Friday, May 18, 2018

You booked too many cars on that ferry, lady!

When I was in college, I worked for a ferry company that transported people and cars to a nearby island that was a popular tourist destination. I didn't do so well working the ticket window... I wasn't fast enough to handle the long lines that snaked around the block on a hot summer day and the grumpy people who didn't appreciate having to wait. So they put me in the reservations office where I answered the phone and booked cars on the ferry.

This was back in the days when I didn't have any idea that I had OCD. Now I can look back and laugh at myself, but at the time I was ruled by an excruciatingly painful sense of need to be perfectly honest in the very smallest things. I'm still very much in favor of honesty as a rule, but OCD-Honesty takes a person to a level that makes other people look at them like they are insane. And, it really does make one *feel* insane at times, and angry and annoyed at oneself for having this strong compulsion to share things you actually really don't want to and others don't actually want to hear.

Anyway, while working at the reservations office, I constantly struggled with this moral dilemma and my compulsion to be perfectly honest. We were instructed that when we pulled up the reservation screen for a particular ferry departure, if there was only one slot left open, we were not to fill it. We were to tell people that ferry was full. That last spot was saved for last-minute emergencies that might arise when it was essential for someone to get their vehicle across.

However, my conscience would tell me that I was LYING when I told people on the phone "I'm sorry, that ferry is full." It was pretty painful and I had to do it all the time. Don't laugh, I'm being serious. This is what life looks like to some people with OCD.

Now I understand perfectly well that I wasn't being asked to lie, the ferry WAS totally full for regular people. They weren't allowed to have those spots, so they really weren't available. They weren't assigned unless reviewed by the supervisor who deemed the reason important enough to give them away.

Recently I have found myself stressed out, irritable, at the end of my tether. Life has been very full lately and then my husband was gone for two weeks while I stayed home with the kids and did all the things that I normally do plus what he normally does AND we had a new puppy AND my youngest son's preschool had just burned down so I had a clingy, emotional five-year-old who suddenly wasn't in school every day. I got really behind on sleep since by the time all the kids were down it was hard to convince myself to go to bed instead of enjoying the blissful silence to do my own things and have my own head and thoughts to myself. Things went downhill fast. We survived, but I realized somewhere during those two weeks that my plate was way too full to begin with, and the current conditions had pushed me to over the max of what I can handle with a good attitude.

You probably already know what I'm getting at with my ferry-reservations-story. That famous life-management idea called "Margin." Leaving yourself space at the edges for the unexpected, the last-minute unforeseen circumstance, the emergency. And the rest of the time, when not in (temporary) use, it's called "rest." Time to have a cup of tea and recharge, take the dog for a walk, do a little sketching, play a tune on my fiddle, read a book to the children. Bake cookies.

I need to give myself more margin in the little things- like leaving ten minutes early for church- so the sudden need for a small child to use the bathroom doesn't make us late- to the big things- like recognizing that I'm up to to "only one slot left"and I can't give that away without serious examination. That slot isn't open for everyday commitments. I have to learn to say "I can't," and treat that space as sacred, so if a family member suddenly becomes ill and I need to care for them, I am not insanely stressed out by all the other stuff breathing down my neck.

When I don't leave a slot open, I start getting mad and resentful of everything else I have to do. Resentful toward people who ask anything of me. There's a cartoon somewhere over at Crappy Pictures (one of my favorite places to go laugh my head off) of the mom carrying all the groceries and stuff in from the car and her toddler saying "Mama, hold this stick for me!" That's how I feel when anyone asks me something. Can't they see how much I'm carrying? How insensitive! No, actually, they can't. It's invisible, and they aren't responsible for it, *I* am. I'm the only one that can open up that the ferry reservation page on the computer, see that there is only one slot left, and say "No, sorry, I'm full!" with no guilt whatsoever because it's TRUE.

Now that I've had this big revelation, what am I going to do to monitor my load more effectively? I know the first step is getting it all out on paper and taking a look at my current situation and figuring out what things can go and free up a little margin. We have two brown anoles that I'm giving away for free to anyone who wants them- because the child whose load it was to care for them isn't doing it and now I'm the one keeping them alive. That's only going to free up about a millimeter of margin, but if I can shave off a little here and a little there, it will add up. A few more of my slots need to be handed over to children that are old enough to toast a bagel for themselves, put their own laundry in the machine, take the trash out.

In the long term, I think it comes down to more regular periods of devoted reflection on how my life is going. Weekly maintenance. Recognizing that like the bathroom needs a weekly cleaning, so does my life, because things will slip into my slots SO easily without me noticing. Children, for example, are experts at subtlety off-loading cars from their ferry onto mine in the form of the cereal bowl still on the table, the backpack, shoes, and bike helmet on the floor, or not "remembering" to unload the dishwasher.

But it's also going to take more practicing of phrases like "let me think about that and get back to you," and telling myself "you are not Superwoman, you actually have physical limitations" and "there are only 24 hours in a day, you cannot add a 25th." Plenty of the stuff I take on are things that I really want to do, things that are fun, things I'm glad to do. But it doesn't matter, that extra hour is still another hour that can't fit into one earthly rotation.

I'd love to hear what practical strategies you have found to keep those extra slots open!

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