On Structure

I write a lot about structure. Here is where I write about it more. CN: anxiety, emotional abuse, self-abusive thoughts, blood, needles, food/eating.


In case my many mentions of it are lost to the mists of the Internet, I thrive on structure and ritual, as a creator, a gamer, and a person. Some of that is my anxiety disorder; some of that is a result of emotional abuse at various hands, which often comes with a difficulty with spontaneity; some of that is probably just who I am. It’s not like it’s easy to separate those three things, anyway.

That love for structure is fine with me; I need what I need, even if that need changes, and it is not “wrong” or “broken” of me to structure my life, as long as I am not edging out others’ needs. But sometimes life necessitates me abandoning that structure, and yesterday the damage that can do came due in a big way.

This week is my yearly physical, which as anyone who has been following me for the past year knows is an anxious time, given that last year’s physical turned up Type 2 diabetes (and we then had to check on subsequent diabetic check-ups for kidney damage and cancer — neither of which were positive, thank goodness). So yesterday was blood draw time, which is its own microcosm of anxiety, and to do that I had to fast for twelve hours. No biggie; I packed a snack, ate it and drank some water once the draw was over and done, and got ready for brunch with a relative and a game of T.I.M.E. Stories. Things were looking up!

Except then my meal schedule was totally thrown off. I need to keep an eye on my carbs, and I need regular intake at set times (relative to each other, anyway). I got breakfast/brunch and a mid-day snack, but then didn’t really eat again until dinner, partially because nobody else seemed to want food and so I did not discuss the idea  until T.I.M.E. Stories was over (at around 7pm). By then, my blood sugar was so low (we think — I left my testing kit at home) that I could not rationally figure out what I even wanted for dinner; I felt like any choice I made was going to make others mad, and besides, if I made the wrong choice and the food I picked wasn’t satisfying, I’d be more upset because then I had to wait a couple hours to eat something that was satisfying, and Oh God maybe I just won’t eat ever again. That will be easier, right? At least if I lapse into a coma from malnutrition or something I don’t have to make decisions?

We wound up having sushi, sashimi, and tempura, which was about the right amount of carbs, with some protein and fat to help my system normalize. I felt better the instant I ate my complementary salad and miso soup. I was able to admit I was on emotional overload, and why. My food schedule was thrown by the fasting, and with it the entire axis of my day was out of alignment and what mental defenses I had for the buzz of life with anxiety were out of joint with it.

It did not help that T.I.M.E. Stories can be complicated to track in a way that find highly satisfying, but can be annoying for others (and possibly also easier for them to track mentally), so there was some negotiation between my need to obey game structure as rigidly as possible and others’ need to skip over things they saw as unnecessary — negotiation that did not happen, because when I am feeling anxious I instinctively assume my needs will not be met, and so just don’t say anything and get resentful instead. So I ended a session of one of my favorite games entirely focused on my personal statistical failures and how it could have gone better and just feeling like my day was wasted, even though realistically I actually had fun and the parts that were not fun were a matter of needing to make needs known, not anyone doing anything to me. And I thought I had handled that, so I let myself relax and sleep in, and I figured the next day I would wake up and…

…have the exact same mental collapse about breakfast that I had about the previous night’s dinner. Seriously, I stared into the fridge, my head hanging bonelessly off my neck, and almost stomped out of the house to the garage to go write until I passed out. Thank goodness I do not live alone or that might have happened (or I might have eaten an entire dozen donuts and a whole pot of coffee and done damage the other direction). Sonya made me a toaster waffle and some yogurt, and I was able to get my head screwed back on straight and start back down the road to recovery.There was no self-harm, no yelling, and the one outburst I started to have I caught myself, admitted I was melting down, and calmed back down. (The Superman wristband I wear really does help me refocus when I start the gesticulations that preface a meltdown; I highly recommend you do whatever works for you, no matter how weird.)

My takeaway here was difficult to find: how do you figure out how to make your needs known when half the problem is that you feel you’re a bad person for making your needs known? But, find it I did. In numbered list format, in the name of my own love of structure:

1. From now on, if a game has bookkeeping that needs doing, I will make sure it happens. If that means I am doing all the bookkeeping, that’s OK with me. I can even sit and get all the bookkeeping done while other people make dinner or take a smoke break or whatever they need; I can eat with one hand and roll dice with the other if I have to. But it’s happening. I have less fun if it doesn’t.

2. I will not book myself for any plans that occur within 2-4 hours of a medical test that requires fasting, unless those plans expressly involve a meal and occur in a location that I know I can get to in time to eat brunch and still have a reasonably timed snack, lunch, dinner, etc.

3. I will also preface any plan that occurs on those testing days with a statement that I have to get tests done, and that may mean I am too anxious/depressed afterwards to be around people. That may mean people, for the sake of their own time or stress management, need me to say No to plans, because I cannot be sure of a Yes. I am OK with that, because being sad about missing out is better than feeling the way I did going into dinner yesterday.

Anxiety is a maze it can be extremely difficult to find your way out of; some days, it can be tempting to end things like the final scene of The Descent, just wrapping yourself in your damage and letting the light flicker out. But thanks to my friends, my wife, and my own hard work, I think I have a map.

So yeah. How was your weekend?

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