#485: Settling the Chaos Muppet within

Before diving into today’s letter, I wanted to put out there that people have requested an update from LW #354. While there is never an obligation to respond once your letter is answered here, if you are comfortable with it people would like to know: Are you okay? Can you pee on the regular now? You haunt our dreams.

Now, today’s letter:

Hi there, CA!

I’ve been getting a lot of feedback lately, from people I trust, that I’m a Chaos Muppet. I’m one of those people who weird things happen to: Things break when I’m around, weird accidents happen, things are lost.

I’m using the passive voice because, when I analyze how things went wrong, I realize that I didn’t *overtly* break that thing, or cause the accident or lose someone’s this-or-that. But because people see me as chaotic, I tend to get blamed first and apologized to later. The other day, I was making soup by blending it in a friend’s Cuisinart. I overfilled the container, water leaked out and dripped through the stove top into the stove below, shorting out a beloved vintage oven. It was totally an accident, but I do stuff like this!

I need to change this dynamic. How can I be more responsible? How can I stop this swirl of chaotic weirdness around me? My friend, whose oven I have probably ruined, said he thought I make these things happen unconsciously, to cause drama. How can I know if this is true?

I need a place to start. My work life has always been great, and my finances/living situation are in good order. It’s just in my personal life…shit happens to me and I want it to stop.


Clumsy Lover

Dear Clumsy Lover,

I’ve been sitting on your letter for a while, waiting for the right metaphor to come to me. Then I mainlined a ton of Call The Midwife on Netflix, and she arrived.

Chummy from Call The Midwife
I love this fictional woman.

Meet Chummy!

She is wicked clumsy, and extremely uncomfortable in her own body, and sort of sows chaos wherever she goes without meaning to. When we first meet her, her self-consciousness is so great, and she is so worried about screwing up and on edge all the time that she does actually break things and cause accidents.


…once she comes into her own a little bit, and, very importantly, surrounds herself with people who see her good qualities and validate them, she relaxes. Later in the series you meet her hypercritical mom and see immediately exactly where she got her un-confidence. By then you are so in love with her wicked sense of humor and compassionate & competent way she practices midwifery that you can’t even remember the clumsy person she was.


I am a clumsy sort myself, and never so much as when I am around my constantly “optimizing” and “correcting” dad. That dude will stand over me as I load the dishwasher, critiquing the placement of every fork and dish. On my recent trip to see my folks, he freaked out when I microwaved something for 15 seconds longer than he would have (we’re talking: veins popping out in forehead and spitting when yelling here). He called me stupid for not being able to immediately find utensils in a rental kitchen where I don’t live, because apparently the effort used in opening several drawers to find a paring knife was totally wasted. OMG I WASTED DRAWER-OPENING EFFORT. Other things that needed to be “optimized”:

  • Which coat I wore – did I really need a coat? Did it need to be that coat? Would that coat be slightly too warm? WE MUST BE EFFICIENT ABOUT OUR COAT SELECTION AT ALL TIMES. IT IS NOT LIKE WE CAN JUST CARRY COATS THAT ARE TOO WARM IF THE WEATHER WARMS UP, PEOPLE.
  • Did I want to sit in that seat in the minivan? Wouldn’t this seat be more comfortable?
  • Did I need a light on while I worked? No? Howabout this one? Howabout this one? Howabout maybe just a little light?
  • At one point the dude took my toast out of the toaster where it was toasting and re-arranged it to the “correct” toasting position.

Throughout the visit, my dad treated me like someone who could not be trusted to select my own coat and make toast. And over the four days, though I did stand up for myself and not just take it, I deteriorated into feeling crazy and needed to call my boyfriend for a reminder that I was not. I am a calm, organized traveler with many passport stamps, but flying back I was double- and triple-checking every single detail – Is that really my gate? Is my flight leaving on time? Did I remember my ID? I know I showed my ID to the check-in person, but did I maybe lose it between there and security? Where were my house keys? Did I have them FOR SURE? I was so on edge that I became clumsy and unable to think clearly and unable to trust myself. In the past, I sometimes dreaded visits home so much that I would become very accident-prone – tripping and falling, forgetful, dropping things, having trouble focusing on driving or loading change into a vending machine – in the weeks before. My “role” in my family from growing up is to be the girl who is really book-smart but completely lacks any life skills or common sense and who can’t be trusted to make toast, which is why I moved very far away and have a 3-4 day maximum on visits. It took a lot of therapy for me to stop seeing the constant criticizing and correcting behaviors that freak me out when I’m home as totally normal and totally all my fault. It turns out that when I am far away from my folks, I am perfectly capable of toast making, utensil-finding, and jacket selection and have little cause to question these abilities.

So, while there are many reasons stuff might be happening to you, one thing I suggest is to take the temperature of your relationship with these friends and your own comfort level around them. If they are watching you with the expectation that  you will fail at things and using you as the scapegoat for why things get lost or broken, if they spend time looking for examples of how you are a “chaos muppet,” it can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy and very difficult for you to change that story. You say this yourself in your letter: “But because people see me as chaotic, I tend to get blamed first and apologized to later.”

Let’s take the case of the oven. You made a simple mistake that turned into some serious damage to a friend’s stuff. At that point, the right thing to do is to apologize and then ask what you can do. Can you help him find a repair person? Can you offer to pay for some of the repairs? Can you make a genuine effort to be more careful in the future?

Once you’ve offered an apology, made amends, and made an effort not to repeat the same mistake in the future, that’s all you can do.

Crap gets spilled on stove-tops all the time. An unwatched pot boils over. Counter space is limited so we use the stove top as additional counterspace (I do this ALL the time). Quantities are misjudged. A shaky hand slips when pouring the hot water into the tea-kettle. The mistake you made with the Cuisinart and the liquid could have been made by anyone, especially and including the oven’s owner. Yes, it sucks to feel like your friends are careless with your nice things or to have something precious ruined, but if this friend tries to make things about How You Are As A Person vs. a simple mistake, I would say to your friend what I wish I had said to my dad, namely:

The damage to the stove might be able to be fixed, and I will do all in my power to see that it is repaired. The way you are speaking to me now is damaging our relationship, and that might not be so fixable.”

Because the suggestion that you subconsciously cause these disasters in order to cause drama is, frankly, dangerously close to gaslighting.

I mean, I believe you that enough chaotic stuff is happening that it’s freaking you out, but I also think that a good friend doesn’t make it about blaming you. They say “Friend, you seem really distracted and off your game. What’s going on with you? Are you ok?

Private Pyle from Full Metal Jacket.
You don’t have to be anyone’s Private Pyle.

When someone makes you feel like a continual fuck-up, you act like a continual fuckup, because you are so tense and worried and uncomfortable. Luck is not with you in their houses. Your mojo doesn’t work around them. You say yourself – Your work life is great. Your finances are great. You are a perfectly capable person in many areas of your life. So what is it about these particular folks & spaces that are not great? I don’t think it’s necessarily you, or your subconscious. I think it’s that you have friends who have somehow decided that it’s your role to be a scapegoat among them.

So, yeah, my first suggestion is that you look at your overall relationship with these people. When did this story about you as the Chaotic One start? How do you feel when you hang out with them? Do you look forward to it or does some part of you dread it? Trust the dread, Clumsy Lover; it might be telling you something. It might help you to log “chaotic” events and your & other people’s reactions to them in a journal. How were you feeling when it happened? How did people react? What patterns exist? How often is this really happening? How often is it happening when you had nothing to do with what actually happened? Do they seem really invested in telling this story about you?

In my family, my younger brother* (who has a lot of developmental delays and probable mild fetal alcohol syndrome from his birth mom), lived 100%  in the scapegoat role, so one of the ways we used to insult each other was to describe a fuckup as “Pulling a (His Name).” Nowadays I think it is pretty seriously wrong and abusive to use a family member’s name as a casual synonym for being a total disaster (Thank you, therapy!), though I think it is a depressingly common pattern in dysfunctional relationships and a depressingly easy habit to get into if one person is the designated Private Pyle and you’re sufficiently terrified of being treated the way that person is. It’s common enough that I must ask: Do your friends describe it as “Pulling a You” when they lose something or do something clumsy? If so, you might have a Surrounded by Assholes problem.

My second suggestion is to start resisting the stories where you star as the Seed of Chaos. I am stealing this from an old comment thread on abusive behaviors, but try adding “you think” silently in your head whenever one of these friends implies there is something wrong with you. After a while doing that, start speaking up. “I am really sorry you lost your keys, but I don’t think that the inherent darkness of my soul was the cause – it’s actually getting pretty unfunny when you guys suggest there is something deeply wrong with me.”

The third thing I suggest is some self-care.

a) Go to the doctor and get a check up, and especially take a look at emotional health. Tell your doc what’s going on and how you feel about it. Increased clumsiness/forgetfulness/inattentiveness might be a symptom of something else going on. We don’t diagnose conditions through the internet here, but I’m sure a lot of readers with ADHD or other executive processing issues are reading your letter and nodding at the familiarity of what you describe. I’ll allow discussion of those things here as long as they are describing the commenter’s own experiences and steps taken. “When I found out I had (condition), it was because of x, y, and z events, and this is what I did about it” = okay. Encouraged, even! “It sounds like you might have (condition), so you should ______” = 100% Not Okay.

Murdoch, Hannibal, and BA from The A-Team
It’s not actually a rule that you have to have your shit 100% together in order to be loved or valued by your friends.

b) Look at your stress levels. Are you eating enough, sleeping enough, getting enough fresh air/contact with people you like/down time to read and watch TV? When we’re overloaded, we rush or try to do too many things at once, and rushing turns to mistakes. Stress, PTSD, and being overwhelmed or exhausted can push us into dissociative states where it is actually unsafe for us to do things like drive, operate heavy machinery, knives, or anything involving precision. So some of your self-care might be paying more attention to your moods and bodily needs, and checking in with yourself before you do something complex and making sure you can concentrate on every part of it.

c) Do what you can to practice mindfulness. Even if you only do it a few times a day at first, try slowing WAY down and concentrating on every detail and step of what you are doing. Each footfall on pavement. Your breathing in and out. Washing & drying each dish.

d) Reach out to people you like who make you feel great & comfortable, and avoid people who make you feel brittle and clumsy. Even if your friends are genuinely expressing concern and not gaslighting you and you really like them, some people just bring out the worst in you or aren’t good at being on your side when you’re in a bad way. Knowing that “I’m in x headspace, so I shouldn’t really be around y person (or activity – like drinking, or, participating in a welding montage to turn an ordinary car into a tank so that you can help the helpless while hiding out from a corrupt government that smeared your name back in ‘Nam)” is part of self-care.

Readers, what do you do to regain focus and turn things around when you feel chaos bubbling all around you? What would you say to the Letter Writer’s friends if you were in their position of being called a “chaos muppet”?

*He moved far away, too, and is (mostly) ok.

414 thoughts on “#485: Settling the Chaos Muppet within

  1. OMG Miranda Hart!! If you have not seen her show “Miranda,” it is heavenly awkward. As another 6′ tall woman, it makes me very happy.

    1. I am seriously in love with that actress and that character. Her wicked sense of humor and conspiratorial manner are a total delight!

      1. I absolutely love in “Miranda” that she gets the dreamy guy, despite being the broad-shouldered awkard-as-all-get-out 6′ type, not the cool supermodel 6′ type. I want to be her / her bff.

