The Opposite of Chaos

My mother tells me I willed myself into existence. Despite her health problems, despite preventative measures, here I am. That sounds about right. I wanted to exist, and so I did. And it didn’t stop there; I came into this world knowing exactly what I wanted and unable to except anything else. I was a born perfectionist with a need for control. This made me a difficult infant, but an easier toddler. As a toddler, so drastically unlike my older brother, I stayed where I was put. Where some parents would have to regularly check that their children were still where they left them, I kept close tabs on my mother.

“Mu-um.”

“Yes, Princess?”

“Nothing, I just wanted to know where you were.”

I was a nervous child, who hated noise and chaos and unpredictability.

I enjoyed playing in the sand pit and rolling down dirty hills, but the moment I didn’t want to be dirty, I ran to my mother, hands held out before me, hoping she would clean the dirt from my fingernails. If I felt I couldn’t do something perfectly, I would refuse to even attempt it. My mother tried her best to train me to be more flexible, but so much of my perfectionism stuck. I couldn’t get rid of my need to control things.

Though my decluttering has cleared space in my home, my life has no room for my excessive control, my high expectations.

I commute to and from work. I live a short distance from the train station and all-in-all, it’s pretty convenient.

Except for the elevator.

My local station has several flights of stairs up to the concourse and then down to the platform. As someone who needs to walk with a cane most days, this is an impossible task. I’ve been bedridden by laundry, stairs are a definite no. So I have to take the elevator. Only, I’m not the only one who wants the elevator. Nobody likes the stairs and so, each day, after the nine-to-fivers pile onto the platform, there is a line for the elevator. People wedge themselves in like sardines. Often one too many try and squeeze in and the doors won’t close until someone is booted out like Ned Flanders from a bomb shelter. The elevator has to make several trips. Despite making the long trek through dense crowds to the first carriage at my boarding station on the way home so that I can get off closest to the elevator, despite getting up a stop early to wait by the train doors, I will never get on the elevator the first time around.

Before I got sick, before the cane, I would always make way for those who needed seats and elevators more than I. I still do. It is an endless source of distress for me that not everyone will extend the same courtesy. The same woman who spent a good portion of the trip staring at my cane will suddenly act as if she cannot see me and push in front. People who get off the train after me casually sidle in front of me, gazes averted. If they don’t make contact, they don’t have to give way. They don’t have to feel guilty.

On one occasion I broke into tears when I got home because I was so frustrated that people would openly stare at me, until they wanted to utilise a service – which is intended for people like me, the elderly, or people with suitcases and prams – for their own convenience. I couldn’t control these people, couldn’t make them be anything other than who they were.

So I gave up. Because the opposite of chaos isn’t control – it’s surrender.

I started getting on a more convenient carriage rather than shoving through the crowds. I made the walk to the elevator and paid no mind to the people who tried to push in front. I surrendered to something I couldn’t change and made better choices for myself.

That’s what I have to do with other aspects of my life. Life is messy at the best of times and with a chronic disease, it is harder, messier, less predictable. I can’t tell when I will be able to manage without my cane and when I will be bedridden. Instead of trying to control my disease, trying to live life the way I expected rather than the way I could, I surrendered. I accepted. I embraced.

Sure, I have to wait longer for an elevator, but it’s less crowded.

Sure, I’m not going to be able to have the career I wanted, the kids I wanted, the life I wanted, but my life is less crowded.

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For the Love of Busy

“No matter how busy a man is, he is never too busy to stop and talk about how busy he is”

Author unknown

You know that guy, who complains about how stressed and busy they are, how little sleep they run on. They complain, but there’s a glimmer of pride as well. Maybe you’ve been that guy at some point or another. I know I have. We read articles about successful CEO’s who sleep for four hours a night and work long hours for six figure salaries and we want to be like them because that is the ideal. Who doesn’t want to be rich and successful? So we push ourselves. Five hours sleep, running on nothing but caffeine and willpower. The shiniest, most productive cog in the machine. We live in a world obsessed with productivity.

But here’s the kicker, folks. Busy and productive are two very different things. It doesn’t matter how fast I run on the wheel, I’m not going anywhere.

Busy is not something to idolise. Busy is not something to love. But we do. We love to hate it. To wear it as a badge of honour to prove the lengths we go to, the demand we’re in, how much we contribute to the world. I have to wonder, though. What are we contributing? What are we sacrificing? How does this all balance out?

When my health took a serious turn for the work this year, I was in denial. I wanted to be fine. I expected myself to maintain the fast and efficient level of work that I had been capable of before hand. Instead of maintaining my work, however, I started making mistakes. Lots of them. So many that I soon found myself in a meeting with my boss, staring at a warning letter. Something had to change. It took a major job scare for me to realise a few crucial things. My job wasn’t a career. I didn’t want a career. I enjoy my job, but it should not be the centre of my life. I shouldn’t be damaging my own body trying to keep up a standard I thought they expected of me. I should work to live, not live to work.

I also realised I wasn’t the same person I was when they hired me. Not physically, emotionally or mentally. I needed to adapt to the new way my body operated. It was a slower pace than I was used to, but it would have to do. I talked to my partner and we both decided that full-time work was not ideal for me so, once he graduates university and starts earning more, I could reduce my hours and go part-time.

With the pressure off, I stopped pushing myself. I acknowledged my limits and made them clear to those I work with. Before that meeting, my boss had no idea what I was going through. She had no idea I was constantly sick and in pain. Once it was out there, she offered help and support.

Now I manage my work better. I make sure deadlines are clear so I prioritise better. If there’s an extra task added on, I make sure I know which is the most pressing so I’m not scrambling to get everything done. I learn to say no (politely of course). I don’t work through my lunch break and don’t linger after hours unless it’s an emergency. I take regular breaks and make sure my health and wellbeing is my number one priority.

This doesn’t just apply to work, either. I need to accept that sometimes my shelves get dustier than I would prefer, or there are dishes sitting unwashed. I need to know when I can go out with friends and when I need to stay home.

You know what? I’m not stressed or busy but I am productive. I give myself the space to ensure my work is good quality and being calm makes it easier to troubleshoot and come up with solutions when things do go wrong.

Some people enjoy being busy. They thrive under pressure. For me, I prefer having things to get done, but too much and I start stressing out. Anyone with my illness will tell you that stress is like poison. While I may have immediate physical effects, stress is damaging to everyone. People have died from work-related stress. There’s even a word for it in Japan, Karoshi meaning ‘overwork death’. How terrifying is that? We live in a world that literally works people to death. No job, no paycheque, is worth running ourselves into the ground for.

I’m trying to opt out of the rat race for want of something slower and simpler. I’m much happier on the sidelines.