It happened Tuesday night at the office, luckily long after we had closed for the day. It had been a busy day, about which I can’t complain, but I had peopled far too much and my to-do list for both that day and the following day was still far too long. I had tried to be productive and use my time well, but there are only so many hours in a day.
As usual, I was looking for something, and also as usual, that “something” was eluding me. Mess, mess, everywhere. I had long since practically forgotten what the surface of my desk looks like.
To be quite frank, I despise messes. I find chaos overwhelming. It’s too much for my brain to keep track of. But when I have to task-switch like I do, it’s inevitable. I have a lot of long-term projects and not enough consecutive hours to complete them. If I put everything away at the end of the day, I run the very real risk of forgetting to pick back up where I left off. So, I keep everything where it is. Unfortunately, I have too many simultaneous projects going on at Any Given Time, too little physical real estate at Any Given Time, and too little of that Given Time…at Any Given Time. (See what I did there? )
And so, naturally…The Mess. It consumes me, keeping my brain in a steady-state of “buzzing”, tension, stress.
I finally say, “screw it; I’ll find it when I’m looking for something else.” (Which is also part of this (unwanted) routine.)
And instead, I shift gears once again into Packing Up To Leave For The Day Mode. I know that I will have more peopling to do first thing the next morning, and I meet with my clientele in this same office, so I try to tidy up a little so that I don’t have to do it in a wild frenzy the next morning.
In rapidly-growing frustration, I realize that I’m Out Of Space. As in, entirely. I literally have nowhere else to Put Stuff. And there’s way too much Stuff to “Put”. Except that I can’t get rid of any of it; I need it all.
After ten minutes of futile attempt(s), I realize that I’m just moving the same stuff around, like playing some demented game of musical chairs (except that nothing gets eliminated; it’s all the same stuff, and it’s all still there).
I still have (lots of) stuff to put away, but nowhere to put it. And after 15-20 minutes of rearranging, the desk still looks like shit.
Argh! I’m starting to think it might be time to call in reinforcements. But by now, I’m so disgusted with myself, my mess, my lack of time (or could it be “lack of time management??), etc, and I’m so resentful of the everyday demands placed on me that prevent me from being able to catch up and get ahead of those projects (and thus, The Mess), that I’m dangerously close to being so overwhelmed by it all that I start to lose my words.
Wait, scratch that; my words are already gone. The Words have left the building.
It has now become too much for me. I’m in over my head. Time to call in reinforcements.
Luckily (for me; maybe not-so-luckily for him), my partner and I work together, in the same office.
I saunter into his office, figuratively spinning like a Tasmanian Devil. I try to be as calm as possible (failing miserably).
(Deep, exasperated breath…) “Dear, I need help” was all I could say at first. But hey, it’s a good start, right?
His response is nonverbal. He sits back from his office chair and looks halfway toward my direction. It’s not as rude as it may sound.
That’s my cue to proceed. So, I do. “I need you to come into my office.” Hey–a successful second step in the communication! Tip: when losing my words, just keep the sentences short, sweet, and basic.
He follows me into my office. Actually being able to see the mess can provide the visual aid I need, and maybe take some of the “words burden” off of me. Because after all, a (real-life) “picture” is worth a thousand of those damned things, right?
I gesture toward the desk. Even though he’s legally blind, my problem is obvious to him.
I keep trying to collect myself. Stay cerebral, girl.
(Another deep breath; also–another tip: keep breathing, take deep breaths; this keeps the oxygen flowing to the brain) “I’m going to need help cleaning again.”
At this point, I figure it would be helpful to show him examples.
“I can’t use my computer keyboard without knocking into my gum container here by my trackpad because I have nowhere to put the container. I checked every single available space.” (Proceeding to demonstrate by opening up my only two overhead cabinets…which would be bursting at the seams, if cabinets actually had seams.)
(Another deep breath–yay!!) “I have supplements and magazines in one, and I have lab and supplement company catalogs in the other.”
I open my four drawers, all of which are full and to top it off, the contents in one are absolutely not cooperating; they’re falling down, crinkling the papers inside, and nothing is visible to me, which drives me up a tree.
“I hate these hangy-down file pockets; they rise up off their track, they won’t stay down, and these folders here are so heavy that they fall back. I can’t see any of what’s inside, so I look ridiculous in front of patients when I know I’ve got a cool handout or visual aid I could really use but can’t find because I can’t see anything!”