        1. I love Miranda too!

          Just on the importance on finding good people – I have recently started seeing someone amazing and in the last couple of days alone, in bed, I have kneed him in the side of the head, the nose and fully in the balls. On the last occasion, after checking he was OK, I joked, ‘Oh my God, I am so sorry, one day I will find some grace and play it cool.’ And he grabbed me and said, very seriously, ‘Don’t. I don’t care if you’re graceful and I love that you don’t play it cool. You make me feel adored.’

          He also collected my nose when we were dance-flailing in the kitchen.

          I think when it’s the right people, and they know you are sincere and do your best and would never do any deliberate damage, they will make you feel amazing even if you kneel on their balls.

    2. I’m five foot, but I adore her/Miranda-the-show, and relate to a lot of it, what with being rubbish-at-femininity, awkward, prone to silliness… Must watch CTM sometime.

      I don’t have anything helpful to add right now, but I wish someone had told me some of this stuff a decade or two ago.

    3. Seconding this show! She reminds me a lot of how I was as a kid, though sometimes the awkward level can really hit the roof. XD

    4. Was she the one who had the fashion show skit? The “Do you like what you’re wear? Alright, great, wear that then!” Because that was adorable and I need more of her.

  2. LW, I’m sorry, that sounds like it really sucks. When I was in a similar position, I eventually snapped and said something to the effect of “Stop it. That joke is no longer funny, and has moved into the actively shitty and hurtful zone.” My friends were originally grumbly in a “why can’t she take a joke/why is she changing the way we interact with her” way, but they did stop.

    The thing your friend said about you subconsciously wanting to cause drama sounds massively across the line to me.

    1. OMG, yes! Somehow, you cause these things to happen because you subconsciously love drama? What the hell is that? Because it sounds like your friend being an asshole.

    2. Yeah, that bit is incredibly nasty. Accusing someone of just doing things “for attention”/”to cause drama” is fairly shitty in any context. But making claims about someone else’s *subconscious desires*, which they can’t disprove or deny because “you don’t know you’re doing it” is part of the claim? UGH. It’s entirely possible that LW’s friend didn’t intend it that way, but it is like the perfect A+ way to pin an accusation on someone and give them no way to defend themselves.

      1. There is no way out of it. Each incident is “proof” for the accusation, but changing the behavior is also “proof”, because now that you’re caught, you drop it. Or so they think.

        My cousin once accused me of having weird hiccups on purpose so I would get attention. Yeah…
        It’s a jerk move.

        1. Ugh, yes 😦
          I developed a weird habit of teeth chattering out loud when cold. IDK why I’d do it, but one of my exes accused me of doing it for attention when we were walking home with his friends. It always upset me being accused of such things by people who were supposed to think better of me…

          1. FWIW, my teeth chatter out loud too sometimes, and it’s not a habit, it is a physical reaction that’s out of my control. When I was a kid it happened often (after swimming in cold water, usually). As an adult, my teeth have chattered really violently after I had surgery and woke up from the sedation, and another time just after I’d given birth, and the nurses only said “it’s normal, some people react like that”. It felt really uncomfortable, not “cool! attention!”.

            So your ex was really wrong on that one.

          2. Ugh, this was my mom. As a kid, I had a handful of verbal tics/habits. 90% of the time I wasn’t even aware that I was doing them until my mom would nag me about it, then imitate me as mockingly as possible. Even today I still have a few tics. But I never did them for attention–I did them to feel better and never thought anyone could see/hear me do them as a kid. But she would say I was trying to get attention or be weird or just Not Listening, and that made me so upset.

            I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who got a serious case of righteous indignation reading what LW’s friend said. That’s just a crappy thing to say to someone, whether or not they meant it that way.

          3. Nothing weird about that, Cadi, it’s a common physical reaction. Happens to me on occasion and Oz is hardly the coldest place in the world!

        2. I have an ex who would occasionally say to me “you’re so perfect! Except…” And once he said “except you’re clumsy. It’s the only thing I’d change about you.”

          (yeah… ex is relevant here)

          To which I replied:

          “If that’s a deal breaker for you, we need to end this now, because that won’t change. I don’t do it on purpose and I try, but I’ve been this way my whole life. I am clumsy, not careless.”

          The second time he made that comment, I had the resources of experience behind me so I could say:

          “Number of my prints you’ve dropped, thus breaking the glass in the frame: One. Number of times you’ve scraped MY CAR’S wing mirror against the wall of a car wash, leaving behind gouges in the setting: One.

          Number of times I’ve broken or damaged something expensive or sentimental of yours: Zero.

          I spill coffee that I clean up, and I trip. You need to let this go now and forever.”

          Point is, really, that when you yourself start to be considered and rational about this stuff… it turns out that in fact the evidence isn’t always proving their point. They are only looking for the evidence that does, and then using it.

          Also? Dude with fancy vintage stove that can short? If you don’t want your stove to short, DON’T BUY A VINTAGE STOVE. OMG. They’re vintage for a reason. And if you do decide to have a historical piece for your stove, consider why there aren’t more of them around in people’s houses. Old stuff breaks. That’s the cost of driving a 1973 Buick Skylark vs. a 2010 Honda Sensible. (Well, that and fuel costs… yikes!) And if you are going to opt for such a stove, be prepared to explain to people what they need to do to take care of your non-standard appliance. It’s not Clumsy Lover’s Fault you choose finicky design options. It is their responsibility to offer to help resolve the liquid spill, of course it is. But for real, you didn’t expect your pasta water to boil over some day?

      2. It also sets up “getting attention” as something that we shouldn’t want to do or that we don’t deserve. If someone’s our friend, one would assume they would LIKE to give us attention (just as we give them attention) so why is “you want attention” even an implied insult?

    3. “Friend” is a douchemaple.

      I’ve found the best way to deal with people who ‘joke’ about how you yourself are inherently awful is to say, well then, I certainly wouldn’t want to mess up your life by having a Chaos Muppet/drama queen/crabbypants in it, so I’ll excuse myself. And then I do, forever.

      Most of the time you then have a period where they whine to mutual acquaitances about whyyyyyyyy you won’t hang out with them anymore, but it passes.

  3. Speaking as a clumsy girl of long standing… this may not be relevant to you, but in my experience, the way you respond in the immediate aftermath of breaking/losing/whatever someone else’s stuff makes a huge difference.

    If you knock over a glass of water and ruin a pile of someone’s books, “Oh geez, I’m so sorry! Let me help you clean that up. What are the book titles–I’ll replace them for you” goes a lot farther than “Ha ha, I’m so clumsy! This always happens around me.” (I once had a guy go even farther, into defensive aggression–“Why would you keep graphic novels on your coffee table anyway? This is really your fault, not mine”–and that is especially bad.) If you lose something, “I searched the house and I just can’t find X, but I’ve ordered another copy to replace it” goes a lot farther than “LOL, my place is such a black hole, stuff goes in and doesn’t come out!” If you screw up something social (like giving people the wrong time or directions, or are late and keep someone waiting for half an hour, or forget a meeting and accidentally stand someone up), then “I’m sorry I inconvenienced you” goes a lot farther than “It’s always exciting to be hanging out with me, you never know what will happen next!” or [insert long excuse here].

    That probably all seems self-evident, and yet. I’ve noticed that how people respond when they have caused (whether ultimately or proximately) an accident goes a long way toward how they’re perceived. I know from personal experience–as I say, I am a clumsy girl, and sometimes I’m a flake too!–that it’s tempting to downplay by being cute about it, but that tends to backfire in the long run.

    1. Oh, good point – If you’re making “I am naturally clumsy” the whole story that you tell about yourself, other people will believe in it too.

      Focusing on the action and not the trait is a good exercise for everyone who struggles with making the chaos of the world their own fault.

      1. And it can be hard, because “stuff just always happens to me! because I’m clumsy and/or random and/or cursed!” can feel more face-saving than “I’m sorry I broke X, let me fix it/make amends.” But in the long run, the “you are clumsy and/or chaotic and/or cursed” story grows into a myth beyond your control, which is Not Good.

      2. Or sometimes you get the “I am naturally clumsy” story from one group of people, believe it, and carry it with you to other people.

        I’m thinking of one of my high school best friends, who always considered herself scatterbrained and would make jokes about it, so the rest of us did, too. (I cringe to remember that we all used to describe forgetting something or having a brain fade as, “doing a (Her Name).”) Looking back, I think she got the “I am so scatterbrained” belief from her family, but because she believed it, we did too. (Once we all grew up a little, we got uncomfortable with “doing a (Her Name)” as a joke and stopped on our own.)

        And then this friend went off to college, moved out of her parents’ house, and quickly became known as the super-organized, incredibly competent person she actually is. She recently completed her grad degree while working full-time, got married about a week after graduation in a fairly large wedding ceremony/reception that she had planned herself, went on a weeklong honeymoon, and immediately after coming back moved across the country without any major hitches. I honestly don’t think I know anyone else who could handle all that.

      3. For me it’s the opposite. I want nothing to do with glass or fire, because neither of them end well for me. I’m still finding shrapnel from the casserole dish explosion of 2006. I have had people (looking at YOU, Minnesota Aquarium Gift Shop lady and the expensive glass paperweights you desperately wanted me to handle) actually argue with me about this, as if my knowing my limitations has any effect on their lives.

    2. I agree that the immediate reaction makes a difference, and I will add that sometimes, the more socially-awkward individual might freeze up or become silent — or even defensive (like the dude who said that ruined GNs are the fault of the owner for putting them on a coffee table). This may be an automatic response, or the result of not knowing how to respond right at the moment, but it can certainly read as “I don’t care about your things/your time” which can very easily become “I don’t care about you” and cause major tension and defensiveness on the part of the “wronged” party.

      For anyone this might apply to, I would say that even if you don’t stick the landing, some damage control can be done after the fact, minutes or hours or even days later. Apologizing, reimbursing if needed, and even apologizing for not handling it well initially — these can help to smooth things over and mitigate the chaos muppet narrative.

      Of course, if the “wronged” party continues to be a dick about it, then all bets are off.

  4. Call the Midwife on Netflix, you say? Oh lookee here, a weekend alone without the person I must be present with to watch the remaining Arrested Development episodes. This could definitely happen.

    1. I can’t recommend it highly enough. We like to recommend media made by women here? This is a show by women, about women, about women who work. It’s kind of an intense experience that sneaks up on you.

      1. OMGOMGOMGOMG – i just mainlined season 1 (except for the last episode) – so this is very very very exciting!!!!!!!

    2. So on a different channel in Britain there’s a show called One Born Every Minute, documentary type following real women giving birth in a particular hospital. Once you’ve watched a bunch of Call the Midwife, go to YouTube and find the One Born Every Minute sketch from comic relief 2013. You want the one that’s over 6 minutes. Trust me. 🙂

    3. I’ve spent all day watching the entirety of the first season on netflix. This is the best thing I’ve seen in a while. Now I’m really sad that the seasons are so short 😦

  5. I can be massively clumsy, and while no one outside of myself makes me feel bad about it, I certainly beat myself up about it enough to be tiresome. I have noticed it is totally exacerbated by moving too quickly or trying to do too many things at once – especially when cooking! My solve there is to get all Food Network on myself and set it up like a cooking show would — prepare all the ingredients, put them in order, read through the recipe several times and keep it on hand, etc etc. I still make a huge mess but at least that way I’m not injuring myself trying to frantically get everything together.

    On some level I’ve accepted that I am just going to run into a wall or spill something on myself at least once a day, but doing things *one at a time* instead of trying frantically to do everything all at once makes it so much better. Also, if something just isn’t working – I just walk away (if I can) to take 5-10 minutes to breathe, get centered, and then go back to the project. It almost always works better. The “mindfulness” tip is really key for someone like me, where I just lose some awareness of my surroundings and my brain is trying to do too much too fast to do any of it well.

