Mapping the mess

So lately, the stress has been ratcheting way up for me and I am having trouble getting it back under control. It’s not coming out of the blue: besides the treepocalypse there have been a lot of things adding to the number of things I already obsessively worry over, but knowing why I am anxious doesn’t help me not be anxious.

My therapist and I discussed how I probably carry more ‘background’ stress than the average person, which contributes to my sleep and coping issues. When I freak out over some easily solvable thing, it’s probably because that thing was just the last straw on top of all the things I was already worrying about, many of which I probably don’t even realize I am worried about because they’ve become my normal. I brought up the analogy (because my mind tends to frame everything in computer terms) of how your computer gets bogged down and unstable, and when you bring up the task manager, there’s seventy or eighty processes all running and some crap you don’t even recognize hogging half the CPU.

Running with that analogy, he asked me this week to write down my ‘task list processes’ – all of the things I think of throughout the week that cause me any stress or aggravation, no matter how small. Of course, the first one became “I have to make a list.”

I can’t just make a list, that seems so inefficient… is there an app or piece of software that would make the list? Nope. How about something that makes other kinds of lists that I can adapt? I then spent an hour or two researching, downloading, and deleting various To-Do apps. Hmmm…. what about a spreadsheet? Too much work to build from scratch, too risky to try and download a ‘free’ one. I lost a whole f***ing morning to this endeavor, because that’s what I do. It became a mini-special interest. Along the way I learned about different ways of prioritizing tasks and sorting into matrixes and other stuff that was interesting but not relevant to the task at hand. All he asked for was a list.

What I eventually stumbled onto was a ‘mind mapping’ program called SimpleMind and I actually think I’ve found something that might be helpful to me. I’m not sure my therapist will thank me, because what I have so far looks like a cat ate a whole basket of colored yarn and confetti and then threw it back up, but it’s actually a pretty good representation of what goes on in my head. And its showing me some interesting insights. 

For instance, I have about 6-7 main categories like health, work, relationships, financial –  and autism – each with their own color. Each one has subcategories and items branched off, and you can link any item to any other, even other categories. The link ends up being the color of whatever category you link to. 

Autism ended up being the purple category;  and (for instance) if I am worried about a bill, that I paid late because I procrastinated about making a phone call, it goes under financial but it gets linked to autism. Or if I am worried about an awkward interaction with a coworker (work category) but it was caused by my avoiding them… well you get the idea.

There is a lot of purple on this map. A lot.

Even though I functioned for 47 years without realizing I was autistic, even though I hold a job with a lot of responsibility, and have a partner and a fairly rich life, every part of that life is affected by my aspie-ness. Sometimes in good ways. Often not so much.

Anyway, it might be something to take a look at. Besides the above revelation, the software (I started with the phone app but I think I’m going to buy the full version) is actually helping me deal with panicking over an upcoming trip I have to take for work. I am mapping out all the things I have to do beforehand and afterwards, and I can add notes and print a copy of the map and a text outline view of it all. 

Seeing it represented in a visual way is surprisingly making it make much more sense. I didn’t expect that, in fact, I remember that I answered ‘no’ on aspie quizzes when it asked if I think visually. Language is such a big thing for me, but apparently when it comes to organization there is a huge visual component. Go figure.

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