A few weeks ago I had a situation that was beyond my control and as I fussed about it, someone pointed out to me that I might have some “control issues.” I’ve thought a lot about that since then.
As much as I think I’m a kind of happy-go-lucky hippie type of person who scoffs at school rules and the Irvine Company and riding my bike where I’m supposed to, I’m learning that I like controlling much of my life and my environment. For example, when we gather with friends, I far prefer having them over to our place, which allows me to control the menu, the timing, etc. I’m much less relaxed at gatherings held in other peoples’ homes. Also, I love my calendar and my daily task lists–and I am very careful with the way I apportion my time. I don’t like having to be too many places in one day (more than 3 appts/classes/meetings) or I start to get anxious and I tend to find a way to back out of something.
Now, I think much of my ‘control’ has to do with my disability. When I’m at my house I am familiar with the terrain–I know which chairs will be comfortable, I can be barefoot (I walk far less well when shod), and so forth. If I’m especially weary I can take off my leg with little drama, which isn’t as possible at a friends’ place. Also, my desire to keep my schedule somewhat open undoubtedly is related to that, too. If I’ve got sores on my leg or if my leg isn’t fitting well on a particular day, the hurdles of finding parking and getting to meetings or whatever, can be downright painful.
One reason that I’m enjoying my life so much right now is that I am so able to be ‘in control’ of my schedule. I work mostly from home with some outings to archives or libraries. I’m not teaching so I don’t have chunks of time each week where I need to be in the classroom or in office hours (and of course there’s no grading papers either!). There are many benefits to being master of my own schedule, such as being able to incorporate regular exercise and meditation into my daily routine. Not to mention the ability to get much work done on my dissertation even while I’m the primary caregiver for our kids.
But I wonder if my ability to be so ‘in control’ of things is having a deleterious effect on other aspects of my life. I feel like I’ve been less accommodating of others’ schedules and needs. I’m less relaxed with John. I prefer being at home to going ‘out.’ I feel a kind of self-focus that’s rather unhealthy–I think a lot about what I’m wearing, what I’m eating, what I want. I find I have less patience with others’ desires and needs.
While we were traveling over the holiday I consciously attempted to give up some of my ‘control’ and relax more. I think I’ve been less successful with that of late. The desire to control is two-edged–I believe that much of my success academically/professionally stems from my ability to control my life and be productive. But control can also be born of fear, and I don’t find that to be particularly healthy. I don’t want to structure my life so much that I can’t relax and be open to novelty and pleasure. And I don’t want to always be in charge.
I’ve recently added a new item to my daily task list, “do something extra-ordinary” (note: the irony of ‘scheduling’ such a thing is not lost on me…). On some days it means a venture into Second Life, where I’m a n00b and I hardly know which way is up. Other days it means making a phone call to someone I barely know, or driving somewhere unfamiliar. It can even be wearing clothing that’s outside my comfort zone (I am such a creature of habit). Or picking up a book that I’m unsure whether I will enjoy (as a side note: yesterday’s venture in that direction stalled when I got to the elves in the book–gah, I am so not a fantasy person). And in all things I’m finding those moments of exasperation–those times when I’m craving control–and I’m trying to understand just what’s going on there:
What am I feeling?
What are my fears?
Why do I need to do it my way?
Can I let go of my need to be in charge?
Can I lose control?
Picture taken in my garden a few days ago. I’ve had some gorgeous irises blooming and I cut a bunch and have had them in a green vase next to my sink. :)