    1. Yes to doing only one thing at a time! That’s made a massive difference to me.

      1. I used to work in a fairly high-pressure career with lots of projects going on at once and “one thing at a time” became kind of an unofficial mantra for us to remind ourselves how to get everything done. Because really, it’s so easy to lose sight of that seemingly simple fact!

    2. ^this.

      I find that very often, when I do “clumsy” things (physically or intellectually, even) it’s because I’m somehow flustered or moving too fast. This could be, as the Captain said, because I feel pressure from other people, or it could just be a learned behavior pattern. So what servogirl said about breathing and approaching things deliberately is helpful.

      You may also, as an exercise, try quietly keeping track of the number of “clumsy” things you do versus the things people around you do. It’s a distinct possibility that you/your friend circle just have a confirmation bias thing going on, and the easiest way to get rid of that is to prove to yourself that you’re actually fairly average within an order of magnitude. (Not that it implies a value judgement if you’re not! But it’s an easy and quick step to take before you devote a lot of effort to trying to “fix” something that may or may not be real.)

    3. Yes! And for the cooking thing (or any other task that requires a fair amount of set up and has some potential for being mucked up) I also like to narrate my activities as if I am on a cooking show. “Now we’re going to add the baking soda, and make sure not to overmix…” I do it out loud when I’m alone or with small children and dogs, and in my head when other adults are present, and I find it really keeps me from doing stupid things that tend to happen when I get distracted or rush.

      1. Commenting solely for the purpose of expressing my marvel at your exquisite username. I am in awe.

        1. And of course, then there are the “self-narration” comments in regards to this idea… Ties in wonderfully with the name, no? 😛

        1. Ha! I do that too! Granted, sometimes the song is just “Doo-dee-doo, doin’ the dishes, doop-dee-doo, grabbin’ the soap…” But it helps.

      2. I self-narrate all the time! It’s very helpful for maintaining focus in situations where I might otherwise be squirrely.

      3. I am now having flashbacks of Samuel L Jackson in ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’ and his Mannish Boy reminders:
        “Putting the keys in my left pocket. Hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm. Gun in the right-hand side.”

    4. So with you on this.

      I’m the clumsy/forgetful/messy one, and it is definitely a real thing that I do, but it certainly gets exponentially worse when I am rushing or when I am nervous.

      I’m working on mindfulness/doing one thing at a time to help with the rushing problem (and to knock down my general anxiety levels), but I haven’t really solved the clumsy-when-nervous problem. In fact, with me, it becomes a horrible downward spiral in which I start out just a *little* more disorganized/messy/clumsy than average–still not anywhere near dangerous so long as I take my time and focus, but enough to make certain type-A people cringe–but when people criticize my work I get self conscious and make more and more mistakes until I’m just one big ball of failure and anxiety. I have actually lost TWO jobs this way (because lab work is both detail-oriented and potentially dangerous if you fuck up sufficiently, and because I chose labs with very intense professors who liked to blow up about minor errors or disorganized workspaces when stressed).

      At this point I’ve just all but given up on ever doing science again, because it’s easier to accept that I’m “really brilliant at analysis, but terrible at bench work” than to risk being crushed again as I attempt to find another professor to work under who doesn’t respond to errors in such an extreme way as to make me too anxious to function (I have had them! I’ve worked in five different labs for extended periods and only had this problem in two of them–the other three found me to be a useful lab member. I’m definitely part of the problem here, but maybe not the only part?). I mean, some people are just not “detail oriented”, and some people are just too ADHD to work in a lab, right?

      Ugh, sorry. Derail. TL;DR, I have similar problems, and to a severe enough degree that they have impacted my career, but I don’t have any solutions, and it sucks.

      1. I did enough lab rotations to realize that I am not very good in the lab. But I love science and didn’t want to quit. So I’ve spent the last 20 or so years doing computational research in genetics, and loving it. There are alternatives if you’re not really a great benchworker–there’s theory, there’s computation, there’s fieldwork.

        1. My last “job loss” was actually being asked to leave my PhD advisor’s lab, so I mastered out and am still figuring out what to do next. There is the possibility of going back and getting my PhD in something computational, but I’m not sure of whether that’s worth it to me. It feels so shitty having to start my PhD ALL OVER AGAIN. I’m not that old (24), but at this point I’m guaranteed to be over 30 by the time I get a degree, and the funding in academic research/job market on the other side of those 6+ years of working my ass off for crap money looks like… not worth that sacrifice. Right now I’m trying to have a go at making myself happy either with teaching or science writing. But I do miss science already, and it’s possible I’ll eventually miss it enough to go for it despite the risks and sacrifices involved. :-/

          1. I love science. Not so good with the actual research. Brilliant with the editing. Plus health issues. So I no longer do field work and instead work in the academic publishing industry. There are viable alternatives to being a real practicing scientist. Much like medicine. There are lots of careers (necessary, important, but much less glamorous or visible) in the medical field besides doctor, it’s just that the doctor gets all of the attention (and the largest salary, but also the largest school debt).

          2. Not a scientist, but I just wanted to chime in to tell you that I also had to abandon my plans for a Ph.D. It was something I really wanted and it hurt a lot at the time, but now I’m getting my master’s in a completely different field and I’m pretty happy with it. I will always have an interest in my old field, but this one is really fun and I think will provide me with a more stable job and better work/life balance. All that is just to say that that situation sucks, but turned out for the best for me and I’m sure you will make it work out for you, too.

          3. I just defended at age 36, and it turns out I’m not dead yet. Whether you want to spend the time making smallish amounts of money is a different issue, and up to you.

          4. @solecism

            Yea, there are definitely alternatives. I actually would probably love working in academic publishing, but probably would have had better luck getting into it had I actually gotten my PhD, or had I planned ahead enough to get more editing experience before I was kicked out. I’ve applied for various academic editing/grant admin jobs, but no luck so far.


            Thanks. And yea, not getting a PhD is hardly the end of the world. It just felt like the end of mine, because I was far too invested in it as a goal… I didn’t really have a plan B. I’m working on that though.


            …And now I feel like an asshole. I didn’t mean to say that there is something wrong with getting a degree later. It’s just that now, having stepped back from academia and reevaluated things, I’m not so sure I’m willing to give up on a social life and a chance to improve my financial circumstances until my thirties. I know it sounds whiny and entitled to care about the money, but I live in a major city and came to grad school with zero savings, a small amount of debt, and occasionally expensive medical issues… so I still have almost zero savings and a small amount of debt. And I stress about whether it makes me a lesser person/scientist than my still-in-grad-school friends, but I’m starting to feel like getting to a place where I don’t stress about making rent might be more valuable to ME than the degree.

            But yea, I really don’t mean to be shitting on anyone else’s life choices…. I’m just conflicted and guilty about mine.

          5. @kellyellenmarie

            As someone who works in (and hires for) academic publishing, I wanted to comment quickly to say don’t give up hope! A PhD does not necessarily qualify one more or less than another applicant. Editing jobs are also the ones for which we receive the most applications—if there are other aspects of the biz that you would enjoy, it might be easier to move internally from another department. It’s what I did, and a few friends of mine at other companies.

            All of this just for what it’s worth, in the hopes that its helpful/encouraging—I know how discouraging it can be to try to get into publishing (Lordy, have I been there)!

        2. Yes, consider computational research. I completely loathe it, but if you’re in the biosciences it’s where all the best paying jobs are. If you mess up, you just hit ctrl-c and you’re back where you started. Plus, you won’t be working with one-time-only samples, or kits that cost thousands, which makes it less pressured in the moment.

          1. All true. And if you get tired of bio, there are always tech companies to snatch you up for your database-wrangling/data-mining skills. I swear, at one of the computational bio labs I talked to at my school, a full half of the grads now work at google.

      2. > but when people criticize my work I get self conscious
        > and make more and more mistakes until I’m just one
        > big ball of failure and anxiety

        Years ago I learned a great term for this: “watched typist’s syndrome”. I’m a good, fast, accurate typist … unless someone is watching. Definitely applies in other areas.

      3. Wow. I am so glad that you commented and prompted all of these replies. A++ for relevance to my life right now. I am your age with a similar story. I was in academic biomed research for three years and I loved the work but hated the terrible hours and instability and STRESS BOMBS in lab.

        Oh man, my last lab was a nightmare. Anxiety ahoy. The PI was a very uninvolved doctor and his post-doc left under bad circumstances when I was quite new, leaving just me. I was alone for nearly a year handling work way above my pay grade and stressing out over lab problems, grants and lack of support. Then we merged labs with another group and it was even worse. I was suddenly responsible for every single thing “wrong” with the lab, even for projects I was never involved in and protocols written so long ago I was still in middle school (no joke). New co-PI really made me nervous and knew when to go for the jugular. Lots of screaming fits in my face while I tried to remain calm and collected under fire. I was thinking of that scapegoating situation reading this letter. All of the post-docs I met were quite unhappy too (heh understatement – I knew a few who amazingly found the time for part-time jobs to make ends meet).

        I decided a PhD was not for me. I felt like such a failure, especially since everyone else my age seemed to be finishing up med school or making great progress in their PhD or being nebulously fabulous. I was the first person in my family to go to college at all so giving up hurt so badly and gah survival stress.

        I am very interested in computational work though and was even before lab work backfired. I really regretted not going that route in college and enjoyed it much more than bench work. Spouse was amazing and I was able to take some classes right after Labgate to gear up for a different program. I would love a biotech job but I am skeptical. Right now I am just trying to reach for a more practical skill set. I too am nervous about not having a PhD to show for it all, especially since so many PhDs are seeking alternative science careers. I just can’t deal with the funding issues and pressure and yelling and extreme work hours for little compensation that go along with being in a PhD program (and with being a post-doc). Much luck to you. I am rooting for you hardcore.

    5. Yes! Your approach sounds similar to mine. I’m massively clumsy because I try to multitask too much or do things too quickly.
      I also tend to get very clumsy when I think other people are waiting for me or looking at how I do things. I’ve actually lately found ways of thinking that have reduced this clumsiness.

      I do scuba diving, and putting on my scuba gear used to be a very stressful thing for me and I’d often mess something up or take a long time to get ready. I dive in cold waters so there’s a lot of complicated stuff to put on, and most of it must be donned in a small open boat that often rocks so much that I get a little seasick. I’d worry that my buddy would get frustrated at me for being too slow, that other people would be like “woo, look at her, can’t put that on correctly without help or forgets something important.” The things that helped me were:

      1) Accepting that I need to do things at my own speed to do them well, and I’ll be ready faster when I don’t pressure myself (I really am! I’m no longer always the last one in water.)

      2) Realizing that everyone needs help sometimes, and especially if someone offers to help, thats most likely because s/he wants to be nice and not to give a hidden “you suck because you didn’t already do that yourself” message. I was too self-absorbed to notice that even the more experienced divers would accept a helping hand because the equipment is just objectively difficult to put on.

      3) Making a mental checklist of things I must do and running it through in my head, and making extra special note of things that are hard/impossible to fix once they have gone wrong. (Forgetting to zip my drysuit=suit full of water as soon as I jump in, FAIL).
      Organizing stuff out beforehand like in the cooking example helps a lot too.

      4) Seeing that everyone makes mistakes and has clumsy moments, even cooler or more experienced people. Also if people laugh at me for something, I would probably be totally laughing at them if they’d done the same and it wouldn’t be because I’d think they sucked, but because it’s only human to laugh at pratfalls.

