I Keep Moving by Storing Little Boxes in My Head
I like to keep things organized. Everything should have a place, even if it’s on the floor next to my bed, like my clothes.
Even my problems have a place: Each one has a box. No, I don’t have a box sitting around in my house labeled “Huntington’s disease.” All of my issues live in boxes in my head. I’ve been doing this for about as long as I can remember.
I recently learned that I got this coping method from my mother. She had no idea it would stick.
The general concept that these boxes represent is compartmentalization, which is the process of “putting your emotions away” — like in a compartment — so that you can focus on other things. I will say that the word is well chosen, even if it’s nearly impossible for me to say.
This coping strategy is how I’ve managed to get through life. My philosophy has been that if I don’t think about my problems, I won’t have to deal with the emotions that come with them.
There are pros and cons to this practice. As a pro, I have no idea how I would have finished my senior year of college without this coping strategy, particularly after learning about my mother’s Huntington’s diagnosis. The emotions would have been too overwhelming to deal with all at once. Even after two years, these emotions still overwhelm me.
It’s also helpful during therapy, when I choose which boxes I want to open that day.
The main problem with compartmentalization is how I’ve chosen to use it for so long. Normally, we’re only supposed to keep things in a box for a short time, until we have the space to process them. Instead, I usually chose not to open them, meaning I have boxes that are far past their expiration date.
That’s not to say they were never opened, it just wasn’t my choice when it happened. Normally, they would be opened only if something triggered it, such as seeing something on TV about Huntington’s disease. (I did not expect the TV series “Revenge“ to introduce Huntington’s as a plotline.) The way this happened in practice was that one episode of a show could cause all of these feelings I had been ignoring to pour over me.
Granted, I became amazingly good at closing the boxes and putting them away, but the more boxes that were opened, or the more emotions that were in there, the harder it got to put them away. Think of it as a suitcase that is already overpacked, but instead of choosing what to take out, you just stuffed more into it.
Now that I have a therapist I like and trust, I can take boxes off the shelf and discuss them with someone. I don’t think I will ever get rid of this coping skill altogether, but I will use it more wisely.
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