I suppose I’ve always been a creature of habit; of routine. Like many – maybe even most – I have specific things I do when I get up in the morning, and before I go to bed at night. I travel the same route to and from work most of the time, and usually go for the same spots on the subway and streetcar. I have a favourite area to sit in the movie theatre. I even buy pretty much the same things at the grocery store.
Many of those routines and rituals are born of convenience and logic. They are things I need to get done before I leave for work, or it’s the quickest way from Point A to Point B. Things I do every day because they need to be done, and usually on a schedule that is also the same each day.
I’d be super easy to stalk, really. I rarely deviate except out of necessity.
But there are so many more things I do that most people don’t know about, and that I barely catch myself doing, in part because they are habit and in part because they make no sense.
I breathe a certain way if I feel there are germs in the vicinity, because inside I feel like it helps keep me from getting sick. It doesn’t but I feel like it does. I say certain things to the animals before I leave the apartment, because I feel like it will keep them safe. Maybe they also have a better understanding of what’s happening because they hear the same words at certain times, but while that’s a best case scenario, I mostly do it because I feel it’s like a protection spell to last until my return. It’s not, but I feel like it is. I try to make sure my right hand is the last one to touch them before we part, instead of my left. I like things to be in odd numbers instead of even, from the time my clock displays when I turn off a light, to the number of seconds I count in my head when rinsing with mouthwash, to the number of treats I give Brody after a walk.
All of these things are so small, they are barely noticeable even to me. They are not quite superstition, but their power exists in my inability to shake the certainty that something terrible will happen if I don’t do them. And what’s worse is that the terrible thing will actually be all my fault.
On a logic level, I know that’s ludicrous. But the feeling is so powerful that I’d honestly rather be safe than sorry. I’d rather leave a bit late while I wait for the minute display on the clock to be an odd number than return home to find my apartment burned to the ground. Logically I know that the odd-numbered minute does nothing to prevent or cause such a thing, but inside me, there is actual panic freezing me in place. And while the physical manifestation of these little habits has changed over the years, the certainty that I would be to blame if something terrible happened if I didn’t do them has, I think, always been there.
Does that kind of pressure – having to remember to do all of these things in order to prevent something much worse from happening – cause much of my anxiety? Or is it the anxiety of knowing so much of what happens in life is out of my control the reason that I started trying to invent small ways of retaining some sense of control?
Chicken or egg? Either way, they are for certain related to one another.
For the most part, I see no reason to be concerned. These little habits don’t hurt anyone, and so far they at least haven’t taken over my life to the point of being frozen inside of my own mind, and only able to move about the world in tiny increments. I still live a pretty normal life from the outside. The panic has not yet crippled me. There’s always the chance that it will, but I think – if it does – it’ll be a slow build and I will be able to see it coming.
Of course, whether or not I actually do anything to rein it back in is a different matter.
I remember as little kids, my brother and I would always get a hamburger happy meal when we went to McDonald’s. It was a treat to go there, because there wasn’t one closer than a half hour’s drive away. One time, our babysitters took us to what was then a new-ish drive-thru option, and we ordered hamburgers while they ordered cheeseburgers. Naturally, the order got messed up but no one noticed until we’d pulled away. We only got cheeseburgers.
With mild trepidation, my brother and I took a bite of the hamburger with cheese, then immediately realized the genius of having cheese included on a burger. After that, we always ordered cheeseburgers. Those kinds of habits are different, of course. We just didn’t know yet how much we loved cheese. Nothing bad was going to happen if I didn’t eat my regular hamburger, other than perhaps not loving what I ended up eating instead. But it feels much the same inside. There’s the same kind of uncertainty, but added to it is, like, actual fear.
Incidentally, remember how awesome happy meal toys used to be? I’d totally go for much of that stuff even now! They should offer retro/classic happy meals for adults, with toys from Tron and The Black Hole and the like. I’d be all over that. I remember getting a plastic “watch” that had a secret compartment where the watch face was. Of course, it wasn’t that secret because it was freaking huge, but still cool. Made me feel like a spy, or something.
I took a course in, like, first or second year university- I can’t even remember what it was now – and the prof taught us the various stages of conflict that each of us must go through in order to grow as a person. The first one happens before you are born – Trust vs Mistrust. You have to feel safe enough to enter the world in a healthy and confident way, apparently. Something occurred to me that day, which has stayed with me and been reflected upon several times since.
On an emotional level, it’s entirely possible that I’m still inside the womb.
Edited to add: It was9:13am when I pushed the “Publish” button on this post, but it switched to 9:14am as it was posting. I’m going to try to be okay with that, because hitting the button was the only part within my control.