      1. Ah, I’m a coldwater-diving scatterbrain too!
        Putting on gear used to really stress me out. My tactic was to keep a laminated step-by-step checklist in my dive bag, and I’d keep it out as I geared up. If I felt nervous, I’d just run the list and make sure everything was done until I was satisfied.
        Dive gear is really effing complicated, too, even if you’re a detail-oriented sort of person. It helped to remember that my blunders could be anyone’s. Even the really experienced ones who knew everything by habit thought the list was a great idea for newbies, or for anyone trying out a new gear setup.
        I’m a big fan of checklists! They’ve always helped me focus and calm down.

        1. Heeey another cold-water diver here (we should start a club!) I consider myself very organized and detail oriented generally, yet I’ve walked into the water with my wetsuit not zipped up or my hat on. The hat one was particularly funny because everyone could see it, but of course I couldn’t feel it because I was wearing it over my hood (prone to sunburn, I basically wear it right until I’m ready to go).

          I think any sensible buddy should be patient and willing to help each other.

          Checklists are great!

          1. i’m learning to fly an airplane, and it turns out to be all about the checklists. as in there is a checklist for everything, and you are required to use them no matter how experienced you are. it’s an amazing experience in that for the first time, i’m in a situation where mindfulness isn’t just a good idea, it’s legally required. i legally HAVE to ground myself if i am not 100% sure i am fit to fly. being used to having to push through my fatigue …it’s a breath of fresh air. (except for the part where it is literally the hardest thing i’ve ever tried to do, but i digress…)

    6. Yes, mise en place! Chefs do it because it works. Also, you can use a lovely sounding French phrase and feel very professional. Personally, I want some of those tiny bowls they use on cooking shows.

      1. I actually got myself four teensy metal bowls from I think IKEA, they hold a couple of tablespoons each, and they’re perfect for spices and garlic and stuff that get added while stirring things with your other hand! Back in the US, Williams Sonoma had some small glass bowls of the mise en place on cooking shows type that I coveted a LOT. It totally helps me keep track of things, usually. Unless I try to rush the mise-making.

      2. Seconding IKEA as a great place to find little bowls of varying shapes and sizes. I use them for condiments, as well.
        Shot glasses are also excellent for small amounts of ingredients. I use shot glasses to microwave just enough maple syrup for a plate of pancakes.

  6. I really feel you, LW! I was always the ramshackle, untrustworthy, forgetful one, according to my (hypercritical) family, whereas my sibling has always been painted as the reliable, frugal, responsible one. It took a long time of living away from them to start seeing myself as a perfectly normal, capable individual, and even more than that, someone whose weak spots were….OK. That it was OK simply not to be perfect at everything had never occurred to me.

    I still struggle with self-esteem, especially where I’ve become avoidant around what actually IS hard for me – finances, in particular. But living away from my family, and in less regular communication with them, has been such a blessing. I’m not saying that you have to move hundreds of miles away from your friends, but it might help to, like the Captain says, get yourself around people who really don’t have this preconception of you so you know what it’s like to be seen as just yourself.

    1. I got some of the “reliable, frugal one” when I was growing up. It ended up making me neurotic about my finances, too! I spent a lot of time thinking I was never allowed to get something I wanted if something else cheaper would serve that purpose, even if it was just a fancy chocolate bar instead of a Snickers, and I could never ask my family for help if I was in a tight spot. Getting stuck in a story and not feeling like you can change it and tell a new one can suck.

      1. Yeah, both types of labels can be harmful! I’ve been physically klutzy my entire life, but I was always responsible about things like schoolwork, finances, etc. And that made me feel like, if I made a single misstep in any of the areas where I was known as The Responsible One, it would be the end of the world.

        Labels suck for everyone, basically.

        1. I both disagree and agree about labels. I think it’s more complicated.

          Something that informs my work as a therapist a lot is the idea that people often lose track of their lives and fall into dysfunction when they stop being the subjects of their own stories, and turn into objects in other peoples’ stories. Instead of being able to decide who you are and what you want, all you can think about is what *everyone else around you* thinks you are or should want.

          If somebody wants to pick their own label, or decide which external labels to embrace, that can be really great and empowering. Having people outside your head validating your self-identification, likewise. It’s just when you feel stuck, like you’re not the one telling your story anymore, that I think things can get seriously poisonous.

          (See also: “Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends” by M. White and D. Epston)

          1. I sort of agree, although self-chosen labels can also backfire in spectacular ways. See also: Nice Guy.

          2. “…people often lose track of their lives and fall into dysfunction when they stop being the subjects of their own stories, and turn into objects in other peoples’ stories.”

            Wow, that’s a really excellent way of framing it. Thanks, I’ma think on that.

          3. *blink* *blink*

            Like the cuntess, I’m going to want to think about that a while. “The stories we tell about ourselves” is one of the really useful ways I’ve done self-analysis (and analysis of others, strictly on an amateur basis).

            While losing identity as a protagonist (becoming an object in others stories, as you put it) is a really crappy place to be, I’ve recently been thinking about the disjunct between my backstory (and thus the stories I tell about myself) and the perceived stories others may have/tell about me because they don’t know the backstory. It’s a bit brain-hurting, but valuable … now I can think about how to get some of that backstory out there to them and/or how to make my current story include more parts of the backstory.

            Relatedly, thank you for including a reference … I’ll check it out, because I still find psychology fascinating, even if I’m not likely to ever do the schooling to be able to do it for “real”.

          4. Holy crap. Lightbulb moment.
            Totally bringing this to my therapist next week!

      2. Or the frugal label can go the other way: for awhile I was telling myself when questioning decisions, “I am the frugal one, ergo this is a reasonable well-thought out quality purchase,” when I might have spent less were I not in that mind frame.

  7. Whoa whoa whoa. I haven’t commented here much but this hit me over the head so I have to speak up! Keeping details vague here, but I was a live-in nanny for someone who was hyper critical, gossipy, and treated me like I was a teenager living in her home. Then, of course, everything seemed to go wrong for me, little things that piled up and she would ‘reprimand’ me for–despite the fact that I was an adult.

    I never really connected the way I felt and how things went for me during that time and how I was treated. Of course, after I left early from the job I felt all of my agency return to me. Magic! I think Captain’s advice is incredibly spot on.

  8. I often have trouble detecting when I’m lacking focus, but once I do, I physically leave the area for a minute. For example if I’m at work, I step outside, look at the hills, take notice of whatever cars are driving by, and then go back inside. It’s a kind of reset that takes me about thirty seconds and then I can almost always dive back in and focus without distraction.

  9. Dear LW,

    First off, I want to say that the Chaos Muppets are the fun ones! Who’d want to hang out with Bert when they could hang out with Ernie? (I say this as a total Bert myself.)

    Anyway, giving your friends the benefit of the doubt, they probably aren’t casting you in the Chaos Muppet role to be malicious. It’s very possible, especially with longtime friendships, for people to be cast in a specific role and then that becomes their identity.

    Nevertheless, this is problematic–not only because it’s pretty reductive to do to people, but also because the more ingrained habits are, the more pushback you might encounter when you call them on their treatment of you. Hopefully your friends will hear your requests for more respect as exactly that, but they might get pretty defensive because you’re challenging The Way Things Are and suddenly Taking Things Personally. Please do not let this deter you from standing up for yourself. Setting boundaries =/= causing drama and chaos. If they want to feel awkward about being asked politely to treat you with more nuance and respect, that’s on them, not you.

  10. “When someone makes you feel like a continual fuck-up, you act like a continual fuckup, because you are so tense and worried and uncomfortable.”

    I am seriously almost in tears–thank you so much for saying this. This post was incredibly validating to read. It reminded me of a past work situation, where micromanaging on the part of an extremely picky, mean-spirited supervisor turned me INTO the incompetent airhead she clearly thought I was. It was an incidence of gaslighting that affected me for YEARS. It’s still difficult to describe the experience of watching my sense of self erode, day after day, as I turned from an educated woman into a shaky, self-doubting mouse who couldn’t do–or TRUST herself to do–anything right. I graduated Summa Cum Laude, I made Phi Beta Kappa…and apparently I couldn’t fold a piece of paper correctly.

    I came out of that situation shattered. It’s taken years to build myself back up. Thank you, again, for bringing attention to this cruel dynamic…it took me so long to recognize that it wasn’t ME.

    1. This! I had to quit an internship recently because my verbally abusive supervisor was convinced I was incompetent and I was so nervous I started to make stupid mistakes. I spent so much time trying to fix her incoherent writing, typos and grammatical errors that I didn’t notice I was starting to make typos of my own. Every supervisor I’ve ever had has praised my attention to detail and proactiveness (is that a word?) but I cried everyday after work because she had me believing that in addition to having no employable skills (hence the unpaid internship) I was too careless and scatterbrained to even do easy things. She even looked at me point blank and said, “You’re really bad with details. Has anyone ever told you that? Well, now you know. You are really bad at this.” In retrospect, she was trying to cover her own ass and berating me in front of other people for not proofing prints that I had never seen was her way of distracting from her own failings. I’m just glad that the lack of a paycheck meant it was fairly easy to walk away.

      Scapegoating other people is a way to convince oneself that one is pure of all faults. I bet LW’s friends feel at least vaguely superior when they put zie down.

      1. I had a supervisor – not even my own, but the supervisor of another department that I had to liaison with – tell me how disorganized I was. I am, quite frankly, one of the most organized people I’ve ever met. I embrace anal-retentiveness with enthusiasm. I watch myself carefully for signs of slipping into OCD territory.

        The real problem was that the unpleasant supervisor liked to change the rules all the time. What was correct one day was incorrect the next. One day I was going to fast and not following procedure, the next day I was going too slowly and was in danger of missing deadlines. The fact that I was juggling a lot of different projects, learning the ropes of what was a completely new position within the company, and trying to merge two completely different types of computer programs apparently went completely over her head.

        Happily, my own supervisor, pretty much everyone else in the company, and my family were all shocked and furious about her remark, and her rule-changing ways were infamous throughout the company. But her attitude really did spur me to make mistakes that I normally don’t think I would have made, just through the anxiety of having to deal with her.

        It was such a huge relief when I left that job and the company.

    2. I had a job once at a deli where I spent my training day cleaning a deli counter, and then the rest of my time working there being blamed for not knowing what I was doing and having my pay, hours, and responsibilities cut back to the point where I would be called in for two hours, spend one hour cleaning gunk off a window at about half the wage I’d originally been promised, and then was sent home. And I had biked to get there. Through the rain.

      It was a serious blow to my self-esteem and I’ve been terrified of finding a job ever since.

      1. I had a really similar experience, lizzieonawhim! My “training” consisted of “follow this person around until you figure out by watching how to do the job. Oh, she’s leaving tomorrow? Well then, your training’s done!” I did my best, but the manager seemed to actually enjoy it when employees didn’t know what they were really supposed to be doing, because then she could chew them out for Doing Everything Wrong. When I did what she told me to do, I wasn’t fast/efficient/thorough/whatever enough; when I did what the assistant manager told me to do, I was blamed for Doing the Wrong Thing, and of course I was just making it up that Assistant Manager told me to do that, clearly I had screwed up on my own because why would anyone give me incorrect instructions? Oh yes, and NEEDING instruction meant that I was stupid, because why couldn’t I figure out All The Policies Ever on my own?

