Going from Control Freak to Regular Freak

Whenever I reach a big milestone, my best friend’s first reaction is to take me on a hiking trip. I enjoy hiking on my own, but hiking with him is just a special kind of awesome that really makes me feel alive and appreciated. We’ve gotten sun burnt, mobbed by angry grouse, and frozen to death in some pretty spectacular places.

Getting to those milestones (things like 2 year anniversary of my suicide attempt, or one year clean of self harm) is on me, though, and I’ve developed a number of coping mechanisms to deal with the stress that put me in that kind of place.

So first, my background is that I grew up in a highly dysfunctional family; the more I live with people who had a stable environment, the more I realize that I need a lot of self soothing to function like a normal adult. For me, because of the chaos and unpredictability of my family, I have a lot of anxiety around planning and money. One such example that scarred me for life was when my parents burst into my room in the middle of the night, and demanded whatever money I had saved up. They had some sort of bill they urgently needed to pay, though I never got any specific explanation, and I never got the money back. I’m sure it wasn’t a lot of money, but I was very young, and had to pay for any adventures myself (Girl Scouts, field trips, etc), so the loss of the money I’d been saving up was devastating. It put me in the habit of spending money whenever I got it, because I might not have it tomorrow.

With that in mind, I want to talk about the things I’ve done to manage this anxiety and encourage better habits. So, here we go:

  1. I manage my money. This doesn’t have to be a planner or something like that (in fact, if I do a full blown planner, I get obsessive, so I avoid that), but I make sure that my math adds up every month, with some wiggle room left over, so that I don’t have to worry. For me, this covers both long term and short term money anxiety.
  2. In the case that I’m panicking about something in the moment, I go to my account and do the math again. This can be incredibly soothing to me: it reminds me I have money, and I have control over it.
  3. I get tips at my current job. These tips go into a “buy whatever the fuck you want” fund. This keeps me from going nuts and spending all my money in my account because I feel like I have to before it’s gone. When I (fingers crossed!) move up in management and stop receiving tips, I’m going to designate a small fund for this purpose.

When it comes to planning anxiety, here’s a few things I had to implement into my life:

  1. If someone is just a habitually late person, it doesn’t mean they don’t love you or value you. I have two roommates: one is always on time, and one is just always late. It could be the time we have to be somewhere, and he’ll still think he has time to get there. I remember one time, I nearly threw a fit, because we’d planned to see a movie at 3:15, and at 3:14 he was saying we had time to stop at a bank. We’ve talked about it since then, and I only make plans with him if A) the time we get there or get back is flexible or B) I am having a low stress day already and can deal with getting him to be on time.
  2. Letting plans change is good for me. I used to be super inflexible, but over time, I’ve learned to go with the flow, and “figure things out when we get there.” Yeah, it’s a little stressful to not know exactly what’s going on that day, but I just remind myself that being uncomfortable is not bad. And, assuming nothing horrible is going to result from plans changing, I am going to be fine. Yeah, I might have to eat Chinese food instead of Mexican, or sleep in a parking lot instead of making it to our campground on time. That’s okay.
  3. Let other people plan. Obviously, I’m almost never going to do that with my roommate who is horrible at being on time. Too many times, we’ve gone somewhere, and it’s closed because he didn’t check what times they were open (You know what though? Everything was still okay.) But my best friend is pretty good at planning, and I’ve been learning to trust him with our adventures. A year ago, I probably wouldn’t just hop into a car to be gone for the weekend in a park I hadn’t even looked up yet. But this past year, I’ve done this a few times, spur of the moment. Learning to let go and trust someone else has done wonders for my stress levels.

I think that covers the basics of it, and I’ve been very lucky to have people around me who have made this possible. For anyone else who has similar issues from their dysfunctional family, you should know that you’re not stuck like this. You can break these habits, and form new, better ones. The first few times you let go of control, it’s going to feel awful, but it’s completely worth it to keep trying. Good luck!