“If I do this, bad things will happen. If I do this, good things will happen.” How comforting! How nice! Life continues to unfold in whatever way it unfolds, based partly on chance and probability, but you can pretend that it isn’t.
Life is inherently uncertain, but it is more uncertain under particular conditions: poverty (either temporary or ongoing), severe mood disorders and a range of mental illnesses (including addictions), and in developing countries.
So it never really surprises me that India, for one, has often byzantine systems of bureaucracy. Nor does it surprise me that dysfunctional families tend to be extremely rule-based. What I hadn’t considered in this category of “how to cope with chaos” is superstition.
And India has a million of those too. Sneezing, for example, is bad luck. You shouldn’t rock an empty cradle or the child will get an upset stomach. A hooting owl means that someone has died.
I don’t really know what most of them are. I probably transgress against them about a hundred times a day. But I do know they’re there.
The light switches crackle in my room every time I turn something on. This scares me. What I have in my head every time I hear that sound are visions of the whole house burning down, with my inevitably sleeping self inside. This could happen. It probably won’t, but it’s much more likely than if I were in the US sleeping in a house with up-to-code wiring.
The crackle is a clear and obvious reminder to me of the faulty wiring that probably exists in every house in India. And that’s only one possible danger.
So, how do you manage the anxiety of living with these kinds of dangers? You can make up rules—either rules that make at least some sense or arbitrary rules. “I won’t leave any of the switches on or plug anything in while I’m sleeping.” Or, “I won’t turn anything on if the dog barks three times.” Both of the might make you feel better so long as you believe them. But then, of course, you also have to live by those rules. And they might be more inconvenient than helpful. (If I don’t use electricity when I’m sleeping, then I can’t plug in the mosquito-repellant machine. And I might get dengue or malaria instead.)
You can attempt to exert more control. So, I can pester the owners of the house to investigate the faulty wiring. And sometime this helps. At least you’re doing something even if it doesn’t actually yield any results. (Which getting the wiring looked at won’t.) But it’s also frustrating–there’s a trade-off.
Denial is an option. (I just won’t think about the faulty switches.)
I can minimize the danger in my own mind. (Yes, it’s faulty, but it’s been like this for a long time. The house hasn’t burned down yet. It probably won’t.)
I can breathe.
I think I’ll just breathe.