        Eventually, they cut enough of my hours that my (very long) public transit commute expenses meant that I literally couldn’t afford to work there anymore, and putting in for a transfer to a closer store just made the manager even angrier with me and gave her more excuses to try to rip me apart verbally. I gave up and just quit. And sadly, this store was so dysfunctional that what I’ve described here wasn’t even a quarter of the things that were Very Bad about the work culture – it was all SO bad, that I lasted all of six weeks and I was the FIFTH employee to leave in just that span of time! They were losing employees at the rate of nearly one a week! Sadly, it’s just way too easy for people to get into positions of power that they’re completely unsuited for, and then everyone suffers for it… I just got very lucky in that I was able to leave before she completely destroyed what little self-confidence I had at that point. As it is it took years after getting out of (a few too many in a row…) environments like this for me to stop panicking at the first sign of trouble, thinking for sure I was going to fail spectacularly, when really my fears were totally out of proportion to reality. Thank goodness I eventually found a) a really good support structure and b) a way out of retail…

        1. Eek! Well, my situation wasn’t quite *that* bad, in that they weren’t quite so overt in their lack of respect for me. The problem was that the deli was brand new, and the only reason I was even hired was that my brother was the part-owner and the other owners didn’t seem to realize that they didn’t have to hire me for his sake (no really, my brother would have been totally fine with it if they had decided I wasn’t a good fit *and so would I* because neither one of us is a total jackass). I didn’t have the experience they were looking for. But you know what? I was straight up about that. I was completely honest about my work history, or lack thereof. They knew exactly what they were getting into, and yet they thought the appropriate time to teach me how to work the cash register was at the lunchtime rush. I dunno. The whole thing just makes me furious to think about because it made me feel so worthless. I hadn’t felt that bad about myself since middle school.

      2. I spent a year working in retail and became convinced that I was useless and inefficient (it was about ten years ago, so I honestly am not sure how much was me drowning in negative thoughts and how much was the managers expecting me to screw up) and then was terrified that work afterwards would always be awful and stressful. Then I got a job with a line manager who was really supportive and thought I was doing a good job, and SAID so – and hoorah, stress levels much lower. I just wanted to say that I was really scared of finding a job but when I did, it was actually okay, and I hope that might happen for you too. Because the worry and self-doubt is horrible 😦

        1. I’m starting to think retail just does this to people. All of that is my own exact experience. I guess that’s the way they keep people in such high-demand jobs with low pay, by destroying their self-esteem and making them feel like they have nothing to offer to the world. When I was still working retail the thought of continuing to work like that brought me to my knees. I was very lucky when I found a way out. (See? It’s still at work. I’m crediting luck instead of my resume, interview, and having proven my skill over time in order to be hired full-time.) My office mates still give me the side eye when I say I didn’t know something was allowed at my new job, like, oh I dunno, sitting. Having a glass of water next to me. Going outside to stretch. Retail is generally a really messed up work environment. I’m still finding shards of my ego scattered throughout my life.

          1. Yeah, I think even if your co-workers/superiors aren’t controlling/evil or whatever, it’s quite a fast-paced, stressful environment, dealing with lots of people with lots of different queries and complaints, AND low-paid, so everyone is stressed and constantly on the lookout for the next thing to go wrong. It can really grind people down.

      3. Wow, so sorry this happened to you. I recently stopped volunteering for an organization that I totally love and believe in because the local supervisor did this to me: no training whatsoever, then being blamed for not doing things the way she wanted them done. In my situation, it was basically a power play on her part — if no one knew how she wanted things done, then no one could challenge her for leadership of the group — but it made me feel like shit, so I stopped volunteering. Obviously a different situation from a job that someone needs to pay bills, but it’s a lesson I learned from various food service jobs: people like that are poison, and you should get out as soon as is feasibly possible.

    3. SO MUCH THIS. I’m currently working at a job (call it the Darth Vader Job) that I should love, but absolutely dread going to and am desperately searching for a new one. I’m constantly worried about making mistakes and forgetting things, because I know that sometime in the future, maybe even two weeks later, I will get pulled aside and lectured at like a three-year-old who was caught coloring on the walls with a crayon. It could be something completely insignificant, like forgetting to put something in a new storage location, but I will still be summoned and given the Can’t You Do Anything Right, Except All Things You Do Right? speech. It’s a bizarre sort of gaslighting, because I’m told that I am Doing Good Work And To Keep It Up, except that I Should Be More Efficient and Stop Screwing Everything Up. But I’m never told what I’m specifically doing wrong, just that I should stop doing Things wrong. Except I have no idea what Things are. It’s very hard to remain mentally healthy in such an environment, so I’m constantly worried about Screwing Things Up, which only makes me more nervous and I Screw Things Up even more. And get lectured at more.

      But in other aspects of my life where I doing much more intense and complicated things, I’m totally fine. I can multitask and do very hard things, all without a hitch. The fact that I am so competent and together in the rest of my life is the only reason I’m able to keep from total despair fro the Vader Job. I know I’m human, and humans Make Mistakes and That’s Okay. Getting out of Vader Job will definitely improve my mental health.

      1. Omg, do we work for the same boss? I feel you. In fact, I just gave my notice yesterday, which was possible because for the first time in my life, I’m not the primary/only income in the house.

      2. And what I actually wanted to say is, I hope you find a good way out, soon, because work takes up too much time to be doing it for people who cut you down.

    4. So, so, SO been here as well (and Crazy Horse Lady, hat tip for calling it the “Vader Job”). In fact I went from Vader Job #1 to Super-Competitive Grad School (because I thought I needed the most impressive exit strategy possible to SHOW Vader Bosses), graduated, and … walked smack dab into Vader Job #2. At that point I really did believe I had somehow magically lost the ability to do anything work-related without effing it up. But I actually managed to quit before being “asked to leave” halfway through my notice; two of my three successors were fired within the first three months on the job. Hint for Vader Bosses out there: When you keep finding yourself “having to fire” people like that, THE PROBLEM MIGHT BE YOU.

  11. I probably had ADHD as a kid/teenager (my doctor thought so but my family couldn’t afford the tests for a capital-D Diagnosis), and probably still have a milder form today (26), and the nerves-leading-to-more-accidents pattern is very familiar! (This might be something that happens to non-ADHD people too, it totally makes sense, but I can only speak for my own experience.)

    Maybe being aware of it will help, as it means you’re more able to go “Hey, I’m getting worked up and tense!” and breathe for five seconds before starting again, much more chilled out. And I think the advice to start drawing boundaries with friends is good.

  12. I really like the mindfulness-by-logging (keeping a diary, or even just thinking it through with yourself at the end of the day) strategy. I used to think that I was incredibly forgetful. My family, like LW’s friends, tend to express surprise when I *haven’t* lost my phone or wallet or keys for a few months. And so until recently I quite often freaked out that I’d lost my phone and would go round saying “where on earth is my phone” before leaving anywhere. But then I decided I’d do a sort of mental accounting process and it turned out that in a month of freaking out about losing my phone practically daily, only once was my phone not in my pocket or bag. So now I don’t freak out and still haven’t lost a phone in about 5 years 🙂

  13. So, I was born with a crooked foot and as result walked really funny for my first years. My family kind of still live in that world, where I’m the clumsy one who literally can’t walk a straight line. I think it makes them feel superior. Personally I think it’s sad that they live in a state of mind where it’s funny to gaslight your daughter/sister.

    What they don’t (want to) see is that I now compete succesfully in a sport where I’m judged partially on how I walk. YMMV, but for me grace and balance is a skill. The more I practice it, the better I get. None of my training mates have said anything about my (lack of) balance, even if I admit I had that fear at first.

    I remember, one thing I got angry about while reading Twilight was that everyone kept telling Bella Swan how clumsy she was. Maybe she was to a degree but it didn’t get any better by strong men swooping in and “saving” her constantly. If she’d been allowed (I know, right!) to walk alone, who knows what would have happened?

    1. That’s a really interesting comment re: Bella’s clumsiness. I recall empathizing while reading it since I always saw myself as clumsy too, but I had the benefit of not being told so over and over, and I’m a lot better now. I guess it kind of just goes back to how she’s so controlled throughout the series and just winds up so helpless and passive.

    2. On the Twilight front: oh holy crud yes.

      I have debilitating vertigo, and yes, I do sometimes need a hand, but more than that what I have needed is meds and PT. And so even reading the excerpts where Bella was recounting how she’d tried to do something in gym class and literally fallen over made me start shouting, “Vestibular rehab now now now!”

      I don’t know if the things that the LW is having trouble with are related to balance/inner ear difficulties, but it’s definitely a thing to consider. I got told to be more careful hundreds or thousands of times before we got it figured out that I was being incredibly careful–obsessively careful–and my body was not cooperating.

  14. “My “role” in my family from growing up is to be the girl who is really book-smart but completely lacks any life skills or common sense and who can’t be trusted to make toast, which is why I moved very far away and have a 3-4 day maximum on visits.”


    When I was about 23, my parents took me out to lunch and gave me some important financial papers that they had been keeping for me. They explained that they’d wanted me to have a steady post-college job before they handed these over (think bonds, savings account from grandma, etc.) because they hoped I’d be more responsible if I didn’t need the money right then. (That much was cool, and I understand their reasoning; as it happens, the savings account paid for about half of my wedding at 27, and the savings bonds were the last 10% of my grad school payoff the next year. I can be responsible with money, but perhaps wasn’t so good at it when I was 23.) Then my dad pocketed the papers and told me he’d drop them off when he was in town the next week, because otherwise I WOULD LOSE THEM ON MY WAY HOME.

    I was a bit offended by that, and I even said so… and I started to have that mental argument about whether my parents knew me better than I knew myself, considering they’d had longer to get to know me. But I accepted that they were probably right, or even if they were wrong about me being so careless and losing things all the time, it wouldn’t hurt much to let him take custody of the Important Stuff. And then on the way home I LOST MY WALLET. In fact, I left it in my dad’s car when he dropped me off at the train station, and let me tell you my teeth were gritted through that phone call: “Dad, could you check in the truck? If it’s not there, then I left it on the train, and I need to let metro security know before I leave the station…. Ah, okay. That’s good. So I’ll see you next week, then. Yeah. Thanks.” (I do lose stuff. And I report it to Lost & Found, and I call the bank, etc. etc. … like an adult. I don’t need to have a parental figure yelping, “I told you so!”)

    So, yeah, self-fulfilling prophecy and all that. I’m headed to my folks for the weekend, so this is a timely reminder to not let them drive me nuts.

  15. Hi LW! Fellow Chaos Muppet here.

    I had a couple stages in my Chaos Muppetry. The main one was when I was living with my mother in a House of Evil Bees. I’m a naturally clumsy person, and I have ADHD so I never really notice if I make silly mistakes until it’s muuuuch too late. My mother loved to find excuses to be mean to me, and just as the Captain said, that only made me more clumsy which only gave her more chances. For example, once I was cooking a dessert for us and some friends, and she never trusted me to do ~anything~ in the kitchen, because of the Muppet. She kept on looking over my shoulder, coming in and checking, simplifying the recipe until it had only four ingredients. Finally I told her to stay out because I could do it on my own — but I couldn’t. I forgot the sugar, leaving a sticky sour mess and a broken bowl. I never lived that down and I was never allowed back in the kitchen.
    Stage 1.5 happened when she started to have me seeing a doctor to deal with some behavior issues (mainly gaslighting). He perscribed pills, which I didn’t take (not necessarily advising this, it was a personal descision) but she thought I did. And guess what? The placebo effect worked! She thought I was being less chaotic, so she stopped getting upset with me and I indeed became less chaotic.
    Then I left THOEB, and moved in with a number of people who like me and care about me. I’m still quite clumsy because that’s who I am, and they sometimes tease me for it, but they don’t get mad and they don’t blame me. I’ve been able to own my clumsiness and make jokes about it, and you know what else? I’m really, really good at cooking now that I’m allowed to be myself.
    So I’m 100% with the Captain on this. And just find yourself a group of people who are nice to you even when you’re a Muppet, and just be yourself. They’ll love you. You’re awesome. And you’ll be able to learn how much of your clumsiness is from being on-edge and how much of it you’ll just have to live with. But don’t stay around people who make you scared.

