One Saturday night, I checked myself – furiously scrubbing the kitchen floor as the clock rolled into Sunday.
“What are you doing? Scrubbing the floor at midnight like a lunatic?! Your husband is asleep and you’re in here all worked up, and over what? You have got to get a handle on this.” I was angry about something I can’t even remember. I had just started my second masters. I felt as if I might drown in my anxiety. Adjusting to a 20 hour a week internship required as part of the program, a full load of classes, taking on a burgeoning student loan debt when I previously had none, and adapting to yet another city, New York, was getting to me. I was lucky and thrilled to have the opportunity to study at Columbia, but anxiety seldom listens to reason.
Criticism… “You have got to learn to live with a little more uncertainty,” I chided myself.
Defense…. “Live with uncertainty? I broke an engagement, moved across the country, was laid off about a hundred times, moved across the country again, and now I’m in grad school reinventing myself. I have lived with uncertainty and I am about done with it!”
Rebuttal…. “Well, you’ve got to at least learn not to react like this. Scrubbing the floor at midnight – this behavior is self-destructive. You can not control everything. You put so much pressure on yourself to be successful, you’re going to wear yourself out before you get there. What are you going to do to manage this?”
Response… “What am I going to do to manage this? Okay, okay, I see your point. I need to figure out how to manage this. Too much pressure…I need to invite chaos into my life and learn how to live with it. Something I can’t control. A little more chaos, a little less control. What can I invite into my life?”
The next day, my husband and I adopted two cats. “Two is just as easy as one. Easier! And we only adopt out one if you already have a companion animal,” the cat adoption volunteers, a summer weekend fixture of the Upper West Side, convinced us. “You are going to have so much fun! Forget watching TV. You’re in grad school? I hope you don’t have any big papers due anytime soon. You’re not going to be able to get anything done – you’ll be having too much fun!”
Two cats. A lot more chaos…. a lot less control….
Writing this post, fifteen pounds of chaos, gray with white feet and stomach, is draped lazily over my lap. With my arms fully extended to reach the keyboard to make room for him, he is nonplussed.
Did it work? Sometimes. Somewhat. I’ve had to learn to let go a little. Just a little. Do I still vacuum obsessively? Well, yes. And I have added lint rolling everything, including one of the cats – he loves it, honestly – to my repertoire of anxiety reduction techniques. But having cats at least prompted my meditation on the all-too-obvious conclusion I continue to revisit, “You cannot control everything. If you put so much pressure on yourself to be successful, you’re going to wear yourself out before you get there.”