A Sticky Note Wall Came Tumbling Down Along with My Anxiety
And, I finally learned to follow my instincts.
I lived by my wall of sticky notes, all color coded, all precise, just like Zach Woods’ character Jared Dunn in the HBO series, Silicon Valley. I peeled one sticky off, only to replace it with another. I was the master of lists, and sticky notes were my secret weapon.
Perhaps I believed it was a creative endeavor. Perhaps, I felt I could maintain control this way. Whatever the thought, I needed something to stay organized because I wanted to reach that small, bottom, corner sticky note reserved just for me.
The only problem was the location. I’m pretty sure I never even got to that bright-green note. I’m almost positive that I stuck another sticky note over it and that it announced one of my children’s future activities.
In hindsight, this was the whole problem.
Deb Knobelman, PhD writes about her own anxiety and how she dealt with it in Three Thoughts That Will Make Your Anxiety Decrease. Specifically, she writes, “Anxiety is a forward-looking disease.”
The Sticky Wall was a giant reminder of the future that held too many possibilities, setting my brain on overdrive. The future was too big, too planned; and, therefore, too riddled with details of possible problems racing around inside my mind.
But, I kept that wall up for about three months until one day…
You know the day.
The day where everything implodes and explodes at the exact moment that you think you’ve made one epiphany only to exchange it for another, stranger, upside-down revelation.
A few defining moments led up to the downfall of the Sticky Wall.
The pile up began.
It started out with one-too-many stickies piling up on top of each other. It was one-too-many tasks that didn’t get done in the time-frame with which they were given.
A monster was born.
I found one stuck to my pant leg, then another to my purse — all signs of impending doom, which I chose to dismiss as temporary setbacks.
I started to despise the corner of the kitchen where the wall hung out. It would stare at me like a giant, bright-toothed monster. I would look away, but I still felt it staring at me, smiling.
My children joined the monster.
They began to hang out with each other, and the sticky monster used them to berate me. Sometimes, they walked up to me and giggled knowingly with a request on a sticky that was stuck to their foreheads. “Food Please” the sticky said. It was cute, at first.
Finally, during a morning rush, I grabbed a jacket from the dryer as an errant sticky note fell to the floor. Somewhere between shutting the dryer door and bending back up, my shoulder hit the board hard enough to send it flying through the air.
And that was it.
No more notes.
No more agendas.
And, most importantly, no more anxious avoidance of items not done.
But, it was the freedom I felt from seeing my attempts at perfection fall apart that gave way to a new relationship with myself.
I found that listening to my instincts made a lot more sense.
Here’s what I discovered:
- Simplify your starting point.
Instead of looking to a paper to determine my day, I lay in bed for another five minutes and dreamed of a good day. It wasn’t a day with grand adventures or specific scenarios. It was a smile and a breath along with a glance at a flower or a bird.
- Break the tens into two.
I broke down the wall of tasks into two columns for the week. The one consisted of everything that was urgent — it needed to be done today. The other column was filled with less urgent matters.
- Realize that instincts make sense.
With no wall, I was free to listen to my gut. If I planned to go to the grocery store after work but had to stay late at work, I finally listened to my gut that told me I was trying to cram too much into one day.
For some, a sticky note wall could be useful, especially if it involves collaboration or fun activities. I still use it with my students and my writing or with projects sometimes. But, for others, a sticky note wall can feel overwhelming and punishing, adding to an already anxious person’s life.
I’m now satisfied with random stickies for simple grocery lists, a little reminder, or a scribble to pass time at a long meeting.
Plus, I don’t hate them anymore. Our relationship has returned to its productive, creative start.