    1. Yes, this! If someone is looking at me or even if I’m trying really hard not to spill something my hand will start shaking until it spills. I don’t think I’m particularly clumsy, but I take my time to do everything carefully and sloooowly. A while back i was visiting my best friend and as we were getting ready to leave and I was being indecisive and changing my outfit around at the last minute, she said, “You take so long to get ready!” I thought she was criticizing me and was about to get defensive when she finished “But you savor every minute of it! I love it.” I think she may have partly been saving her ass after she saw the look on my face and, yeah, she was also making fun of me a bit, but I think she really did mean it and it made me laugh and say, “I really do.” It was also nice because now I think about that moment and think “Yeah, I do savor every moment of it, it’s okay to be slow.” Even just that little comment was helpful for me in realizing that it’s okay and that I can accept those things about myself and other people will accept them, too. I have friends who are clumsy or distracted, too and I love them for it. Sure, sometimes I might get a bit frustrated with them, but it’s also endearing and sometimes funny. If your friends are blaming you for being a little clumsy, they are the ones who need to work on their behavior, not you.

  16. Yes to the mindfulness recommendation!

    I’ve been doing a course recently (book and cd) and it really helps interrupt negative self-talk and self-destructive thought spirals.

    As an overthinky person I find it really difficult and challenging to do but also really helpful.

  17. I have a neurological condition which (among many other things) causes poor co-ordination and cognitive dysfunction. I completely lose track of what I’m doing, I have bizarre lapses in short-term memory, I walk into things, I sometimes randomly let go of whatever I’m holding, even if it is a mug of hot tea. These problems are inconsistent, so difficult to work around and it stops me from being able to drive (I probably could do it some days, but wouldn’t know when I couldn’t until I’d crashed into something). I sustain regular minor injuries. I very easily get into a mess, for a rock solid medical reason.

    All this magically improved when I left my ex-husband. With him, I spilled things every day, I broke things every week. At one point, I broke three mugs in one week. And he was much like the Captain’s Dad, only would shout and sometimes hit me. He’d rant hypothetical scenarios when I had burned the house down, spilled boiling water on myself or somehow sliced a limb off so he’d have to clear up the blood. He relied on me to do almost all the cooking and housework, manage our money etc., but made it abundantly clear that he didn’t *trust* me to do any of this with any modicum of competence. No appliance could go wrong due to age or a technical error – I had obviously been abusing it. I was scared of messing up all the damn time, so I did mess up (and even if I didn’t, he’d say I did) all the damn time.

    My health has not significantly improved, but the scale of damage is completely different. I perhaps break a piece of crockery every six months – back then, I once broke three mugs in one week and I don’t think a month passed without any breakages. I still sustain minor injuries, but my hands used to be covered in little cuts and burns, and now they’re often fine (I currently have a single cut from cleaning an empty food can). I don’t worry about how much money I’ve got because I’m as organised as I need to be and I’ve got support if I need to talk something through (as I often do with anything like a calculation, in case important information falls out of my head).

    Anyway, all this is just to reiterate what the Captain and others have said. Being identified as the chaos muppet and being afraid of the consequences of mistakes can make a natural tendency to clumsiness and disorganisation much worse. I can imagine it could even bring it about in someone who just happened to have a bad run of the mistakes and accidents that befall absolutely everyone.

    1. Goodness gracious, I am so glad that you got out of that terrible situation!! (Jedi hugs, if wanted, because sheeeeeesh.)

  18. I had a similar argument with my spouse months ago about how I break things all the time. At the time I felt his point was valid because I’m “such a mess”. But after reading this, I’m wondering if I was being fair to myself…

  19. The other side of Chaos Muppetry can sometimes be a methodical protocol-follower who needs time to orient themselves and become completely confident in their actions. For example, if one flirts outrageously with an unequipped cardiac surgeon, they may pour hot coffee all over their scrubs. This does not mean that all of their patients are at risk of having caffeine-soaked hearts. It just means that the cardiac surgeon needs time to read the protocol for Social Engagement C24-subsection B.

    Further, if you take a highly competent lab technician and place her in a situation of which she knows nothing – say, canal boating – then she may slip into a state of silent screaming, like Frodo entering the Ring-state, where everything is slowmotion and blurry-edged and wraiths are shrieking at her and she makes bad decisions and drops things. It doesn’t mean that the lab technician is stupid or inherently Chaotic. Just that she needs to know what is going on, and why it is happening, before she can contribute to the events.

    LW, you sound like a fun person to know. Come ruin my stove anytime – I’ve done half the job for you already.

    1. You know, until you described it this way I had never realized how closely the way I feel during the buildup to a panic attack resembles the Ring-state. Shrieking wraiths and all. Since I already use ludicrously geeky self-soothing techniques (“Pretend you’re Luke Skywalker! Luke Skywalker would not be freaking out right now, because Jedi are chill.”), this may be very helpful.

      1. May I just say here that I adore your self talk and I’m looking forward to telling myself that when I need it in the future. And I will need it.

      2. (I am just commenting under the sad name until I find an alternate name I can live with)

        I love your geeky ways of dealing with things. Now I am also going to deal with that state of mind by taking very deep breaths and attempting to take the evil Ring off my finger.

  20. This really sounds to me like a case of gaslighting. I used to have a friend who got a kick out of concern-trolling me in ways that aggravated my depression and anxiety and eventually made me doubt my own sanity. She would take subtly passive-aggressive, plausibly deniable jabs at me, enumerating everything that she felt was wrong with me, reminding me that my mental illness made our mutual friends uncomfortable, and making lots of unhelpful suggestions about what I could do to feel less depressed (most of which amounted to “Stop being so depressed”). When I finally began taking antidepressants and started slowly clawing my way out of the black hole I was in, she wasted no time in shooting down my progress in truly crazy-making ways (“Well, you may THINK you’re getting better, but I can tell that you’re still miserable, you poor thing”). It was horrible. Then I cut off all contact with her, and unsurprisingly I felt a thousand percent better about myself and my life.

    1. /Wow./ All the Jedi hugs and Ewok celebrations for you having gotten away from this “friend.”

  21. Oh man. I am also a total chaos muppet. Sorry for the rambly reply that’s about to ensue.

    1) You and your friends have built up this story about how you’re a chaos muppet. Even if it started as a joke, if it makes you feel bad, it’s not okay. And it is definitely okay to say, “Hey, I know that was funny when you first said it, but it makes me feel kind of shitty, can you not?” If your friends are not jerks, when you tell them that, they should ease up on it.

    2) We believe the stories we hear/tell about ourselves. So now you, in your mind, are a chaos muppet, but what that means is that when literally anyone who ever used that stove could have done the same thing you did, when they did it, it would be :shrug: worthy behavior. Things happen. When you do it it, it’s because you’re a chaos muppet. That is actually super unfair to you. But it’s like every cliche story ever about curses and prophesies and whatnot: if you know what’s supposed to happen, you interpret the events to match. So if everyone buys into the chaos muppet story, then when something completely normal happens that can fit into that narrative, sudden *that’s* what happened. Even when it’s something totally mundane.

    3) It’s also okay if the label chaos muppet is something you have latched on to or feel like it’s part of your identity! I can see that happening in a couple of ways – like, if you feel, “Well, I’m the group’s designated chaos muppet, but hey, at least that means I’m part of the group,” for one. Or: “If I admit I am a total chaos muppet, then I will feel less bad about the bizarre things that happen around me.” As long as it’s something that you feel okay with and positive about, that’s not bad – if it’s who you are, that’s fine, because *you* are fine. As long as no one is trying to make you feel bad about who you are – in which case, you are still fine, and that person is being a jerk.

    4) WORD to the captain’s advice about mindfulness. Much of my muppetry comes from how I was raised. Example: in our cupboard, there would be a stack of bowls of various non-matching sizes. Obviously the best way to stack them is to put the larger ones on the bottom, smaller ones inside, for structural soundness. When it comes time to put away dishes that have been washed, that may mean taking the whole stack out and rearranging it. Not a single person in my family would ever do that – instead we’d haphazardly balance things on top. Then, next time the cupboard gets opened, one falls out and shatters. That’s not actually chaos powers at work, it’s gravity and bad planning, but to an outsider who thinks I am a chaos muppet, guess what it looks like? So for me, I’ve been trying to be more mindful of when I can take an extra few seconds now to prevent what looks like chaos later.

    (I’m still not very good at this, since it’s trying to break a lifetime’s worth of bad habits that I didn’t even know were things I could control, because again, raised by people who do the exact same thing. But I’m improving in tiny increments.)

    5) Cutting down on chaos in my life in tiny, practical ways: I have a single place I put my keys every single time I walk into my apartment, and a single shelf where I keep stuff borrowed from friends. That keeps my from losing my keys and my friends’ stuff – and being on a shelf tends to keep me from accidentally trampling on my friends’ stuff in my otherwise fairly messy living space. Also I try not to put friends’ books in my purse, because I am rough on stuff I carry around regularly, and I will totally end up accidentally ripping the cover/having a soda explode in my purse/etc/whatever.

    Obviously those things are pretty specific to me and may not help other people, but a similar approach – what sorts of chaotic acts happen a lot, what causes them, how I can try to prevent those? – might come in handy with the “how do I be more responsible?” aspect. Which, by the way, I so, so, so empathize with this. I’ve been there. I still am there sometimes. It’s no fun.

    So – hugs to you, LW. Let us not-actually-muppets unite.

    1. That thing with the bowls sounds so similar to a disagreement my bf and I had when we were first living together. He was of the opinion that it didn’t matter if there was stuff all over the floor because he would look where he walked and not step on it. I prefer to pick things up so I don’t have to look at te floor all the time. I didn’t get it at the time, but he had developed his thing because his mom is extremely, hoarder-y messy and as a kid he couldn’t do anything about that.

  22. LW, I relate to this a lot. My mom is super-clean, super-neat, super-organised, and not at all clumsy. Guess what I’m like. 🙂 And throughout my childhood and right into my adulthood, that’s been the story from her: what did you do now, what did you spill, what did you touch, oh for God’s sake sit down and don’t move, I’ll do it. (The thing that sticks in my memory is the time she took my passport out of the drawer where it was always kept, the night before I had to take an international flight, cue me freaking out and turning the house upside down until she admitted she had it; it turned out she’d done it because she was giving me a ride to the airport, and she wanted to take it with her so she’d have it when I inevitably forgot it.)

    About two years ago, I suddenly had an epiphany. When I’m not around her, I’m a functional adult. My apartment is messy but not a health hazard. And when I’m at work, I routinely do things that would cost other people millions of dollars if I made a mistake. Is there something you’re trusted to do, LW? Do you look after kids, do you volunteer, do you do a job where people rely on you, do you do well at school? Whatever it is, you might want to bring it up pointedly for a while.

