What were once habits are now vices

I am a creature of habit.

Every day it’s the same routine. I wake up at 5:00am, drink coffee until 6:00am, shower, make my lunch, get coffee to go and leave for work. Once I’m there, I get my day organized, and start counting hours until I can leave again. Then I’m home by 5:00pm, spend some time on the internet, maybe have a drink and either chill out in front of the TV or go to my Girlfriend’s house. Time in front of the TV is one of two things; either watching the same drama series that I’m recording or watching Football. Unless there’s a dancing show that is. There are two dancing series that I don’t ever miss.

Day after day….

Weekends are pretty predictable as well. Saturday is my day to completely vegetate. I might putter around the house a bit, take a nap (or two) then on to my Girlfriends in the early evening. We typically either hang out at her house, or go to one of three clubs for dancing. (Of course she’s in the midst of a rather divorce, so dancing is out at the moment.) Sundays I mow my lawn and do laundry.

Every weekend…

Speaking of lawns; have you ever noticed how people take care of their yards?   When I’m mowing mine I have time to think about things like that, and think that they way people mow says a lot about them. There’s the perimeter in method. That’s where you start on the outside edges and follow the contour of the yard in one big circle; moving in until the center is cut. Some people just go back and forth; starting at one side of the yard and working their way across, one strip at a time. You can cut the grass at a diagonal leaving your lawn looking like a well maintained golf course.   Then there’s frequency. The neighbor across the street from me mows only when he absolutely has to; then has to struggle to keep his mower from cutting off in the high grass. My next door neighbor cuts his grass twice a week; whether it needs it or not. His yard always looks like a carpet.

I myself am geometric mower. I mow in sections; usually in rectangle, although sometimes a triangle depending on the topography. And the way I cut is always the exact same way.   Always. The size and location of my rectangles are consistent. I always cut in the same direction, and the same location in the same order. Once or twice I’ve tried to mix it up and got completely out of sorts; it just wasn’t right.

So what does that say about us? I think you could spend hours (weeks, years?) trying to analyze the factors that determine these different behaviors. Maybe I’ll do that some day.

For me, it says I’m habitual in all aspects of my life.

Or is it habit? I’m completely comfortable with my routine, but let me step out of that zone and I’m a wreck. If I can even get out of that zone that is. There are things that I need to do that I really struggle with; often just not doing them at all.

Clothes shopping for example.

Okay, most men hate shopping. They go in a store, take a quick look around, and if they don’t see what they are looking for, immediately leave to go to the next store. If they do find something, it’s a quick sorting for size then up to pay. I really wish I could do that.   Just the thought of going into a clothing store brings up a feeling of panic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven to a mall and left without ever even stopping the car. I drive through the parking lot, and then use any excuse I can to leave. It might be that there’s not a parking spot or it’s too crowded, it’s raining, it’s hot; I just turn around and go home. Even if I make it into a store, I typically just walk through in a quick circle glancing at prices and what’s on sale. I may stop for just a second to look closer at something, but quickly move on.

I’ve been wearing the same clothes now for probably 3 or 4 years. They are starting to look it too.

In the past I’ve usually had someone (read: spouse) do most of my shopping for me. Or even if they didn’t just buy it outright they would go with me, which seems to make it easier. But I live alone now, and there’s no one to take care of this for me.

Going into any unknown situation is almost as bad. Stress over social events is pretty common I think. Most people aren’t comfortable going into a room of strangers and mingle. I’m no exception of course, but it’s much more than that. ANY new situation is extremely stressful for me. It might be walking into a hospital to visit someone; it’s so hard for me not knowing where to go. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been there before and I know the drill I struggle with my emotional response. Going to a meeting at work when I’m not sure where it’s located, who is involved and what the agenda is just knots up my stomach. And so forth and so on; I’m sure you get the drift.

The odd thing about this is that I’ve generally been confident and take charge. I’ve had jobs over the years where I’m responsible for leading scores of employees. I’ve held meetings with senior executives and with line workers; both with ease. I’ve given speeches to an auditorium holding 500 people or more. I’ve had parties with 50 or more friends and had no difficulty in being the gracious host. I’ve traveled the world on business and I was usually by myself.

That was then; this is now.

So what changed? Why have I developed such an aversion of straying from the routine? I’m not talking about a sense of unease; my level of anxiety frequently approaches panic, and frequently makes me incapable of doing what I need to. My therapist calls it an anxiety disorder. Ya think? But it’s not something I’ve always dealt with. Sure, growing up I was very shy and isolated. In fact, now that I think about it I had much the same troubles then as I do now. It’s just been certain times where I’ve been that confident, outgoing person. It’s been almost like having two different personalities; one strong and gregarious, the other meek and withdrawn. I seem to have personality traits that are completely opposite from each other.

It’s almost like being bipolar. Oh, wait. I AM bipolar.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming these behaviors on my illness; it really doesn’t work that way. I think what I’m dealing with is truly a personality disorder separate and apart from the Mood disorder. Now that I’m not so engulfed in battling the bipolar illness I can start to focus on other influences that affect behaviors.

My therapist was very happy the first time I brought this up.

In her professional opinion and experience, there is a big difference between disorders and traits. A person with a disorder generally has no clue. It’s not something that they can see in themselves or even recognize it as abnormal. Narcissists for example typically believe that they deserve to be the center of attention all the time, and that he’s entitled to all the special treatment. That is, if they ever even think about it at all. A trait on the other hand is the tendency to behave in certain ways. And tendencies can be realized; and changed. Much like the bipolar disease itself; if you are aware of it you can treat it. And if you can’t see it or are in denial, then it’s not ever going to get any better. The same is true with personality traits. I know it’s not normal to be so anxious stepping outside of my comfort zone. The panics I feel are not appropriate to the event that precipitates it.

So there’s hope.

That’s my new challenge, and my next focus for therapy. I want to identify the sources of these feelings, and develop tools and techniques to overcome the fear. It’s taken a really long time to accomplish any success at all dealing with bipolar, so I don’t expect an overnight change with this next step. But now that I’m feeling better in general, I want to feel better in all environments. I at least want to have appropriate reactions to situations and circumstances. I know I have the self confidence and social skills, I’ve just allowed history and environments to rob me of them. The goal of my therapy doesn’t end with proper management of my illness; it’s going to be a lifelong effort to make my life as successful as possible.

Because if I don’t buy some clothes soon, I’ll be working naked.

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