Mental Health Monday: The Devil is in the details

by Janie Jones

It’s the little things.

And, yes, in general they don’t really make that big a difference, it’s the big picture that matters most.

I’ve been telling myself this for the last 36 hours, over and over again.  Yet, there is something that keeps the feedback loop in my brain playing these little things over and over and over.  I debated mentioning these details, at first I tried convincing myself I was being too nice, and that I should let it go.

But then this morning, half asleep, I get that feeling again.  And, though sometimes we are told that we get hung up too much on details, some details are critical.

Have no clue where this is going?

Perhaps I’ve finally fried that last sanity circuit.  But I just can’t shake the feeling that something is very different in my environment.  Something very tiny that has been altered and even though I can’t quite put my finger on it, most of Saturday night, all day yesterday and already this morning I walk out of my room to the bathroom or the kitchenette and there’s this overwhelming sensation that something is different or missing.  And it’s jarring.  I get this feeling and I have to stop and my brain desperately tries to figure out what it is, but for the life of me I can’t tell.

Now, lest those of you who care really think I’ve gone over the edge, Saturday the landlords were here.  Let’s call them Joseph and Mary.  I mentioned to Joseph that I didn’t know how sump pumps were supposed to work, but I thought it had been running constantly for a few days.  So, Joseph went to look into it and ended up spending almost the whole time he was here in the closet where the sump pump is.  Mary would come in and out of the basement, and while I had homework to do and stayed mostly in my room, occasionally I’d see her carrying things out of the basement.  At one point I came out of my room for lunch and she was wandering around the basement moving a stack of padded stool covers.  Two more times I came out and they were in different places.

Perhaps this doesn’t strike you as odd, but I am a creature of habit.  I’ve been called “Just So.”  I get that change is what drives life, gives it richness, offers opportunity for growth, etc.  But I also need a certain amount of consistency or I lose my marbles.  And, as you all know, I have been riding the Big Kahuna of change these last couple of years.  Please believe me, I have tried to embrace the it-will-be-what-it-will-be-so-keep-breathing-let-it-go-and-keep-calm mentality.  However, I’m not perfect and it is really, really hard to change your genetic programming.  So, try as I might to rise above it, still every little unexpected hiccup in my carefully built reality sets me on edge.

So, Joseph ended up replacing the sump pump and it took longer than I guess they expected to be here and eventually I had to leave to meet Peggy.  Joseph and Mary were gone when I got back, but their legacy lived on.  When I returned my world had changed.

A lamp was on.  A lamp I never use.  It immediately sent my change-o-meter to high alert.  A large bag of used books was propped up in front of the door to the utility room.  The mobile pile of cushions was completely gone.  Some toss pillows were gone.  A rug was on the floor now in front of the sump pump closet.  The big fan I use in place of an exhaust fan when I cook to keep the steam from setting off the fire alarm was gone.  And, my bag of aluminum cans for reselling for scrap aluminum was gone.

It was like a nightmare.  Every time I turned around something else stood out as moved, changed or totally gone.  It was like constantly taking a step and missing and that brief rush of shock.  It’s like the magnetic poles have shifted.  It felt like my home had been invaded, and drove home the horrible feeling that my home, my second skin, was not really mine to control.  I had no say in what happened right under my nose or after I was gone.  It feels totally creepy.

Now, nothing really big happened.  But my detail oriented and highly territorial nature has been affronted.  And the onslaught of finding my orientation shifted makes me feel off balance and slightly violated.  With the exception of the recycling cans, nothing altered was really mine.  But it was part of my mental map, and my static background.  Something primal within me has been spooked by the altered terrain.  Sunday morning when the dawn came in I couldn’t resist the urge to walk through the whole basement (not terribly large) and scrutinize everything.  I found some of the missing stuff.  And, I think I spotted every difference, comparing it like a “hidden picture” game (but not as fun) to my mental map.  But the sense that there’s still something off lingers.  It’s like I’m being haunted by the memory of where things used to be.

For the last 6 months I’ve been trying to get my sea legs back, to feel like this place is home.  To feel safe and content.  Then, just when I think I’m coming to terms with the idiosyncrasies of my new situation, the situation changes.  I had just talked with Joseph about having more privacy, that I would be willing to pay a little extra to ensure the roommates would not have overnight guests down here.  And I was trying to make peace with living here another year or so.  It’s not bad, its price is more affordable than many worse places, and let’s be honest, I love having a garage to park in.  But, I am who I am.  I’m a creature of habit.  I get thrown off by the details.  And, a somewhat less than private arrangement of rooming in a house with 5 other people does not exactly breed the type of calm, consistency the Janie brain craves and thrives on.