    1. “Is there something you’re trusted to do, LW? Do you look after kids, do you volunteer, do you do a job where people rely on you, do you do well at school? Whatever it is, you might want to bring it up pointedly for a while.”

      Even if you’re not bringing it up in conversation, it’s good to remind yourself what you’re good at, what makes you feel competent. Hold onto that feeling as much as possible, especially when others try to make you feel less than 100% good at what you’re doing.

    2. The thing that sticks in my memory is the time she took my passport out of the drawer where it was always kept, the night before I had to take an international flight, cue me freaking out and turning the house upside down until she admitted she had it; it turned out she’d done it because she was giving me a ride to the airport, and she wanted to take it with her so she’d have it when I inevitably forgot it.

      Not only is this a way to erode someone’s confidence, it sounds like your mother was trying to teach dependency! I’m sorry you had to go through that, and glad you’re doing better.

      Slightly off-topic: while my parents had (and still have) a number of neurosis-inducing habits, my father actually had some very good practices concerning travel. Before we took off for the airport or train station, everyone had to show their tickets and passports. Only then would he put the key in the ignition. I’m not living with my folks anymore, but I’ve adopted this habit for myself… something I couldn’t have done if my Dad had insisted on carrying everyone’s papers.

    3. My father did something similar to the passport thing- he used to be on my case constantly about how I wasn’t financially responsible, but one year in January when my W-2s came in the mail (I was still living at home at that point) he snatched them up (without saying anything to me) to put them in a package for the accountant. In early April I realized that I’d never received any W-2s, and I freaked out calling all the payroll companies (I was working freelance then, and was paid out through a few different payroll companies, so you can imagine how much of a blast that was) to try and get new ones sent immediately. When I asked my dad about it he admitted that he’d had my W-2s for months. I find it kind of sad because my dad actually knows a lot about financial planning, and it’d be great to get advice from him, but rather than give me advice and talk it out with me, he’d rather make me feel like a fucking idiot and berate me for all the wrong things I’m apparently doing. More of a rush for him, I guess.

  23. The post hit me from the other direction: there is a “Chaos Muppet” in my life, and sometimes it is really hard to moderate my reaction to them. You don’t say how you act when you have an accident, and to me that makes a huge difference. A calm & no-nonsense “I’m sorry that happened [or “I’m sorry I did that” if you feel up to it], here’s what I want to do to fix it, is there anything I’ve overlooked?” would go far towards making it feel like a problem we are solving together. Unfortunately the person in my life is more likely to giggle “Oops! It’s lucky you’re so good at fixing things!” or pretend it didn’t happen, leave the damage for me to discover and get defensive and angry/tearful if I try to talk to them about it. For example, if it had been my stove, this person I know would talk about the overflow as a random act of nature, this thing that happened that had nothing to do with them, as if too much water put itself into the blender while they weren’t looking and they were as much a victim as my stove. You sound like you are aware of the problem and trying to resolve it, so you maybe never act like that. In which case, go you! I wish you were the “Chaos Muppet” in my life & not this other person.

    Hopefully your friends are mature enough that when you treat them respectfully and ask them to do the same to you, they will honor that.

    In terms of reducing clumsiness, I’ve seen some great advice above, so I will just add that I’m not an excessively clumsy person by nature but I’ve noticed that I am clumsy/error-prone when I am stressed out. I try to make sure I am not doing critical tasks at a time when I know I’ll be harried and rushed. For instance at work (I’m a coder) I have a personal rule that I don’t do anything but minor tasks with a same-day deadline. It stresses me out so much to watch the clock thinking “this has to be done in 3 hours. Two hours. 90 minutes I’m not going to finish on time oh god oh god…” that my work always suffers. And so whenever possible I schedule my work so I won’t have to do that. That’s my issue, as you think about what is causing you undue stress & loss of focus you’ll try different techniques and figure out what helps you more. Finally I want to say that I think you’re pretty cool! You sound like you are basically together and trying to be even better. That’s awesome.

    1. I do think that’s a really important thing to consider, what this is like from the friend’s perspective. Although I commented below that if these friends aren’t being supportive they aren’t real friends, taking ownership of the problems and accidents that LW does cause will go a long way. It seems from the letter that some things are LW’s fault and others not. Someone who is constantly messing things up and making other people clean up after them is almost certainly going to get a barely-civil reaction, especially if this has been going on for a while and no responsibility is taken. But someone who is trying hard to be more careful and helps fix the problems they cause should not be treated the way LW is being treated.

      1. I think you’re absolutely right about the friends. No matter how frustrated they might feel, they need to treat the LW with respect. In my mind at least, there’s a big difference between blame and responsibility. It sounds like the LW is feeling blamed, and that’s a terrible way to feel. If the friends are acting like the LW is a clumsy idiot and everything bad that happens is the LW’s fault, they are deeply in the wrong and they need to stop. They are probably making the accidents worse and they are definitely making it harder for the LW to accept responsibility. Who would want to own up to mistakes to someone who reacts like that?

        There is one thing in the letter that gives me pause though: the LW tries to distance themself from the accidents (“things break when I’m around”) and says they use the passive voice because they don’t “overtly” cause them. And then describes the thing with the stove, which was clearly an accident, obviously they didn’t mean to damage anything, but by their description it was caused by an action they took (overfilling the food processor). Again, it was an accident, but I don’t think it’s a good example of why the LW would want to use the passive voice or describe bad things as just happening when they’re nearby.

        I think the LW is clearly working on taking responsibility. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have written the letter. And I applaud that. This is hard work, trying to understand yourself and change deeply ingrained behavior. Maybe the LW’s friends could cut back on the blame and give the LW a supportive environment where it’s emotionally safe to take responsibility.

        1. Yes, exactly! There is a very real tension within the letter about true accidents and taking responsibility. I wish LW had given us a few more examples to get a better idea, because of course everyone does stupid shit like overfilling a food processor once in a while, but if it’s thoughtlessness like that that is causing the negative reaction from friends, I can really see their point!

    2. Yes, I’m coming at this from the friend of the chaos person as well. My experience was that the person in question got so used to other people cleaning up their messes that they began expecting really outrageous favors and help from people — calling at 3 am on a weeknight because they heard a weird noise in their house and wanted to stay with me, for example. All of this led to me cutting this person off entirely, and entirely reasonably from my perspective. I can’t stress enough the advice on how to handle these things — taking responsibility and making amends goes a LONG way 🙂

      It sounds very much like the LW is becoming aware of a toxic environment and is doing the right things to improve the situation so it doesn’t get to that point, and all the advice seems completely awesome! LW, I hope you can turn this dynamic around 🙂

      1. My parents finally cut off a long-time friend of the family because of Chaos Muppetry which she expected other people to fix. Whatever it was, be it forgetting her wallet, or her plumbing going south because she didn’t check the pipes on schedule, or broken dishes because she’d try to pile too many up in an unstable stack, it was never her fault and always somebody else’s job to fix it.

        My parents snapped after decades of knowing this person when she showed up at their house at midnight and expected them to drive her twenty miles to the 24-hour grocery store where she left her wallet (she went there the first time by cab) and then find a key for her house or hire a locksmith, because, oops, she lost her keys again, tee hee. CM proceeded to upset the dogs while mom, who had just had a port put in her side, was trying to get them outside- they were worried because CM was being a drama llama about it all and they aren’t used to that type of commotion. Mom was going through some hellish medical issues, dad was freaking out because his wife might die, and here CM was demanding my parents become her chauffeur because of her usual carelessness. Dad blew like Mt. St. Helens. CM flounced. My parents are enjoying the peace.

        1. ::groans, hides face in hands:: That seriously sounds like the same person. That whole wallet/key/locksmith scenario could have been me, my partner, and her from like 12 years ago. Glad your parents are getting some peace.

    3. Yeah, I had a thought kind of like that, too. I did have one friend and short-time roommate who was clumsy/distractable, which is in itself fine. I’m clumsy myself. But it was her way of dealing with it, not her clumsiness, that made her hard to respect.

      She’d do things like, oh, she was washing dishes once and banged a glass against the side of the sink, and it broke. No problem, except she put it down and said, “I don’t know what happened, it just exploded, I didn’t break it.” Which I would have believed–I am not in the habit of accusing my friends of lying!–if I hadn’t been standing where I could clearly see what happened at the time. Or I lent her a DVD and she returned it cracked, but she put it back in the box without mentioning that she’d cracked it, so that I didn’t notice until I wanted to watch it a few weeks later. Or she’d walk all over my papers and then laugh and say that it was my fault for leaving them there (in my own room?). Or she’d borrow something and lose it and then treat it like a big joke, like how silly I was for expecting to get something back. Stuff like that. Nothing really heinous, but a lot of trying to hide her accidents, or making up excuses, or trying to laugh everything off.

      She always had some reason why it wasn’t her fault, or why I was hilarious for expecting her to take responsibility–and the terrible thing is, had she said, “I broke/lost your X, I’m sorry,” I would have been okay with that. But the fact that she responded to things going wrong with this childish “It’s not my fault! I was on the moon! With Steve!” response where she never took responsibility for her actions made it really hard to accord her an adult level of respect.

      In that regard, it’s not the clumsiness that’s the problem. It’s how you deal with it.

      1. Can I say how much I love “I was on the moon! With Steve!” I am going to hear that in my mind the next time I have to deal with that person. And then I’ll start laughing and hurt their feelings but it won’t be my fault! I can’t help it, it’s your fault for saying something so funny! I blame Badger Rose!

        Joking aside, the person I was talking about is someone I work with, so 1. I can’t do much to limit my interactions with them and 2. the accidents usually cause extra work for me, not damaged property. In this case I think the problem is general carelessness, just not paying attention to what they’re doing. And like you, the part that bothers me is not the existence of accidents — everyone makes mistakes — it’s the response. A recent example: multiple people are working on a project, and this person forgets to follow the procedure for combining files, and they end up losing hours of work when someone else who *was* following the procedure overwrites their files. And then Careless Person publicly calls out Someone Else behind their back, blames them for the lost work and says they are “disgusted” by Someone Else’s having done that to them. [Someone Else is not me in this example; my discomfort was in choosing to either sit there and watch Careless Person falsely trash Someone Else, or having to contradict Careless Person in the middle of this rant and say “actually we have a process, you were the one who didn’t follow it” and deal with the rant being directed at me instead.]

        The person I’m dealing with veers pretty far into “Not my fault! On the moon!” territory and I don’t think we have reason to assume the LW is like that. To me the LW seems like a good egg who is trying to get a handle on the situation. Maybe their problem is carelessness like my coworker, maybe not. But the fact that they’re even aware of the problem is good sign I think.

        The closest example I can think of from my own life is that I used to be habitually late for everything. Meetings with friends, appointments (like haircuts or doctors), work, whatever. I felt like I just couldn’t cut a break, like the world was conspiring to make me late all the time. Then one day I read something that said “If you’re late to something all the time, it’s because on some level you really don’t want to be there.”

        This was the proverbial clue-by-four to my head. In retrospect I don’t even think it’s true; there are all kinds of reasons why people are habitually late. But it was the first time it had ever occurred to me that lateness was not something that was happening to me. It was something I was doing. It shocked me. Having that realization allowed me to look at my own behavior and start to see how I was contributing to my lateness (like taking the fastest time it had ever taken to get someplace and only giving myself that much time, or not checking the gas tank until I was running on fumes and was already a bit late). And once I could see my own responsibility for my lateness, then I started to recognize how disrespectful it was to others to keep them waiting all the time. That wasn’t a good feeling.

