Too much ado about to-dos
August 21, 2006
I have this little comic in my head that runs every so often, particularly when I feel out of control in my little world. In it, I am frantically running along wearing red knee socks (I don’t know why they’re red or why I’m wearing knee socks to begin with).
As one sock rolls down into my shoe I hop on one foot while I hurriedly pull it up and I think, “There, now both socks are up,” only to discover the other one rolling down into my shoe.
I keep this up endlessly, breathlessly thinking about how good it will feel when both socks finally stay up, which never seems to happen for very long.
My life could be so much simpler if I would just take the socks off.
I’ve gotten better, but I have never had realistic expectations of how much time I will need to accomplish everything I want to do, so I inevitably set my expectations impossibly high and fail to consider my irrational behavior.
For example, before I take a trip, even of short duration, I invent all kinds of things that must be done prior to departure, as if I am preparing to die. Everything must be in its place; bathtubs must sparkle and the teddy bears must be sitting straight up on their chairs and not slumped over as if dead. And every inch of the house must be vacuumed in case anyone comes to burglarize my home. I would hate for a burglar to discover cobwebs in the corners and then tell everyone down at the police station.
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And listen to this one: Immediately before departing on a weekend mountaineering trip recently, I was poised to hoist myself into our slightly dirty Astrovan, when my boyfriend asked me to wash it down while he grabbed a quick snack. I thought he was kidding until he explained that he just couldn’t stand the windows one more second, and thought we might as well just wash the whole darn thing since we had the hose out and all.
He was standing there, garden hose in hand with a very serious expression. I knew then that I had truly met my match and commenced washing, thereby averting hours of misery over a dirty van.
I suspect I have a rather pathological love for being in a hurry. I think it’s the illusion of being important. I have begun to see the folly of my self-imposed misery as I bolt out the door to work lugging all my gear with my hair wet and a Clif Bar hanging out of my mouth praying that just this once, there won’t be road construction, which there always is.
While I’m in my car, I finish the Clif Bar, rummage around for my comb and call work to tell them I might be just a teensy bit late ” again. I get so sick of myself. I’m just odd, that’s all there is to it.
I have decided to decrease the number of tasks to be completed before 8 a.m. I have purchased some serenity by releasing the fantasy that it only takes 24 minutes to get from my house in Truckee to Tahoe City.
I have faced up to the absurdity of my behavior. I impose a ridiculous standard for task completion, which makes me late and so, while I’m driving to work I become tense and white-knuckled because there’s traffic. Well of course there’s traffic; it’s summer in Tahoe for crying out loud.
I read my daily affirmations and reminders telling me that a lot of my chaos is self-imposed and that I must take responsibility for simplifying things, which I then forget to do as I get wrapped up in my drama. When I do remember, it is usually in a humbling moment where I am cursing the road paving equipment, yet just yesterday I was whining because there were too many potholes.
I really need to practice what I preach because many clients come to me with anxiety and depression stemming from life. Just life. So much to digest all the time.
The news around the world is overwhelming; the expectations are enormous for us to succeed; to accomplish more and make ourselves worthwhile.
Many people feel crushed under some vague weightiness. The feeling that nothing is ever enough and there is always more to be done. So much to be concerned with and so little power we have over much of it.
What we can do is be compassionate and gentle with ourselves and then pass it on in a look, a touch, a few kind words or asking someone, “How are you?” and really wanting to know. I feel so much calmer when I remember how unimportant vacuuming is compared to these simple gestures.
Kimball Pier is a practicing therapist, substance abuse counselor and divorce mediator. She has an M.S. in marriage and family therapy and advanced divorce mediation certification. Reach her at email@example.com.