And, then there is the recycling which really pisses me off.  It might seem irrational, but it is a carefully considered irritation.  This is the second time they took my cans, it happened once before right after I moved in.  But then it was only a very small amount of cans, I was new, and maybe they thought I was too lazy to take them up to the recycle bin.  I tried not to let it bother me.  But when it happened again, well, really I can’t help but see it as stealing.  I buy the soda, the empty cans are mine.  They represent cash when I save up enough.  This time I had almost a whole garbage bag full.

And it’s not just the cash they represent.  Leif started the routine of having the spud crush them and he’d take her to a place that buys scrap aluminum and let her have the cash.  So, I’ve been saving cans to add to the pot of cans to resell for scrap.  So, while it is a bit of a stretch for most people to understand, to me it was like stealing loose change out of my pocket.  It wasn’t theirs to take.  And, it steals away all my effort through out the last few months thinking about that tradition and the stupid little joy it gave me to continue that process when all my other routines had been lost to twists of fate.

It’s not just about the money for some scrap aluminum, or them taking the things that actually are theirs and rearranging the space.  It’s one more slap in the face to remind me of how much I’ve fallen and how lost I really am with very little to call my own.  A reminder of how much the details can really matter when they aren’t yours to control.  The Devil is in those details.  Having a home, privacy and consistency in one’s life.  Not so inconsequential as details go.

And, now I have to go to campus early to spend two hours counting millions of nearly invisible critters.

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5 Comments to “Mental Health Monday: The Devil is in the details”

  1. I wonder if it is that you have had so little control of the big events in your life that the minor changes made without your consent are the final straw. That’s not an unreasonable feeling. We must all feel in control of something or chaos ensues.

    And you worked hard to save those cans, so of course you feel violated. Do you feel up to calling the landlord and asking for them back? Or to be compensated?

    • I did send them an email trying to politely explain that I was saving them and I would appreciate it very much if they would not take them. Joseph said Mary always takes everyone’s cans to the recycling center, but he would let her know I wanted mine in the future. No apology offered. No acknowledgement that they infringed on my what was technically rightfully mine. In most respects they are kind people so I guess I have to let it go. It would seem petty I suppose to make a big deal out of it, even though it is a big deal to me it’s mostly because I’m so thin skinned these days.

      There was probably only a dollar or two worth of cans at most. You don’t get very much for recycled aluminum, that’s why we save them up until we have enough to fill a big 50 gallon can before we take them in. Money is money, but I’m not going to ask to be reimbursed for such a small amount, mostly it just upsets me that they took what wasn’t theirs to take and just assumed it was okay because most people see cans as garbage.

      But they weren’t in the garbage, they were kept separate. And we do have curbside recycling pick up, so I could have easily taken them out each week instead of saving them separately. I would have stopped to think that a person who in all other respects keeps a neat and tidy space is probably not too lazy to take them up each week and might have some reason to have a large bag of crushed cans that obviously took a while to collect and separate from the normal weekly recycling. I wouldn’t have just assumed, I would have stopped to ask if they would like me to take them for them or not. It’s the presumption and lack of thought for me, that I might have had plans for those cans that I think really bothers me the most.

      Well, thanks for understanding. It’s a little thing, but as you say, I have so much out of my control I’m always feeling like the next straw to break will do me in.

      • I really do understand 🙂 Now that you’ve vented, I hope you can let it go because otherwise it will fester. Sometimes we focus on (what appear to others to be) small incidents because otherwise our heads explode.

  2. Keep telling us about the details, Janie, because they do matter. I like Tilly’s idea of talking to joseph-he may no idea that he wasn’t doing you a favour by removing a bag for recycling. (that sentence may not make any sense)

    • Your sentence makes perfect sense, and thanks for your kindness. Blogging is good therapy, it helps to let it go if you can get it out, so to speak. I’m still somewhat irked, but I do feel better.

      I just typed a longish response to Tilly’s comment, which also somewhat relates to yours. So instead of just repeating myself, I invite you to have a perusal.

      Thanks again. It means so much to have you both out there, being supportive and looking over me through the blog.

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