It’s amazing how you think you have yourself figured out, but then something will happen that makes you understand you had everything wrong. You didn’t know yourself, and that’s a little bit scary, but it can also fuel your own sense of wonder. If you maintain the capacity to surprise yourself, your life will never be boring.
I had myself pegged and an easy-going free spirit. A real ‘go-with-the-flow’ type of person. It was how I was raised. My family wasn’t big on planning, and things just seemed to kind of happen, without any guidance except, perhaps, THE LORD’S. As an adult, I realized how hard my parents were working to keep the whole operation going, but even they would admit they’re no big planners.
I also grew up an incredibly anxious kid. That may seem irrelevant, but it’s not.
Somehow, I got through college, moved to California, then earned my teaching credential. I made a plan for myself, and I stuck to it. I got married, adopted two children, the whole shebang.
Now, my wife was a person with a plan. I teased her that she was a control freak, to which she good-naturedly agreed. It’s because of her we bought a house, adopted the aforementioned children, and developed our careers. If I felt a little bit of unease about all of this, well … I didn’t have any better ideas, did I? The anxiety that had followed me like a rain cloud as a child got progressively worse.
I had ideas of my own. There were things I wanted to do. I had this urge to make plans for myself, but of course, other people’s plans would definitely be better, especially my wife’s. She was much smarter than me, after all (this remains objectively true).
Fast forward oh, say fifteen years. My teaching career implodes. I am diagnosed first with ADHD, then with bipolar disorder. I devoted myself to taking care of my children and working at the library. I wrote occasionally. I felt like my life had spun out of control. I would spend the day cleaning house, then watching it get messed up again, with no one else in the house willing to life a finger. I attempted to exert control over my time, but every time I did some emergency would arise, and I would have to abandon those plans. I didn’t feel like I had permission to accomplish things for myself, my writing eventually fell entirely by the wayside. It wasn’t a good use of my time, my wife said, and I believed her. (In her defense, I hadn’t learned to finish things yet, so of course it looked like I was constantly spinning my wheels to no effect and there were legitimate other things that needed to get done. I don’t blame her for saying this. She was drowning too, in her own way.)
In short, everything was chaos, and I had no plan to make any of it better. Another five years passes. My kids grow up. I am miserable, and so is my wife. Things I had denied for my entire life could be denied no more. We have a silly fight, and I realize that I am just done. The marriage ends. My wife and kids move out. I spend a couple of months feeling both relieved and bereft. Around the end of June 2019, I realize that my life is not over, that I can come up with some sort of plan for what to do next, and no one can say anything about what it was. So, I make a plan.
I start writing again. I study plot structure and learn a method of advance plotting that works for me. Over the course of the next year, I finish a giant novel. I spend about two hours writing every day, doing it mostly at the library because there’s no good space for it in my house. That first book leads to a second, then a third. My days are my own to structure how I see fit. I feel actual peace for the first time in my life.
Then Covid hits and working in the library is not an option. So, I use my stimulus check to redo my house, and turn my son’s unused bedroom into an actual office for myself. Now, I have control over my environment, which is something that I’d never done before. I keep my house clean regularly something that had once seemed impossible. I even remember to take my dogs to the vet for their shots.
I keep writing, finishing two more novels. I decide to scrap the first novel I wrote, but I publish the second, and then two more in the series later that year. (I send my now ex-wife a passive aggressive photo of my print copies with the passive-aggressive caption ‘Oh Look! I finally finished something!’ She congratulates me.)
On the one hand, this all looks like I needed to get rid of my wife and kids in order to accomplish things. But that’s not it. I needed to realize that I needed control of my life, and I needed to be grown-up enough to take that control. If, at any time, I had gone to my ex-wife with an actual plan that made sense and would make sure all the needs were being met (including mine), she would have been thrilled. She might have thrown a party, because what I was doing, in not taking control, was putting the weight of all of the planning on her. I thought, because I was doing the physical work, that was enough, but the mental weight was a burden as well, and I was not carrying my part of it.
Upon doing this, the anxiety that had plagued me all my life just … vanished. It comes back in odd moments, directed at something specific, but that general sense of unease that followed me everywhere had been gone for years. And I realize now, that I was not, all those years, an easy-going free spirit. I Might have been ‘going with the flow,’ but I hated it. I needed to be in charge of the flow. And once I took charge, my entire life made sense in a way it never had before.
In short, I am a control freak. I thought I was Chandler, but I’m actually Monica.
It was a couple of weeks ago that I had this revelation. My boyfriend and I went out to dinner, and I shared this with him, and he just kind of laughed and said, ‘I’m making my surprised face right now. Can’t you tell?’ And then, ‘You’re the only person I know who makes a detailed schedule for himself then sends it to everybody, so they know what to expect.’
I was like, ‘oh.’ That is not the act of an easy-going free spirit, is it?”
I talked about this therapy, and shared how I had come to this determination, and my therapist covered her mouth with her hands and said ‘Wait? You didn’t know this?!’
So apparently, I am coming late to this revelation. And also, I’m the last to know, which is typical.
But honestly, I have decided not to be ashamed of it. I’ve decided to lean into it. Because, actually, the people in my life, including my parents and kids, aren’t big planners. Someone needs to have a plan, and apparently that’s me. My boyfriend says he doesn’t mind, and that it’s nice to have direction sometimes (which I am more than happy to provide, obviously).
I’m not an asshole. I really don’t have the desire to control other people. Also, in making my plans, I try to consult with others and make sure everyone’s needs are met. I can also be flexible. If my plans need to change, that’s fine. I can bend with circumstances. It’s just that I need to be in control of how I do that. If you want my help with something, you’re better off giving me a desired objective, and then my planner-self will kick in and we can get it done.
Okay , actually, the other night we were playing unstable unicorns, and I was instructing Jimmy (my boyfriend) about how he needed to arrange his cards so we could all tell his active cards from his stable and he gives me this look and I was like, ‘Oh shit. I’m doing it aren’t it?’ And I think I’ve been doing this all along.
But I have a sense of peace about it. If I’m trying to take over, I’m okay if you tell me. I might even back off. But being honest about this with myself had been very therapeutic. I probably would have realized this much earlier if I had not spent most of my adult life in proximity to a control freak with a more dominant personality.
So, yeah. I am a control freak. Anyone who’s ever seen my whiteboard with my book outlines probably already realized this. My adhd makes me a chaos goblin, but that doesn’t change this basic fact.
So, pray for Jimmy. He’s cool with it so far, but … you know, it’s a lot.