I struggled a bit this week. It started on Monday. Now, some of it I attribute to my allergies blowing up over the weekend – teasing of spring emerging from the ground, Kansas wind and the burning of the fields will do that to an allergy sufferer. But I hadn’t slept well all weekend due to an earache that progressed from a dull thrumming to bass drum thumping on Sunday night. This inner drum circle usually means a sinus infection is settling into my left sinus, complete with aching upper molars.
While I didn’t want to go into my doctor’s office for the annual steroid shot, I knew if I didn’t seek treatment it would only worsen by mid-week. Luckily, my doctor’s office has implemented tele-health, albeit in a shaky form as my doctor couldn’t get his video to work. But, knowing my history of allergies and their annual trajectory, he quickly called in an oral steroid after hearing my familiar rendition of life in springtime. But the damage was done. Being awakened by an earache each night only provided me with time in the dark to worry – to be scared – to be angry – to be saddened by this whole new world. And, being true to my own word to others, I told myself it was okay to have the inevitable meltdown. That’s when I found myself on the floor next to my desk in my Zen-room-turned-office.
When the last tear was left to roll down my neck and soak into my fleece Patagonia pullover, I took pause. This is who I am. A person who scores high in empathy in all those personality and character tests and equally high in organizational skills and the need for control. Makes sense. If I can control my surroundings, my work, my life in general, then I have less to trigger my emotions that on most days dangle from the edge of my sleeve. This is from where my endless lists are birthed – my highly organized calendar – the seasonal and color-coding of my closet and right down to my need to make sure the dishwasher is loaded properly. These are things I can control. And if I can control all these things then surely, I can keep my empathetic heart in check.
I was an overly sensitive child – an introverted bookworm who took any mild teasing to heart and especially the crush of others under the teasing gun. To get through puberty, I took on a defiant persona, a “whatever” attitude that belied the worry and low self-esteem that shared my pillow at night. By the time I was 30, I’d hedged all my bets on control and realized always looking for the good helped me not linger on the sorrow. Being in control, especially controlling my positivity, got me through the day and before long it became such a part of me that at times I tend to forget. Deep down, I am not the glass ¾ full gal. I don’t just like to be organized, I must be organized to get through a day that can easily be derailed by civil war in Syria, a shooting in Texas, or a dead dog alongside the road. One glance over at the stillness of that furry body and my mind races to an owner frantically searching, the angst of not knowing if the pup died quickly or did he suffer, did he think of his human as his human was thinking of him, or was he a longtime stray glad to finally meet his end. That’s how it works and before long I’m sobbing in the car and trying not to rear end the car in front of me.
That’s why I worry this pandemic might kill me. Not the actual virus, but I’m afraid my heart might just break into more than a million little pieces. I can’t watch the news or any television programming because even the commercials make me cry. My social media posts range from humor and messages of positivity to the challenge of letting my hair grow gray and lots of photos of Beatrice, Executive Assistant. If I dwell on how much I miss seeing my parents or running into friends at a local brewery or dancing to live local music, I might begin to scream. If I let my heart fill my mind with grandmothers and brothers dying alone in a sterile room while families weep in isolation or think about my single family members and friends who thrive on the company of others and how they are cloaked in an unknown loneliness, I would cry myself to sleep each night. My empathy does not always manifest itself in tears, mostly it is manhandled by my controlling self – I practically arm wrestled my husband out of the way to clean the kitchen the other evening and screamed maniacally at the television when I was unable to get my phone to mirror the Tedeschi Trucks band concert quickly enough. And the lists! My God, right now I have lists for everything: groceries, song lists, movies I think I should watch, my work tasks, my future work tasks, lists of plants I’ll buy when it’s time to garden, topics I should blog about, the book or short stories I should write. I’ve almost filled an entire legal pad of control lists.
All of this is why I’ve not been able to find my groove working from home. It wasn’t the lack of road time to get to the office, the chit chat over coffee, or my desk time rituals and checking of task lists, it was the total lack of control of something I cannot see, nor smell, or know until it is standing at the foot of my bed or the bed of a loved one. It’s the uncertainty of it all. This vast and completely unfamiliar unknown – the worst kind of scenario for a control freak.
But I’ll get through it. Just as I picked myself up off the floor of my Zen room on Monday, I’ll continue to pick myself up every day, well before I even get close to the ground. The best thing I can do is learn to let go, what has become the mantra of my work team – “we got to go with the flow.” We’ll take things day by day, moment by moment, if necessary. A collective let going is going to be demanded of us during this time and for those of us who survive by holding on, it’s going to be tough. Really effing tough. So, be easy on yourselves, my fellow control freaks with hearts heavy with empathy. It’s going to take baby steps. Maybe I’ll start by ignoring the fact my husband faced the dishes the wrong way in the dishwasher, or that the soup cans are mixed in the with the cans of tomato paste in the pantry. Maybe I’ll stop scribbling so much on various white notepads and just sit, breathe and watch the trees cover their spidery fingers with white and purple buds and bundles of helicopter pods and say aloud all that I am grateful as the sunrises and sets.
…’cause here in God’s creation
For everything there is a season
Let go, let life, let love, let God.
Where we’ll go, baby, I don’t know
Maybe we should just let nature run the show
Where we’ll go, baby, I don’t know…
Go with the flow, go with the flow…