Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Robert’s Rules of Order

Humans are creatures of habit. Anybody who’s ever tried to give up coffee or nail-biting can tell you that. But it is even more important if you live with a serious psychiatric disorder.

Think about it: doesn’t being mentally ill inject chaos into your life? If you suddenly have to drop everything to go into the psych ward, it tends to disrupt things. If you’re steaming through your to-do list and you start hearing voices, you’re liable to be derailed. And if you have a stay-in-bed depression, not much of anything will get done. Mental illness imposes a persistent random quality on our routine.

Keeping things in order around you can help. I had this brought home to me recently. My study was being remodeled, and I fell apart.  The floor was torn up, the furniture was in the garage, and my books and papers were sprawled in anarchy all over the guest room. I couldn’t find anything, and most of the stuff I do all day every day was not really possible. Within a week I was lying on the couch in fetal position, wondering suspiciously why I even bothered to breathe.

It reminded me of a friend who killed himself a number of years ago. His mother died - something he had been expecting very calmly for years. He had to move, since without his mother’s social security he could not afford the rent on their house. This was also expected.  What was unexpected was the way he came completely to pieces. In the end, despite everything his friends or his therapist could do, he shot himself in the backyard.

At the time, I was confused by the whole thing. I think I understand better now. Yes, he had clinical depression, and that alone can be fatal. But he also had all his familiar landmarks taken away. His lifetime companion was gone, AND all his usual surroundings, belongings, and routines. Environment was of particular importance to Paul. He was Obsessive Compulsive with a hoarding instinct, and his 175 boxes of bric-a-brac were locked in someone’s garage where he could not see, touch or use them. He was lost in an alien country in the fog, and he couldn’t find his way.

Life is confusing. It’s wise for us to impose some kind of order in our lives. It could be organizing your belongings in a certain way. It could be doing two or three chores every day in the same order, or drinking out of a favorite cup. It could be taking a walk twice a week, or watching the news at the same time every night. Find something that comforts you, something that is dependable, even when the rest of your world is coming apart.

I’m not saying ‘never change things.’ But give yourself something to cling to, however small. It can literally save your life.

Deborah is the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness, available at, Kindle Editions, iBookstore, and other major vendors. Visit her web page at, or see her catalog at

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