Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum, Joshua Tree, United States

When Anxiety Overwhelms: Rules for Purging Things

Problem: It is difficult for me to identify what causes me to purge things compulsively. It is something I do when I feel anxious and overwhelmed. Decluttering- throwing away or giving away things seems to temporarily relieve my anxiety.

Some of the things I’ve discarded or have given away have been perfectly good items, and perhaps, they didn’t take up much room or appear distracting in any way.

In retrospect, I realize that I wasn’t always this way, although I can easily see that I’ve struggled with anxiety, depression, emotions, and disordered eating. Likewise, I can see the times in my life when things were ideal, or when I’ve felt like my true self (euthymic).

Support Systems

During those times, I have coped well and I’ve expressed myself through visual art and writing, exercise and sports. Solid (but imperfect) relationships carried me through adolescence, except for the years when I struggled with anorexia (age 14-18). My grandmother was of great emotional support when I was entering adolescence. Luckily, my sister and I lived with my grandparents during the summer that my parents separated. I was encouraged to draw and go outside to ride my bike while under their roof. Previously, I did not feel free to be a child while living in a dysfunctional home with my parents.

Deciding To “Disappear”

Having a few good friends in high school helped me overcome the misery I experienced in middle school. I was awkward, chubby and lonely before tenth grade. With my friends, I experienced camaraderie and belonging. At home, with the discord of my mom and her boyfriend, I felt invisible at best. At worst, I was awoken by the alcohol-fueled verbal assault of my stepfather towards my mother.

Sometimes I felt I was supposed to be in charge of tending to the emotional wounds of the narcissist in my life who tore me apart with names that caused me to starve myself. I controlled myself and my appearance (at least) by starvation.

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The more invisible my body became, the more people started to pay attention to me- I was “admired” for my slender physique by the very people I wanted to look like in high school.

From the time I started to become an “adult” (i.e., the period in life that becomes more complex- more responsibilities and learning to focus less on self), my minimalist ways have become the primary thread in the tapestry of life. It is also important to note that at the same time I was becoming an adult, I was more isolated from friends and family.

In reflecting, I realize the following things about being a minimalist (if that is actually the broad stroke that can be applied):

Minimalism and purging for me are cyclic and may be attributed to hormones. During a monthly “cycle” (menstrual), I am wrought with a multitude of emotions and my eating habits become unhealthy. It is during a “cycle” in a woman’s life that we must reflect, regenerate and prepare for the new “phase” in life.

Sometimes simply feeling anxious, overwhelmed or depressed, at any time in the month, brings me to the point of purging things. Two weeks ago, I wanted to chop off my hair for instant relief and regeneration (of a “new” me).

Does purging/decluttering specifically equate to a minimalist lifestyle? When I ask myself about the appearance of the “minimalist” style- the clean lines, simplicity, and functionality of minimalism, I believe the answer is “yes”. But not all minimalists tend to their lifestyle and philosophy because of emotional wounds. Some minimalists don’t soothe their anxiety by way of design choices. Many people choose to live minimally due to religious beliefs, cultural upbringing, even because of thrift, frugality, or poverty.

Going through my “things” (sorting) allows me to think about the needs of myself and family.

For instance, I understand my daughter’s clothing style and choices change over time. It is beneficial for us to go through her closet and decide what should stay and what can be donated. In doing so, I can help her manage her belongings while listening to her needs. Sometimes it takes a while for me to realize that my son will never wear the brand-new jeans in his closet because he doesn’t like the cut- or perhaps I overlooked the fact that his pants are becoming too short!

As a parent, I subconsciously want my kids to remain children forever.

Perhaps sorting and getting rid of stuff- even clothes or toys that are in great condition- is a way to allow them to grow, while allowing me to process this “growth”. Maybe purging and sorting things makes me feel more in control of the process?

 

Not Everyone Approves Of The Minimalist Lifestyle

There are times when other methods or mechanisms may have been better employed. I have purged things of my children’s without discussing it with them (knowing they probably would want to cling onto what I was ready to part with). I should have allowed them time to process the “loss” or have a voice in the matter. In those instances, I could have boxed up the item(s) until a later time.

My minimalist ways have conflicted with the hoarders in my life.

My minimalist ways have also conflicted with the toxic people in my life.

When I shared physical and emotional space with these types, there have been problems with my purging/decluttering compulsion. Compulsion or a lifestyle choice? It is a bit of both for me, hence the compulsion that is the primary aspect of a minimalist lifestyle. The toxic relationships in my life may have exacerbated my habit/disorder (?). It is apparent that it was for the best that the relationships be altered. The process of purging, albeit MINDLESS purging, served as a catalyst for changes in the relationships.

Regret: The process of purging is often sudden and mindless for me. Many things I have discarded have had to be repurchased. Some of the things- drawings, writings, photos and things that have taken time and money to make it into my space- can’t be (easily) replaced. In life, I can sometimes make amends. Other times it is out of my control. But simply “holding onto” things (or relationships, feelings, grudges, wounds) for sake of fear, is unhealthy as well.

Grief Still Remains If You Don’t Handle The Emotional Aspect Of Certain Possessions

I wish I could hold onto some things a little longer. For instance, I would like to keep papers and duplicate photos longer before discarding them. Better yet, I would love to be the kind of person that manages such things creatively- such as making a scrapbook and utilizing them into space, walls, artwork. For this reason, I stay away from talented women on Pinterest. Sometimes I peek into their lifestyles. Other times I follow the other minimalists to see how their managing life. In any event, they may or may not have the same emotions and complexities going on in their minds.

