I’ve been a master of worry most of my life. Even as a child, I worried. If I saw my parents argue, I stayed up at night and wondered if they would get a divorce and who I would go live with. If I got a message mid-day that I needed to walk home from school, I thought obsessively about the probability of getting hit by a car right up until the last bell. Speaking in front of the class meant that my stomach would be in knots for an entire week leading up to the assignment. I was almost always anxious about something.
By the time I was 16 years old, I had ulcers and acid reflux. By the time I left for college at age 17, I had obsessive compulsive behaviors that I was convinced were normal and necessary. I was particular about some of the smallest details. When I ate, I didn’t want my food to touch. I wore long sleeves when out in crowds because of the fear that my skin would touch someone else’s and I would break out in hives – which would actually happen. At restaurants, I would only sit in a seat that faced the door.
At 18, I met my now husband, who was and still is a sweetheart, but didn’t know how to properly use a vacuum cleaner, wasn’t bothered at all by a day-old sink full of dishes and only did laundry when he felt it was absolutely necessary. When we married, I found it nearly impossible to keep up the high standard I upheld when I was single. One day while I was melting into a blubbering mess over the constant grime my husband was leaving in the shower, I realized I was close to having a breakdown over something I couldn’t control.
Letting go of my obsessive thoughts and behaviors wasn’t an option. I had to do it for my sanity and overall health and survival.
Starting in high school, I had begun experiencing intense bouts of nausea and vomiting, which resulted in numerous emergency room visits over a span of seven years. I spent dozens of nights on the bathroom floor and I developed food aversions as a way to try and control my symptoms. In 2009, after a visit to the emergency room revealed internal bleeding, I was finally diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. It was a relief because the monster I had been fighting finally had a name. Although not much was known about why I had it or how it developed, I was convinced that I had brought some of it on myself.
About nine years later, I can confidently report that I have let go. I no longer have the expectation that my closets will look like a photo in a home magazine. (My husband’s corduroys hanging next to a pair of cargo shorts is not my vision of order). My house is never messy, but it’s definitely not my ideal version of clean. If I need a break, I take a nap…sink full of dishes or pile of laundry be damned! I have faith that it will still be there when I wake up. I play with my eighteen month old daughter every day. We make messes together and it’s glorious.
I’ve gotten better at controlling my thoughts, but it’s an everyday battle to keep my mind from traveling down the rabbit hole of “what if…” I question every decision I make at least twice. I imagine the worst before I believe for the best. I am overly cautious. I like rules and boundaries. Freedom and spontaneity are scary to me. I like things that fit nicely into boxes and don’t overlap. Black and white is nice, but never grey.
I protect myself when I can from threats to my health, balance and peace. I don’t diet because I can’t. It’s not wise for me to do something that requires a level of control that could lead to an unhealthy habit. I’ve cut ties with people who are toxic and only took from me and never added value. I don’t tolerate drama, gossip, negativity or people who refuse to be accountable for their actions. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I see a counselor regularly. I don’t watch movies or television programs that make me anxious, depressed, angry or that I find disturbing. I have found freedom in surrounding myself with positive people. I read positive books, articles and The Word in as many forms as I can digest. I do whatever I can to add to my life and then I put that positively back out into the world when I can.
It’s amazing how trivial things used to demand so much of my mental energy when I allowed them to…a messy closet, spilled milk on the couch, a scratch on the car door, a parking ticket, dog urine on the carpet, walking into a meeting late, the anticipation of a conflict, etc.
We have to be good stewards and take care of our bodies, minds and spirits. We don’t get to do it over again. We don’t get to go back in time and spend more time on the things that matter to us. We get one chance to mess it up and then course correct.
I’ve learned that bitterness and strife eat away. Anger stifles and suffocates potential. Doubt leaves trails of apprehension and the attempt to control is insanity in the making. With the time you have left, be free. Let go!