structure AND chaos

Please note: This is my entry for June’s Blog Carnival of Mental Health. The topic is hope and despair.


Structure is my one true love. I love going to bed every night at ten and getting up at six. I love running three miles on Wednesday, five miles on Friday, and six miles on Sunday, and I love knowing that my distance for each of those days increases by ten percent each and every week. I love reading a chapter from a book on my commute into work every morning and then another chapter at night before bed. I love planning activities way in advance, so when I do have to deviate from my schedule, I can plan accordingly.

I could go on and on and on.

Structure serves a purpose for me: it provides hope amongst chaos. It’s also synonymous with perfection. When I know exactly what I’m doing and when I’m doing it, I can remain free from uncertainty, and anxiety stays somewhat at bay.

The problem becomes when uncertainty, chaos, and despair creep back in, which is inevitable. This sends me into a downward spiral. When an unexpected social situation comes up that keeps me out late and floods me with anxiety, I get worn down and it takes a few days to recover. The more deviations, the longer and harder it is for me to recover.

For those who don’t know, last January I entered a downward spiral that stole all hope and ended in two hasty suicide attempts and one well thought out attempt that probably would have killed me if I had carried it out. There’s plenty of triggers to look at, but I think my obsession with structure is the main culprit.

Up until that point I thought I had everything under control–that is, I had developed a set of routines that I thought were impenetrable. However, I went from only going to school online and being subject to few real social situations to having a full-time job and an internship. It was too much. They broke down my structures so much I couldn’t recover. And so I gave up.

I let myself be taken by chaos. I let myself fall further and further down. Granted, I started planning for suicide, which ironically in itself brought structure. But for the most part, I let all structure go.

Now that I’m stable and can look more objectively at what happened, I know that I need structure. I’m just that type of person. The question, though, becomes–How can I have structure but still allow some chaos and uncertainty in without letting it destroy me?

I don’t have an answer. But I do believe it starts with awareness. It starts with knowing that life is full of uncertainties and I cannot possibly plan for every little thing. I mean life isn’t some science experiment with set variables, yet so far it’s been my best defense against anxiety to treat it as such. I am learning that there is a balance between structure and chaos; it’s not an either/or situation. There will always be hope and despair in my life, sometimes at the same time–and I’m learning that that’s okay.


14 responses to “structure AND chaos

  1. Seems like structure is a way of keeping really tight control for you Mike. Control is good up to a point, as you’re saying. Control won’t always work though, so it’s almost like you need a plan B for the unexpected. Also, people don’t like being controlled too much, so if you’re with people, your structure will go out the window. I think your question at the end is key. Maybe slowly experiment with controlled chaos – little bits of unplanned things, to slowly become accustomed to that. Not so much that you plunge into despair though. Come on, the unexpected can be fun! He he…I know you don’t think so. Cheers

    • Yes, I agree: the unexpected can be fun too. Well, as long as it’s not causing me too much anxiety. As far as structured chaos goes .. it almost sounds like an oxymoron. I remember when I was deep into CBT, I got to a point where I needed to start immersion therapy, where I started with small social situations and worked my way up, in hopes to gradually immerse myself and not get overwhelmed. The problem is, though, is that life doesn’t work like that. You can’t start with a small situation, and then move to a medium one, and then a large one when the time is right–life throws social situations at you all the time. You can’t go around avoiding everything. Anywa, I think Nardil is definitely going to help with providing the stability I need in difficult social situations. I already feel like it’s working, and I really like it. The side effects suck so far, but it’s def. worth it.

  2. Well, that’s one way to feel in control of life, it doesn’t work for me. I’ve found that it’s best for me to just float over the various layers happening around me.

  3. Mike, we are very similar. When I was younger and married, I had a structured life for me and my family. I was awared that two young kids will bring chaos, but I wanted that because it was a part of being a mother with kids in elementary school. I wanted to play that role. My house was clean; we had a great schedule from the moment I woke up until I went to bed. Now divorced 10 years and no kids (he took them), I am mentally disabled, get a social security check every month, have brain damage, and I can not work or go to school. I no longer have structure in my life because there is nothing for me to do. I just sit on my bed and watch TV or do some blogging. I too have Social Anxiety Disorder, SAD, so it freaks me out leaving my apartment and meeting people. I understand some of what you are feeling. Hugs. Marie.

    • I’m really sorry, Marie. We are very similar. I’ve been reading over what you said again and again, and I really just wish there was something I could do, something I could say, to make it all better, for you and I. I think there’s good in everyone. I mean, there has to be–otherwise there wouldn’t be anything bad. Sometimes we just choose to focus only on the negative, and that only shows part of the picture. I hope things get better for you.

  4. Hi Mike, I understand where you are coming from. Developing a routine is definitely a safety-based behaviour, and I think it’s more of a positive thing than a negative thing. I also think you’ve got the right idea about a balance between order (or an ordered life) and chaos ( we might re-think of this as ‘the uncertainty of change’?). I’m still struggling with things as you are – depression and anxiety definitely cloud your sense of control and direction, but I’m thinking the only way to navigate the chaos is through developing an unwavering sense of self-acceptance, self-belief and the idea that we can be content despite external circumstance. Easier said than done, I know, but I think it’s the only way to get by without pain. Best wishes, bb.

    • Hey there. I agree with you, and I also agree that it’s easier said than done. 🙂 I hope I’m going in that direction towards self-acceptance. I think we’re all needing to go in that direction, regardless of what we’re suffering with; it’s what we’re searching for in life.

  5. I love routines too. The challenge for me too is to create a balance between the structure and the chaos so I can get thru this time for me- summer- kids out of school, unstructured, and looking for a job- unstructured as hell, and easier said than done in this economy. But even in the chaos, I do the things to try to stay balanced- the bedtime and early rising routines, walking the dog, hitting the gym hard. and lots of prayer too. That definitely helps.

    • Hey Jill. Structure definitely helps us get through chaos. I’m glad you’ve found ways to balance your life. Wishing you well, Mike.

  6. sanabituranima

    This is a very important lesson which I am also trying to learn. Thanks for this post.

  7. Pingback: Blog Carnival of Mental Health, June 2011: Hope and Despair » Confessions of a Serial Insomniac

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