Housesitting / by Michelle Cowan

Last week, I dog- and house-sat for a friend.  The dog, although he is a rambunctious and rather large puppy, was no problem.  Being away from home, however, sent me into a tailspin.  My compulsion to control hasn't felt this strong in quite some time.  I felt completely discombobulated (I love using that word!) and distant from myself. 

The space around me nurtures me and in many ways, becomes a part of me.  I have set up my life and my home in a comforting way that reflects who I am, my loves, and what I need.  It was strange to live in a place where I wasn't sure I would have everything I needed.  If my week had allowed for time to visit my apartment a few times, I might not have felt so stressed.  But the week was a particularly busy one and also packed solid with rain, which increased the time I spent going anywhere to do anything.  My desire for rest and dryness outweighed my desire to drive in the rain to soak up the Michelle-ness my apartment contains.  At least, by putting aside the desire to run home, I attempted to let go of compulsion.  Unfortunately, I never managed to fully shake the anxiety the plagued me all week.

It seems particularly strange to me how much more severe my anxiety was compared to when I go on vacation out of town.  I discovered that, on holiday, I give myself permission to let things go, set aside my usual schedule, and take longer to do things.  I prepare myself by building an awareness that things probably won't go as planned and that I may not always have everything that would make me comfortable.  I remind myself that I can get or ask for what I need.

I did no such preparation—other than to pack a bag of clothes, sundries, and my favorite foods.  It felt so frustrating to live in the same town as my comfortable space and not be in it.  Instead, I was surrounded by other people's belongings, organized in ways that confused me.  The puppy took up a lot of my time, as well as numerous social commitments, and I was constantly seeking out time to rest.  It felt as though I was walking on a treadmill, with the movie backdrop version of my life scrolling past beside me.  I was separate from my own life and couldn't find my groove.  I also realized how challenging it is for me to give myself permission to NOT be and do everything "perfect Michelle" would do.

A couple days after the job began, I recognized that my discombobulation (word of words!) could be a good thing.  Out of options and things that seemed controllable, I was letting go.  I was learning to focus on the moment and release the things I could not change—at least a little bit. The items in the house, their organization, the dog, the messiness caused by the dog, the dampness, the strange bed, the alarm that didn't work, the new route to work—all of that had to be put to the side.  I had to find strength and centeredness in myself.

Centering—that's what I said I needed all week.  I fought my conditions.  I fought the reality that I was not living in my apartment, and therefore, my schedule would not be the same.  I was having to deal with people in my life that usually aren't present, too.  An additional wrench in the works—I needed to release my time and relax in knowing that I would get my solitude eventually.  I needed to ACCEPT what was instead of wishing for what I thought would be better.

Although I almost entirely accepted the situation by the end of the week, I only half-succeeded in centering myself.  At times, times I felt completely present.  But other times, I paced, ate, screamed, and fretted.  My reaction surprised me, but it has revealed compulsions and personal characteristics I want to work on.  I discovered that I am a loving human being who will give of herself to take care of others, but it reminded me that—alongside those qualities—I am an introvert. Although I learned that I am able to release more of my personal space that I could have in the past, I still hold onto many little habits and patterns that I falsely think will help control my environment. 

I tend to want to exert complete sovereignty over the world in which I live, but that goal is impossible!  I try to set things out a certain way, do laundry at a specified time, have everything I need present, not have people around when I don’t want them around.  But with a dog, with friends, with loved ones, with traffic, with weather, with unexpected inconveniences, it just isn't possible to achieve the serene, orderly, and astonishingly sterile and empty life I try to create. 

My utopia would have to be devoid of other human beings, animals, and nature in order to exist!  Why would I want a life like that? 

This week, from the security of my own apartment, I am focusing on staying present in the moment and allowing my life to not always go as I have planned.  To have a rich life, I have to give up some of what I think it "should" be.  At the very least, I need to examine my vision for my life and see if there is anything about it that wouldn't really be fun.  Sure, a world with no unexpected messes would be great, but I'll never have a pet or houseguests that way.  And constant safety would be wonderful, but when would I get to drive my car?

In short, I am happy to report that I am a loving introvert who can handle bumps in the road of life and create beautiful things from them.  I'd just like to do less screaming, crying, bingeing, and worrying when I see the bumps coming… and especially when I'm imagining bumps that don't even exist yet.