Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rules to live by

I worry sometimes that I might have an anxiety disorder - and yes, I do realize how funny that sounds. I also worry that I might be a hypochondriac. Don't act so surprised, I've mentioned before that I might be insane. It's not that big a stretch. Insanity runs in my family; it practically gallops!

Anyway, I was thinking the other day about the various rules I create for myself. Rules like "always take the first pair of underwear in the row so you don't wear out one pair faster than the others". Oh, and "arrange your underwear in a row so you always know which pair was laundered last". Then there are rules like "never waste a trip", i.e. taking everything you need downstairs with you so you won't have to come back upstairs to get something. Or "always put the bleach in first and the fabric softener in second, then measure the soap, turn on the water and pour the soap in last". It's a HE machine, this insures that all the soap gets washed out of the dispenser and doesn't get deposited undiluted on my clothes... Never mind.

All of the examples above relate to laundry, probably because I just did my laundry and the rules are fresh in my mind. There are also rules about cooking and cleaning and spreadsheet formatting and query writing and email management. The rules themselves aren't all that interesting. What strikes me is how I freak out if I deviate from them. There are times I have remembered something I needed halfway down the stairs and become frozen with indecision about which is more efficient; going back up the stairs to retrieve it or putting away whatever it is before going up again. I get a feeling of fear and tension because I'm doing it wrong and someone might find out.

My rules aren't limited to work and chores. Sometimes I script conversations in advance, then later I replay them (sometimes out loud - sometimes out loud and in public) and agonize over what I did or did not say. I find myself listening to people while a voice in my head says "nod, smile, make eye contact, hold, break, say 'uh huh'..." etc. Later there will be a mental browbeating over not asking the right follow-up questions or for directing the conversation too much to myself. Ugh. So much anxiety!

In the face of all these rules I often feel overwhelmed. It's easier to NOT clean the house because I know I won't do it correctly. I will move knickknacks in the wrong order, thus extending my dusting to 5 minutes instead of the optimum 3. I will run out of clean mop water 3/4ths of the way through and be faced with the prospect of wasting a bucket of water. I will start in the wrong place, crumple the previously ironed part of my shirt and have to redo the sleeve or yoke or whatever.

I don't know if I have a conclusion for this post, other than I think I understand how people can become obsessive-compulsive. I don't think I'm there yet but if my tooth-brushing ritual is any indication, I could be heading in that direction.


Mary said...

I do the same thing with mop water for example. The upstairs/downstairs thing I'm getting close to. But your love of spreadsheets (and that underwear?!) I may never understand.

PaigeE said...

Craziness gallops in the family! True that.
The underwear thing is just awesome and not at all weird to me :)