I had no idea I was a control freak until I was 30 years old. When I think of a control freak, I think of someone who must load the dishwasher a certain way. Some one who will reload the dishwasher if some one else does it “incorrectly.” I think of the type of person who tells you what to do…maybe a lot. I think of the person who folds their clothes perfectly and organizes their socks by color. I think of the hawk-like parents who see everything their children are doing at every second. That is not me. Shout out to those types of controllers though. They are also super organized, efficient, and careful.
My sock drawer, on the other hand, is a mess and I normally have a pile of unmatched socks in the closet. I also probably load the dishwasher “incorrectly” all the time. And I despise being in charge. My need for control is a bit more inconspicuous, but it has always been there. And it indeed, makes me a control freak.
I remember having my first panic attack when I was maybe eight years old. I got overheated on a summer day while I was riding my purple, Huffy bike. My breath got quick and my face got bright red. I rushed home, feeling embarrassed to show my friends I was scared. I could not catch my breath. My parents took me to a doctor soon after, and I was checked for asthma. Without finding any real breathing problems, we moved on and assumed everything was fine. These sorts of episodes were far and few between, so no one ever thought much of it, until ten years went by and I had my first real problems.
I was in high school when my parents split up. My mother left without telling me where she was going or giving me any explanation. My father spent most of his time in a music studio he made outside in the garage, separate from the house. For me at 17, it felt like an abandoned house where I did not belong. That unbelonging left me with a whole hell of a lot of emotions that I had no idea what to do with. It left me with sadness and anger that was to a level that made me feel, you guessed it, out of control. It caused me to engage in unhealthy, codependent relationships. It caused me to search anywhere I could to find a place to belong. If I could not find a band-aid big enough to cover my emotions, I would, you guessed it, panic. I started having panic attacks again and again until life normalized. Eventually, I felt like I could control my emotions again, but that was not the last time the panic happened. It happened again and again when my mother got sick. When I felt the fear and pain of losing her, I resisted emotions that I felt I could not control. I watched my mother’s body become far too thin. I watched her become weak and frail. I panicked, until I got used to losing her for good. It was not until I had postpartum depression that I finally realized I had no idea how to handle unwanted emotions. I was forced to learn the best coping mechanisms I could because I lost complete control over myself due to hormones, sleep deprivation, and new motherhood. I had no more band-aids or temporary defense mechanisms.
It was during therapy for postpartum depression that my therapist showed me that I had a need for control. I had thought she was crazy because I could not care less about controlling anyone or anything around me. It turns out, I am a complete control freak when it comes to my internal well-being. I like to have complete control over my emotions. This seems like not such a bad thing. But life brings emotions that are not exactly easy to control. Sometimes, we get sick. I despise getting sick. I handle it horribly because I feel like I cannot control how I feel. This is life though. It does not line up with our well-intended to-do lists. Life is brutal and painful sometimes. Sometimes, life leaves us with emotions that we cannot control. We were made to have these uncomfortable and difficult emotions. But if we do not let ourselves feel anything, we cannot heal. If we resist these emotions, they persist. If I do not let my sadness, anger, or anxiety become present, where do those feelings go? They hide. They hide until they burst and become impossible to avoid. For me, they will burst and make me feel like a seven-year-old kid on a bike who got overheated and could not handle the discomfort. It took me till now, as a 30-year-old, to realize that I struggle to handle the lack of control I sometimes have over my own natural responses. Responses which are normal, and ultimately, healthy, even if they are uncomfortable. Now, I can work with my inner control freak, allowing myself space to learn and grow, and feel what I need to feel to heal.
Check in with yourself and your own coping mechanisms. How do you handle stress? Do you try to control your situations? Do you try to avoid your difficult emotional responses? We cannot know how we cope until we look at our own lives and look inwardly. When we do this, we can find growth, healing, and understanding. We can prepare ourselves better for whatever life throws at us.