I decide to address the problem of my home office when the piles of paper begin spilling off the desk and onto the floor. It’s really difficult to be productive when “stuff” takes over your work space because your mind becomes a cluttered mess, too. Despite the self-assured tone I use when proclaiming, “I know exactly where to find what I need,” I am fooling no one.
I begin with the piles on my desk and progress slowly toward the bookcases. When I confront a mess that I can’t sort out immediately, I mentally mark it “to be dealt with later” and stuff the entire pile in the ample closet. Over time, I come to realize that my office closet is not only a repository of overflowing files and notebooks but also a convenient storage space for anxiety. In order to be productive, I need to contain my mental mess along with the actual one.
I do not refer to fleeting anxious thoughts that pop by the office for an occasional visit, rather to those that have staying power. By day, they linger wordlessly at the periphery of my consciousness. But they shriek through the night, grabbing me in the middle of a REM cycle and shaking me violently until they feel adequately acknowledged.
If I had no way to contain these anxieties, if I allowed them to intrude on my daily routine, I would never accomplish a single thing. I feel fortunate to have learned tricks for luring them into the anxiety closet, to have increased the speed with which I can stuff them in and shove the door shut. Were I truly wise, I would outfit that closet door with a padlock and toss the key in the garbage bin at the edge of the driveway.
I am not wise.
I forget that anxiety is both persistent and pernicious, and possesses the ability to turn door handles and escape its confinement. I am inevitably surprised and terrified when the door to my anxiety closet swings open and “stuff” spills across the threshold.
The summer began with my tidying up an actual mess. It ends with my cleaning out a metaphorical closet. In preparation for the Jewish New Year, I decide what is worth keeping in 5774. I reevaluate my stored-up anxieties and assess my ability to let go of worries and regrets.
This is an awesome undertaking; the anxiety closet demands my full attention as I cleanse my mind of chaos and invite order to inhabit its former space.
I pray that I am up to the task.