Critters, Culture, & Compost: Controlling the Uncontrollable

I should be working. I have an unending list of editing work, gardening work, housework, historical commission work, and even self-care work to do. I should be working and yet here I am, writing to you. But that’s exactly why I’m here writing — I have too much to do and everything is screaming for attention in my head. So, today, I’m opting for an odd form of self-care for an introvert like myself, I’m writing publicly in the hopes that it’ll help me privately. Yay?

I’m sure many of you can relate; things seem like they’re manageable and then something happens and all the cards come tumbling down. Too often for me, migraines interrupt those beautifully laid, delicate and fragile, intricate plans I have for how I can accomplish *all the things* on my plate. To be honest though, there are plenty of other times when I swear all it takes for the controlled to become uncontrollable is a strong breeze. And then, regardless of the cause, here’s me trying to pick up sticks and make sense of the mess, so that I can get back to ground zero and start making progress again. 

I recognize that part of the problem is attributable to the fact that I just have too many things on my plate. I’m quite comfortable with the word “no” but — here’s the problem — I greatly enjoy helping people, I like being involved. And I respond to the uncontrollable situations outside my home, in society, or the world, by wanting to “do” things that at least help the people and the immediate area around me to feel better or feel more secure. I’m not the person to sit at home behind my computer complaining, if I want change, I want to be the change, even if it’s only for a single person. 

However, here’s the rub: my brain also appears incapable of correctly estimating the time I will spend on any one task that I need to do. I’m in a perpetual state of running behind on things… and also of saying, “after I finish this one monumental task, I’ll be able to catch up on the rest.” Sadly, I KNOW that I do this and yet can’t seem to stop.

My brain, bless its little heart, is probably (and maybe optimistically) described as organized chaos at any given moment. Where my husband thrives in an environment that’s as close to sterile as possible, my office (house?) currently has piles of somewhat related materials scattered throughout. And I know where everything is so that, when I need it, I can find it. It drives my husband nuts. I wouldn’t say I run on pure chaos, because pure chaos has me in this particular place and time, but I also fight structure. I’m complicated, what can I say? 

So, here’s the whole point of this article: when we get in this situation that I guarantee we’ve all been in, how do you go about controlling the uncontrollable? How do you make sense of the chaos so that you can keep on keeping on? And does this way of reining chaos back in work every time? Or do you have to switch it up. 

I feel like some of you might say “well, Amy, by definition you can’t control the uncontrollable…” Yeah, well, be that guy. Pat yourself on the back, champ. How about this? When life seems to spin out of control, how do you filter out the noise and wade through the paralyzing anxiety and get back to the task(s) at hand?

Obviously, this is not my first rodeo with an overly crowded brain yelling, “everything is important and all needs to be done right now!!” Sometimes I force myself to take a break, even though that seems counterproductive, and take the dogs for a walk. Occasionally I’ll meditate, again even though my brain keeps telling me that I’m not *doing* anything by meditating. I sit outside, feeling the breeze, listening to the birds, and soaking in the beauty of nature. I’m really good at making lists, and that can be incredibly helpful. Oftentimes I read, which can, at times, let my brain and body calm down and take a breath. Medication helps. This is the first time I’ve written it all down, lucky you! (For the record, I’ve tried to journal in the past, it’s ironically and hilariously too structured for me.) 

But I think there’s something important here. We happen to be living in a time when it feels like we’re on the precipice of big change. The established norms that have governed our lives are unsettled; job security, economic security, and even food security feel like stories from the past. The pandemic has unsettled our society even more. We are nearly at war with ourselves in a very literal sense. Ultimately, I think I can speak for many people in saying that a great deal of our lives feels uncontrolled right now. There’s a very real sense of powerlessness. So, while I started this column today to sort out my own personal brain “tornado of responsibilities,” how we, individually and collectively, deal with the unpredictability and feelings of uncertainty in the world around us is equally important. 

I don’t have answers. I can tell you that, if this resonates with you, you’re not alone. I can also tell you that it’s worth thinking about the ways you deal with the uncontrollable situations in your life, and trying out a couple different ways of handling them. 

Right now, though, my brain has settled and it’s time to get back to work. Take care of yourselves, my friends. Just over this last hump, and it’ll get better, right?

Amy East is a freelance copyeditor, wannabe homesteader, and recovering archaeologist living in Cass County. She loves her family, her menagerie of animals, and her garden, although depending on the day, the order of those may vary. 


Any views or opinions expressed in “Critters, Culture, & Compost” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Watershed Voice staff or its board of directors.