Do you make your bed every morning?
I do. I have to.
If I leave my house without my bed made, I can’t focus for the first 20 minutes I’m out of the house. In fact, if every single thing in my room isn’t exactly how it’s supposed to be, my whole day will feel imbalanced.
Thus is the struggle of the criminally type A.
Every file on my computer is named and organized. My closet is color-coordinated, and my hangers are each exactly one inch apart. If I could alphabetize my organs, believe me, I would.
Last fall I went to Atlanta for the season opener, but all my roommates hung back in Tuscaloosa. When I arrived home Sunday evening, one of my pillows was tilted on its side—I noticed it immediately, and ran into Erin’s room.
“Was someone in my room? My pillows are all messed up.”
Erin erupted in laughter. Evidently, she had turned one of my accent pillows on its side as a joke to see if I’d freak out. Never one to disappoint, I did.
Being an obsessive-compulsive psychopath definitely has its upsides. I can’t remember the last time I misplaced something, I rarely ever get sick, and all of my stuff stays in pristine condition for as long as I decide to keep it.
The downsides, however, can be debilitating.
Being a type A control freak means that when I feel I’m not in control of a situation, I panic.
This past spring break, I had to fly to Portland, Oregon for a PR conference to represent Alabama (a total honor that should’ve been nothing but exciting). But thanks to my strange ‘condition,’ the idea of flying made me feel physically ill.
The day before I was scheduled to leave for Nashville to catch my flight out West, I was color-coding my agenda and looking over the packing list I had prepared. All of a sudden, I pictured myself on the plane for the first four hours to our layover in Vegas. My chest tightened, my stomach flipped, and I started sobbing uncontrollably. I'm talking the “dry heave/can’t breathe/your first boyfriend just broke up with you for a stupid brunette named Stacy” type breakdown.
Erin, bless her heart, jumped up from her organic chemistry homework and grabbed me by my shoulders. After about five minutes of coaching (and aggressive hugging), I finally calmed down and composed myself.
Plot twist, the airplane didn’t crash and I didn’t die a fiery death in the mountains!
For those of you like Erin who are the quintessential flow-goers of the world, I envy you. Being a perfectionist can be truly crippling.
Because I was so consumed by my own particularity this year, I decided to look into it and try to understand why people with anxiety act the way they do. Turns out, there’s actually a scientific explanation (go figure).
To break it down simply, there’s a little thing in your animal brain called the “fight-or-flight” reaction. It’s what protected the cavemen from the wooly mammoths back in the glory days.
A caveman with a highly functioning fight-or-flight ‘sensor’ usually outlived those who were oblivious to their surroundings, so thanks to evolution, this trait got passed on.
So, while most of us only get that burst of adrenaline when we’re actually in danger (what some like to call the ‘uh-oh’ feeling), people with anxiety get that fight-or-flight feeling about extremely mundane things—a spill, traffic, an uncomfortable social situation.
This explains why I sometimes feel like a neurotic hamster is running around in my brain stabbing it with pure animal fear over essentially nothing.
Thankfully, I’ve come a long way since my panic attack back in March (out of pure necessity, to be honest). I’ve become marginally better at the ‘go with the flow’ mindset, and my fear of flying has been (somewhat) assuaged. Maybe it comes with growing up, but I think I’ve started to accept that I can’t always call all the shots (sigh).
I had always accepted that I was just stuck with the hand I had been dealt. I figured I would just have to navigate the minefield that is life while somehow juggling my type A personality on the side, and hope that someday I'd own my own company so I could be an eternal boss lady. While this approach has worked for the last 10 years, I’m not so sure I want to commit to it for the next 10.
I turn 21 in a few months, and I’ve been thinking a lot about what that really means for me (besides the obvious—turn up).
Your twenties are a ridiculously impactful decade for several reasons. If you think about it, this decade is likely the one in which you’ll get married, potentially have your first child, and launch the career that you’ll have until you get sick of it (or it gets sick of you).
I remember my 13th birthday, and thinking I was so old and mature (a big fat LOL to that one), and hearing about my second cousins who were 20 and thinking of them as full-blown adults with minivans and mortgages. Now I’m 20, and I feel about the same as I did at 13.
It doesn’t seem like it should be legal for me to be able to make such monumental decisions for myself. Am I really old enough for that? The heap of personal responsibility that one finds him or herself under upon entering his or her 20s is overwhelming, to say the least.
I think that looming sense of the ultimate ‘sink or swim’ has been fueling my O.C.D. lately. What if I don’t absolutely kill it at my internship? What if I don’t find the perfect tall, dark and handsome man (or worse, I do, but can’t trick him into loving me forever)? WHAT IF?
The “what if” game is a slippery slope, my friends. It’s the downward spiral-inducing slope that forces you to act out of fear rather than courage. It tricks you into thinking that if you play every card just right and if all of your words and actions are premeditated and accounted for, everything will work out just the way you want it to.
Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), life is not and never will be a linear game with straightforward rules. You can apply your winged eyeliner perfectly for two weeks straight and then still mess it up on the day it counts most (I love a good makeup metaphor).
Even if you do manage to go through life making your bed every morning and eating salads for lunch every day, you’re no more immune to disappointment and heartbreak than anyone else. Exercising control over every outlet possible can lend an illusion of security and power, but it’s just that: an illusion.
To be clear, I am in no way advising you to throw caution to the wind, abandon your skincare regimen and quit your job. Quite the opposite, actually! From what I can tell, the only way to truly enjoy your life while still being productive is to aim for a balance. I know you’re probably rolling your eyes right now at the most cliché advice on the Internet, but it’s so true.
For people like me, balance can be hard. I’ve always had an obsessive side. I’m either 100% in work mode or 100% in Netflix mode. This used to mean a near split personality, but I’ve come to embrace the ability to switch and decided to espouse the “work hard, play hard” mantra.
It may be a simple solution, but sometimes telling yourself “just don’t” is another great coping mechanism. If you start freaking out about something irrational (read: me, every day), sometimes you literally have to stop, look in a mirror, and tell yourself to get a grip and just don’t.
Worrying may give you a false sense of control, but it also gives you wrinkles. Do you want wrinkles? Me neither.