(I’m really on a roll now; breathing–deeply or not–has become optional.)
(Continuing on, wildly gesturing to each item or pile of items as I rant about it) “And look at this mess on top of my desk! I’ve got interpretation resources to review but can’t because we never have the time, so they’ve been sitting here, in this stack, for two years. I’ve got my files for the upcoming week here; they can’t go anywhere else; heaven forbid I would forget where I put them and have to go chasing around like a chicken with my head cut off on the morning of their visit! I’ve got these other things to do for these upcoming people, and I have to keep their files where they are. I’ve got cords all over the place (headphone set for my phone, so I can hear, but it takes up way too much space). I’ve got knickknacks on every countertop – bless peoples’ hearts for giving them to me, but these things are taking up all of my free space! The whole place is cluttered. I have my spare earbuds here. They can’t go anywhere else because – no space! I have to keep these textbooks and reference materials here, I have this pile of stuff to go through, I haven’t even been able to open Christmas cards from last year and we’re already staring down the barrel of Christmas for *this* year. I’ve got this stack of lecture notes from classes taken in February, April (two), and July. Obviously, it’s almost December. That’s just plain ridiculous, I know. Believe me–I’m painfully aware. But I just don’t have enough time! And it’s not in my routine. Oh, and I have my Asperger’s diagnosis stuff here, no place to put it because I either never have time to make a file, or I have the time but can’t find the file supplies, and I’m ready to throw my slow-ass piece of shit computer out the fucking window!!”
(Yes, he’s been silent the whole time. This isn’t his first rodeo; he’s been through this before with me. He knows to sit patiently. Fortunately, he has now finally understood that none of my frustration is directed at him. Well, maybe some of it is–he keeps leaving his water cups in my office after lunch and there’s a half-drunk water bottle in a plastic bag on my floor, which I keep tripping over.)
I finally plead, “I need your help again.” (We’ve done this before. The last time resulted in my first episode of being conscious that I was actually rocking back and forth, and rather intensely at that.)
Thanking my lucky stars, he says, “I’ll help.”
I can finally take deep breaths again. There is hope after all. He didn’t bail. He didn’t protest. He’s not (openly) judgmental (I have no clue what’s actually going on in his mind, though; he might be thinking “I married her? What did I get myself into??”). He didn’t hem and haw before answering, either. He even agreed to help me. This means that there’s a light at the end of the Mess Tunnel. The Mess will eventually be a thing of the past, at least for a while, until it builds up again and we go through this again in another…year? Six months? Who knows? All I know is that it happens from time to time, and it will likely happen again. Maybe it will happen repeatedly, periodically, at least until I can get a handle on it, maybe get some of my projects crossed off my list, and maybe–just maybe–before new projects pop up like weeds.
All I can say is, I’m lucky to have my partner. I’m lucky to work with him. I’m relieved for and blessed with his patience, his accommodation. He may not exactly enjoy some of my “more obviously Aspergian/autistic” moments; my meltdowns may not be his favorite trait of mine, nor are they likely to endear me to him, but ultimately he sticks around, standing by my side when I need him the most, and for that, I am the most thankful…
…which brings me to my Third and Final Tips To Self: ask for help and support when needed, and thank him profusely.
I did exactly that (thanked him profusely) and, finding myself surprisingly emotional, I struggled to find my words. Tears fell, as I was reminded–again–that even coming down the back stretch toward my 40th birthday, I’ll never be exempt from having meltdowns. I think the most challenging parts of situations like these are:
- Keeping life organized (I generally don’t, even though I’d like to)
- Managing time well (I don’t do that, either, even though, again, I’d like to; I will say that I’m better at this than organization, though)
- Knowing when to ask for help
- Remembering to indeed ask for that help
- Keeping thoughts cerebral, not letting emotions get into the proverbial “driver’s seat”
- Letting go of unneeded stuff that people give me, even though I don’t need it, because I would feel guilty
I’m not quite there yet. Maybe someday, I’ll be able to say that I have that bulleted list knocked out. There just might be hope. But again, I haven’t reached that point yet. Life is a learning process, after all 🙂
(Image Credit: Cyril Rolando)