I did a course this week. It doesn’t really matter what it was, but it was designed to help people with fatigue conditions (ME/CFS/Fibro) to manage their physical symptoms. It was brilliant. One of the bits of it was about dealing with external stressors, which can have a very detrimental effect on the health of someone whose metabolism is fragile. When the chap running the course asked whether anyone had any problems they got routinely stressed about, I pounced in with my post issue.
For those unfamiliar, I have a post issue. I’m understating it. It’s more of a POST ISSUE. Those words should be flashing. With dragons crawling up them.
I’ve had it ever since I can remember. I don’t like receiving post. Except it’s not as sensible as that: I simply cannot deal with post. At all. I’ve engineered my life carefully around this fact. Bills are paid on direct debit, so I never need to open them. Everything else is kept and worried about, until it reaches three months old, at which point it is discarded. It comes through the door. I pile it up or ignore it. It comes through the door. I kick it under things. It comes through the door: I hide it. It comes through the door and I react to it as if it were Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart. I lie awake in bed, listening to it creeping across the hall floor, towards my bedroom door. I wake at five ay-em, in a cold sweat about it. Because what’s in it? I don’t know. And I can’t bear to look. Occasionally someone offers to help me do it. I laugh and make light of it. Oh ho ho ho! No, it’s fine! But it’s not. It’s so not fine, it’s not that I don’t want help, it’s that I don’t have the strength to hide how excruciatingly distressed I am by opening it. That big pile. That big pile of potential disasters, of bombs, waiting to go off.
I suspect – but am in no way certain – that this dates back to school reports, which arrived in envelopes and detonated in my life almost literally like bombs, when I was a small child. Not that I was a poorly behaved student, I wasn’t. But I never did any work, because I would take the exercise books that interested me, read them all in week one, and then not HAVE to do any work because I knew everything that was in the book. (The subjects that didn’t interest me were simply doomed.) So every report always said that I was basically getting an A, but I was lazy and a daydreamer and never did any homework, and this would precipitate one almighty family-wide row at home, which I sat petrified in the middle of, and then however many weeks of cold shoulder and sniping from my grandfather.
Anyway, the short version of this is that this lifelong issue is now gone. It’s gone. It’s never coming back. And not because some gifted wizard waved a magic wand over me and bestowed upon me the power of normality (please imagine little sparkly purple stars going off around that word). It’s gone because I was shown a way of coping with something difficult, and I used it, and it worked. And the trick is one I already use in so many areas of my life that I’m astounded it never occurred to me to use it in this context: just do a tiny bit every day. Eventually it gets done. I do this with the garden (“just ten minutes’ weeding…”) and the housework, and writing, and reading. Everything. Except I suppose I’m not astounded that it never occurred to me to use it with post, because after all these years of being petrified of the bloody stuff, not only was there a big teetering pile of post, there was also a big teetering pile of guilt and fear and a sense of being inadequate, and it’s sometimes very hard to see clearly over a pile made of that stuff.
This morning, while my coffee brewed (I have a cup of coffee with milk and cinnamon in it on Sundays – utter joy), I opened ten envelopes, casual as you like, on the counter beside the sink. Some were addressed to me, some simply needed “not known at this address” scrawled on them. Some were bills. Two were cards, sent for no other reason than to make me smile. It turns out the thing I’ve been missing out on most through this phobia is a sense of how valued I am by my friends.
And that’s that. I’m never going back to not opening my post again. If I don’t open it every day, I know what to do with the resulting heap. Five a day, until it’s done.