My Minimalism Rules

  • Don’t throw away things when feeling depressed or manic. Wait until moods are “euthymic”.
  • Discuss with children before discarding or donating some things.
  • Read a book on anxiety, stress, spirituality, etc. when feeling the urge to purge.
  • Some notable choices include:

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns

My Age Of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, And The Search For Peace Of Mind by Scott Stossel

Acceptance, Improvement, And Letting Go

Finally, it is often hard to accept myself when I fail others. When I disappointment those around me with flaws- what seems rational to me is irrational to others. I can’t push my beliefs on anybody else, but when I hurt them through my actions (purging), I need to seek amends, if they are willing to accept my peace offerings. My kids have forgiven me when I got rid of a book of a toy they wanted (I often have re-purchased some items $).

The toxic people– those who value possessions above people, or those who hold others to unattainable standards- I’ve let them go for now. I can’t work on myself if I am trying to contend with somebody else’s personality/character flaws. There is no clarity or benefit in such situations.

Regaining Control Over Anxiety at Work

Another anxiety attack manifested yesterday. The sudden bout of nervousness and agitation were precipitated by a few triggers.

  • My workspace was invaded and altered abruptly.
  • Physical discomfort and exhaustion from hormonal changes.
  • Working in an unorganized and moderately hazardous workspace.
  • Feeling overwhelmed with workload and expectations.
  • Embarrassment and feeling as though there was no “escape” from the chaos!

I would feel tears streaming down my face as I plotted what I could say to my supervisor to escape the madness I was struggling to contain. He was pushing me and my coworker to do more work, to work in between the seconds we waited for parts to assemble at my production job.

At first, I adapted my workspace to accommodate the changes implemented. After several minutes, I felt relaxed and I thought I was working at a moderate pace. My supervisor emerged and started piling partially-assembled bins on my table (which cluttered the space that I diligently maintained). I thought if I quit talking to my coworker working next to me I could work faster, but after working 7 days in a row, and battling PMDD (PMS on steroids), I realized despite my intentions and efforts, I couldn’t do the task today. I usually don’t assess myself so clearly and easily, but I’m well-acquainted with anxiety and all the masks she wears- the mask of OCD, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety, PTSD…even bulimia, and anorexia!

How I Gained Some Control

My choices were limited in the frantic environment in which I was thrust. The supervisor was hounding me to do more than I was capable of doing. PMS was wreaking so much havoc on my body that I had to sleep with a heating pad on my stomach for the past two days, and I used a pillow to elevate my sore feet at night. My mood seemed pleasant, mostly, until Sunday at work. I haven’t felt this agitated at work for a few months. At least, not so agitated that I wanted to leave for the day.

So I devised a way to tell my supervisor that I couldn’t handle working this day. After many interpretations of how I would elicit some shred of sympathy, I opted to find one of my supervisor’s subordinates. She nodded as I replayed the events in my work area and as I told her about my PMDD and anxiety symptoms. Within minutes she was able to get me moved to an area where I could work alone and in an orderly environment.

After I was situated in at my new station, I put in my earbuds and listened to some motivating music to get me thinking about how I would enjoy the day once I got out of work!

Here’s What Helped!

  • Change of environment.
  • Asking for help/support.
  • Being assertive.
  • Listening to music.
  • Deep breathing.
  • Working in a clutter-free area.
  • Working alone.
  • Finding a rhythm- working by the timer set on my new machine, as opposed to not having any timer/or relying on the timing and rhythms of my coworkers.

Understanding the Causes of Burnout

When everything around you seems to deplete you of energy, it’s time to do an assessment of your environment, your mind, and your body. If you suffer from a mood disorder, such as bipolar, you may become manic or depressed as a result of any precipitating factor. Take special care of yourself from the very moment you realize you are becoming stressed or ill.

Your body:

Do you have cramps, have a headache or feel nauseous? If it’s any of those things, plus you feel tired and moody, watch out for PMS. PMS can make a logical person act irrationally. Women feel more sensitive and self-conscious during their cycle.

Your environment:

Being around people that drain you, as opposed to people that nourish and encourage you, can deplete your energies in many ways. I work with toxic coworkers, one in particular who complains when she is directed to do something other than making copies or sweep the floors. She has a penchant for gossiping about me and telling others I’m having a “bipolar” day (I made the mistake of confiding in her that I have bipolar disorder). When I am sick or having my cycle, it is challenging to bite my tongue around this woman. I  find it helpful to meditate and pray when circumstances feel beyond my control.

Your mind:

Have I been neglecting to feed my mind good things? Like the physical body, our minds can only bear good fruit when we feed it with enriching things. When we give our mind a steady diet of garbage tv, vile images, words or music, nothing positive can become of such things.

Others do not need to deal with my crabbiness, either. I must retreat from people when I am being stressed. Solitude refreshes many people, especially introverts like myself. It’s rare that I have much quiet time. Small blocks of time seem to help me quelch the crankiness. A heating pad, good music, and 15 minutes to myself, much needed mental and physical rest not only benefits me, but it helps my family, my co-workers and others.

When I get overwhelmed by stress, my moods or emotions, and I have nowhere to “dump” that which exacerbates my bipolar disorder, I turn to mindless purging- purging of material things, or purging of documents, papers, receipts, and even things I was trying to save (old report cards from my children, school programs, newsletters, etc.). I have not been diagnosed with OCD, but I feel such behaviors are compulsive. These behaviors are rooted in an anxiety disorder.

Sometimes when I do not pay attention to my diet and I drink too much soda pop or eat junk food, I feel ashamed and unhappy with myself. I have wanted to purge on a few occasions, but have avoided this by distracting myself with writing or some other activity.

When we fail to nourish ourselves, our mind and body will cry out for attention. Poor nutrition, overeating, alcohol abuse, and many other unhealthy habits will manifest and cause us more harm in the long run.