I pride myself in being a flexible person, I think outside the box, I am spontaneous, I can multitask, I embrace change. But that does not mean I do not need control. I do not need control of most things, I can let a lot of it go, but what I really need control of is my façade. I need to be in charge of how people see me, understand me and what they know about me.
I am an open book, but it is because I am in control of the information I share. When I decide to tell someone something they get my version in my timing. They don’t have to make assumptions based on my body language or facial expressions. Control. When I say I am having a bad or a good day, I can explain why and leave out whatever I don’t want people to know. For example if I look exhausted and disheveled, I will preempt people’s curiosity and conclusions by stating “I was up so late last night, I am exhausted” I do not have to tell them I was up late having a panic attack, or couldn’t sleep due to irrational fears. And if I don’t have time to cry or break down or fall apart, I can just stuff it all in. Nice and deep, so even I forget I have those feelings of being overwhelmed or scared.
But then all it takes is one little moment of control loss and I fall apart completely.
My first trip to Ethiopia, I was ready to be a professional. I was not going to be emotional impacted by what I saw. I walked through an orphanage with total control. I did not gush over babies or drown in the sorrows of children being raised in institutions. I was mentally taking notes that would help with my training and my work back home. Until one little girl caught my eye. A girl I knew. A face hanging on my bulletin board. The almost legal daughter of a family on my case load. I walked to her crib and I picked her up and I held her and told her over and over that her mom and dad loved her. That she was going home. And then I put her back in the crib and went on my way. But the second I sat in the cab and the orphanage was just a blip in the rear view mirror I started to sob. I did not know it was even coming, but it was a whole body sob, tears, snot, moaning, curling in fetal position. And the more I tried to control it, the worse it got. You see, even when you can “roll with it”, there are always some feelings that do not make it into the snowball of flexibility. Even when you pour out your feelings, there are still a few drops in the bottom of the glass. And over time, those left behind drops and snowflakes turn into something that cannot be controlled or ignored. A shaken up bottle of pop and all it takes is one small twist of the lid and you have a huge, loud sticky mess.
And today, that mess is me. This morning I was bringing recycling out and slipped on a patch of ice in the driveway. I fell on my hands and knees, that horrible scrape, gravel feeling on the palms of my hands and shooting pain in my knee (plus the humiliation of someone seeing me). I knew instantly that I was fine, I could get up and move on with my day, but that 5 seconds of loss of control undid me. I started to cry. I suppose it is justified to cry for a few seconds, stinging hands, hurt knee…. But I could not stop. I just cried and cried. And the Social Worker in me knew why: stuffing feelings+ need for control + loss of control = completely irrational response for present situation. So I cried. And gained back control by telling people I cried. And now I am an empty vessel ready to be stuffed again.