Before I traded khakis for sweats and office mates for a cute dog at my feet to be a work-at-home parent, I worked as an office manager for a medical program. I remember my anxiety very vividly the first time a coworker saw one of my many superstitious quirks. I was reloading the copier, but before adding new paper to the tray, I took out the few pieces of paper left on the bottom. I refilled the tray and placed those few pieces of paper on top.
“Um, what you are doing?” A coworker asked.
“Loading the copier,” I said. Wasn’t it obvious?
“But why did you take out the paper that was already in there? Why didn’t you just drop a new pile on top?”
I knew exactly why I did what I did. But did I want to tell her? Not really, but I felt like I owed it to the paper.
“That paper on the bottom has been waiting a very long time to fulfill its destiny. Who am I to put that off? If I just dropped a new pile of paper on top, I would have prolonged those pieces of paper the ability to carry out their purpose. I’m not a monster.”
The look on my coworker’s face told me I was crazy. The words out of her mouth told me too. I didn’t care. I believed it then and I believe it now: inanimate objects have feelings. I logically know this probably isn’t true, but my obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxiety tell me otherwise. Why would I risk disappointing paper about to be used in a copier or a mug that is waiting to be used on Sunday and Wednesdays only or a dented can of soup that is just as good as the perfect one it sits next to on the shelf? I don’t. I am not in the business of causing more unnecessary hurt in this world.
Instead of fully acknowledging the silliness of my thought process or trying to evaluate and change it, I embrace it. I do ridiculous shit to reduce my anxiety. I check locks and alarms, rearrange items on the counter or my desk to meet certain angles, and setup and then clean up my yoga gear the same way each time. I need peace of mind.
I am not just a creature of habit; I am a person looking for control.
It is too hard to fight all of the things my brain tells me. I struggle with self-worth and depression. I fight off anxiety and crippling negative thoughts. I spiral into dark places in my mind, and it can be really hard to fight my way out of the lies mental illness tells me. I choose not to fight those idiosyncrasies that make others raise their eyebrows or shake their head. Logic be damned, if I don’t sign off on messages or emails in a certain way, all hell will surely break loose. I can’t risk not getting a gig because I changed my signature. I can’t risk my friends not knowing how much I emoji heart them. If they are going to doubt someone’s loyalty, it will not be mine. I will not lose a friend over a missing XOXO.
Every night I check on my kids before I get into bed. My 5-year-old twins are relatively light sleepers, and I wake them about half the time I enter their room to make sure they are covered and breathing. A temporary cry is worth it though, because the ONE TIME I skip checking on them will likely result in their suffocation via a nest of stuffed animals. I feel the same way about my oldest daughter. She is a much sounder sleeper so I kiss her forehead each night in addition to adding a blanket to her body. In times of exhaustion I have wanted to just crawl into bed and not go through the motions of my rituals, but I know better.
I crack the door to my kids’ rooms and eliminate the obsessive worrying that would take place otherwise. I crack a smile as I stack bowls and plates the same way I change printer or copy paper. I maintain my rituals and superstitions because I know I will crack under the added stress of not doing them. And I am just fine with my illogical logic. It makes perfect sense to me.