On embracing chaos

Chaos has always been my enemy. It has, at times, overwhelmed my life. Having a mental health problem that impacts severely on my life brings with it chaos in huge and overwhelming waves.

As a naturally untidy teenager my mother and sister despaired at my chaos. I could not keep my half of the bedroom I shared with my sister tidy and this was highlighted by the fact that my sister, like my mum, is almost obsessively tidy. Back then I felt even then that, if I wanted to do one thing then another thing had to suffer.

I found it hard to find time to iron clothes, hold down a job, have a social life. Whenever I tried to do these things with the ease other people seemed to do then it all fell around my ears with a rapidity that never ceased to amaze me. I was called disorganized, lazy, incompetent and scruffy to name but a few. It seemed that if I wanted to live life then caring for myself had to take second place and if I wanted to care for myself then I couldn’t live life.

I’ve lived surrounded by chaos since then. When I’ve been wealthy enough I’ve employed cleaners but I still have never managed to become un-chaotic or less disorganized. Something always has to give. I just find it impossible to become organized without having several back up systems in place and these often fail.

I find this distressing as I have a mind that has been described as “forward thinking” and “brilliant”. When I see a problem outside of my personal world I can see it through to the solution, sometimes with an uncanny ease. I’m not stupid, I’m not lazy, I’m chaotic.

Whilst there are many people in the world that live in chaos and it’s part of who they are I’ve learned that my mental health has a lot to do with this. As I tread the path of upended razor blades that is Bipolar Disorder I find that the more stressed I become the more chaotic I become and the more likely I am to become ill. The one thing that can ease my distress but is the hardest to attain is a level of order that make it less difficult for me to struggle with.

I can’t wave a magic wand and make the chaos disappear in an instant. I can’t afford to employ the small army of people I would need to just to keep less chaotic but I’ve learned that I can change the way I approach it.

Recent discussions with a friend revealed that I’d learned to think that I had to be 100% organized and un-chaotic or I felt that I had failed. Consequently, rather than feel as though I was constantly failing, I long since given up trying to succeed. Whilst I can’t control other people or things that happen because of other people I can control my actions and reactions to them or the situations that arise because of these interactions. Things will happen that get in the way of my plans and I have to learn to work round that. I can choose how to respond.

The first thing we talked about was making a “To-Do” list each night and then sleeping on it. The next morning the three most important things will become obvious and those are the only things that I have to concentrate on that day. Some days I’ll struggle to do those things, other days all will fall into place and I’ll zoom through the whole list. There are times when the “To-Do” list just doesn’t get written. It’s not wrong if the list doesn’t get written and it’s not totally right if I blitz through it, it’s just different outcomes in different sets of circumstances.

We talked about the 80% way of working. In things that require thought or attention it’s not always possible to do them at their absolute best first time. Writing, for example, is something you do and then look and again and again until you’re satisfied with it. This can be applied to other things. Aim for doing something 80% right, revisit it and do 80% of the things that will improve it and you’re nearer to 100% than you expected to be.

The most important thing was the discussion about the household tasks that you can never realistically expect to finish. The laundry basket is only empty until you change clothes so it can never be empty for more than a few hours and so that ironing pile grows and grows. The washing up never stops the cycle from sink to drainer to cupboard to table and back around again. They’re never ending cycles so why not just stop trying to stop them?

Accept that all lives have a level of chaos in them that can’t be eradicated. Find the level of chaos that you can live with. If you live with other people then there has to be an element of compromise on all sides but, once you embrace the level of chaos you can live with, it rarely grows out of control and you often surprise yourself.

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