        Now I work really hard at being on time. I do slip up from time to time — crazy traffic jams do happen! — but when it happens, my friends, hairdresser etc are much more likely to cut me slack because I’m generally reliable and they know I’m not taking their time for granted. To stop talking about myself and get back to the LW, my hope for them is that they can take some of the excellent advice here about mindfulness and get to a place where the people around them see them as a basically responsible person who has the kind of normal accidents that everyone does. Again, the fact that they’re aware of the problem and want to resolve it is excellent.

        1. Thank you! I nominate “Not my fault. On the moon.” for an embroidery sampler.

          My ex was a chaos muppet and I was his enabler. His parents did treat him like a fuck-up growing up, as did a long-term friend who was his roommate when we met; long-term friends mocked him for being oblivious, which he embraced. He had ADHD as a kid, and when he continually complained about not being able to concentrate at work, I suggested he see a psychiatrist about adult ADHD–and treatment seemed to help him at work but he would get home just as the drugs were wearing off and he was extra irritable.

          Reader, I am non-judgmental and have confidence issues, so I observed way too many of his chaos episodes before I got a clue. As others have said, the Chaos Muppet’s reaction is of prime importance, and he denied, minimized, and refused to apologize for anything that happened around him. I started to get a clue the time at an amusement park where I clapped him on the shoulder, asked him to watch my bag, he seemed to attend, I put it touching him, and when I see him later without it he takes zero responsibility, denies what happened, and adamantly refuses to apologize (even though others at the table with him remember me asking him to do this.) In his case, a lot of the Chaos Muppetry goes back to lack of prudence and flagrant disregard for rules and others’ suggestions. He drives very inattentively, sometimes steering with his knees on the freeway while eating a burrito with both hands–he got offended when I asked him not to do this when he was driving me, which is both one of many red flags and a really sad comment on a broken feedback mechanism that otherwise might keep him out of danger. No accidents that I know of, but a pattern of being careless about risks adds up to a higher probability of accidents.

          My favorite story now–which I cackle with glee to tell now that we are broken up, was when he thought he discovered a new way to eat raw almonds–gulping them down whole to save him time in the morning. He told me his plan and I said it didn’t sound like a good idea; an hour or so after he ignores me and gulps them down, he starts complaining how much is stomach hurts, in a “BUT WHYYYYY?” way. In part, he wanted to play the innovator and iconoclast so much that he would try crazy things for the small chance they would work and he could brag about them later.

          Chaos Muppets probably vary widely in what drives them, as well as in how they handle outcomes. My ex had a serious case if the Bad Idea Bears.

      2. Just wanted to thank you guys for this sub-conversation, because it has really helped crystallize exactly how things ended up where they did with my own personal muppet, and hopefully I can handle it better if it happens to me again.

        1. I actually want to thank *you* because I’ve been reading back columns on this site and learning a lot from it, but this is the first time I posted, and I was a little nervous because I seemed to be interpreting the situation differently from the rest of the commenters. I was wondering if there was something I just wasn’t seeing, or if my comment would be unhelpful or something. So thanks to you and Badger Rose for replying, I’m really glad it made sense to you!

          (ps: I have a lot to learn about how to deal with this kind of situation too. I feel a lot more comfortable recognizing it than handling it constructively!)

    4. i feel similarly. i am going to be much more conscious about how i apply the “chaos muppet” to my “chaos muppet”-esque friend because i think this is important stuff that i haven’t thought about. but her reactions are on the lines of what you’re talking about, so right now i use that label as a way to not get mad at her.

      for example, chaos muppet friend, every time we ride bikes together, inevitably swerves dangerously into me because she is not paying attention, and then sort of laughs it off. the only reason i can laugh it off is because in my head, i’m like, “oh, so and so is just a chaos muppet,” where as if i didn’t have that label it would just be, “so and so is my friend who routinely almost crashes her bike into me when we are in busy traffic and doesn’t seem to think it’s a very big deal.”

      1. Agh! I have had an acquaintance do this and it’s scary as hell. I’ve realised where behaviour is concerned, the cause of the behaviour doesn’t always matter – if someone is doing something you find offensive/unpleasant/dangerous it’s still bad even if they did it by accident and don’t mean any harm.

        It can be really hard to enforce boundaries around physical safety in sport, because the people who are violating them will often tell you you’re excessively tentative or worried or insufficiently brave or [insert you’re being a wuss implication here]. We do all have different boundaries for safety when hiking along cliffs or riding bikes down busy roads or whatever and it is not OK for people to try to push them. My response to the bike-swerving people I know is to refuse to ride next to them at all. Them thinking I’m a nervous nelly is a price I’m willing to pay to stay safe.

      2. What would happen if you got mad? If you told her that it’s not okay that she routinely almost crashes her bike into you when you’re in busy traffic?

  24. Yes for the ‘stepping back’ thing mentioned by previous responses! I also want to add onto the idea that ‘it’s all in how you form your narrative’ thing, too.

    My example is that I’m… large. Just, tall with long limbs. Fact of genetics. This leads to two things. First is when I get going fast I lose a great deal of coordination and second is if I flail my arms at all, I hit things. Every time. Slam. Fingers into walls. Excited about a concert? Angry at my neighbors? Jumping jacks? Stretching? Indoors were not made for someone my size. Speed is a poor choice for me in probably 99% of situations unless it’s me running in a straight line wearing sensible shoes.

    Because of this sort of ‘slam into stuff and yelp’ thing, I used to call myself ‘as graceful as a baby elephant.’ This lasted a good long time until I was – at one point – in the company of people I didn’t usually hang around with and they called me graceful. Full stop. No baby elephant involved.

    Instant, “Bweh?”

    It took a bit for me to reevaluate, but it came down to the fact that: I’m only a baby elephant if I call myself that, because what’s really happening is that I’m getting flustered, overexcited, or exhausted, etc. I’m not sure who ISN’T clumsy when they’re experiencing those things. They’re all states that are kind of notable for introducing clumsiness into the most normal of action.

    So, yessss. Basically, noting the location of walls as a precaution and trying to remember that I’m not ‘clumsy’ so much as tongue-tied/worried/excited/sleepy has changed how I and others view myself.

  25. The Captain and commenters have the mental health possibilities well-covered.

    I would like to add another: physical form factors. LW, if you are left-handed, if you are signifcantly shorter (me) or taller than the standard height, the material world is not made for us and we *will* have more clumsy moments than those for whom the built environment is created. (Note, when I say standard height, I mean the standard height specification industrial designers use, which according to a friend with a degree in human factors engineering, was based on an average height of men entering the military decades ago. You can see the problem with that, I trust.)

    Relevant anecdote:
    In college, two lab partners and I had a long-running inside joke about the mystery force field around us. We broke lab equipment, dropped chemicals, and so on. It even spilled to our lunches! Cafeteria workers and Subway employees dropped trays of glasses in the mere presence of us just feet away. Spooky.

    Now let’s describe this lab team: one member was 4’10”, another over 6 feet, and the third about average-ish for a woman. So two of us were ill-fitted to the lab benches. One had already been diagnosed with ADD, another would be diagnosed a year after college, and third had a visual impairment. One of us sometimes had to use an asthma inhaler that left a side-effect of mild shakiness and tremors. Not so mysterious why we were clumsy.

    But what about Subway? It was probably the priming effect that once we thought we saw a pattern, we looked for signs everywhere.

    Even today, sometimes when I break or spill stuff I am hard on myself and then take a look around and see that, nope, what would have been normal for someone else was too high for me. Like that thermostat’s right in the walkway, has a sharp corner, and keeps nicking my bicep. If I were taller, it would breeze by below my elbow.

    1. Ooh! This makes a lot of sense.

      I have a very good friend who is, in certain contexts, the Chaos Muppet. It doesn’t seem to be anything more sinister than an affectionate joke, but it does seem to be quite a marked effect: things stop working around him, and on at least one occasion have then caught fire. Oddly, it doesn’t happen around me, on the whole. There’s been one single instance of chaos around this person that I myself can recall, and that was mild and could have happened to anyone (though we all found it very funny at the time, including my friend, and no damage was done to anything).

      My friend is about 5’3″. Your point that the world isn’t really designed for him is a fair one, and may well go a long way towards explaining the chaos.

  26. LW and Jennifer, reading this made my heart ache for you, and I allowed myself to ache for me a little, too. I grew up with a similar script from ridiculously critical parents and relationships that have led to a lifetime of me overcoming anxiety that causes me to double-check, second guess, and believe (sometimes literally) that the earth will give way if I make a “mistake.” I then found myself attracted to friends who found ways to make me feel the same way, because I was reproducing that script and because they felt comfortable casting me as the thoughtless person who isn’t doing it right. If I may, two things really helped me break out of this (ongoing work, I assure you):

    1. I read a book about gaslighting, and my head exploded from the rapid succession of epiphanies and connections I made about my relationship patterns. After that, if a friend or acquaintance said things like “You’re really selfish” or other things to reinforce that oppressive script, I got the hell out of dodge without so much as a Dear John letter.

    2. I went to therapy. And it was awesome.

    I stand with you in solidarity, I really do.

      1. It’s R. D. Laing, and the book is “Knots.” Be aware that the community of shrinks does not approve of Laing because he gets very involved with his clients and becomes “family” in order to re-structure it. Not something I’d recommend either.

      2. Yes! It was “The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life” by Dr. Robin Stern. I had to look it up on Amazon, because I couldn’t remember the title but I knew I’d remember the cover.

        It’s the weirdest thing. The minute I finished the book I was like, Oh of course, like it had been there all along, like it was something that I knew, it was just in a blind spot. All that is to say: the book had a huge impact on me, but I promptly forgot about the finer points of the book. So I hope it’s helpful, but I really can’t remember if it’s a quality book or if I would find it helpful now. High praise, I know.

    1. Co-aching with you all. Jennifer’s coat story really got me, since I ruined Christmas once for wearing the “wrong” coat. Later, I kept getting jobs where mistakes were treated as a sign of the apocalypse. I still am somewhat amazed when a “mistake” isn’t met with an hour lecture or histrionics, and work to keep quiet the jerkbrain which internalized that crap and tends to play it in potential “mistake” situations.

    2. Oof. Thirded on the aches. My parents were the ones who told me that “if you let anyone know what was going on in your life and inside our house, no one will like you.” Because deep down inside, a tiny little part of you is still fighting for yourself – and see that its wrong, but you don’t know how because when you realize it, there’s a lifetime of habit there, where you tell yourself you’re this person that someone else wrote out for you.

      I still have a way to go to break through old habits, but its been really helpful to see the patterns I’ve made for myself and know that I am not the disappointing fuck up / or is she a fuck up that my family cast me to be.

      For a while it was really strange to feel loved and appreciated and accepted by friends (what is this good feeling? why is it lasting? why is it not being crippled by extreme anxiety that everyone will find out i’m a fraud? etc etc) I’m working through it with the help of my fantastic therapist, good friends and people in my life in general.

      Just want to say that you deserve to feel good around the people you choose to have around you LW – and thank you so much for sharing your story.

    3. I agree, all the gaslighting and perfectionism and the resulting anxiety and lack of confidence are heartbreaking. I grew up with that, too.

      Therapy really helps! I say this not because I’m a therapist ( although I am) but because I had about 15 years of therapy that literally saved my life, and certainly enhanced my quality of life. I’m still me, but I’m a stronger, happier, less anxious me than I was growing up. Still a bit clumsy, but pretty much okay with it.

  27. Also — if you really are just kind of clumsy, that’s OK. I’m kind of clumsy, which has nothing to do with who I’m around (last time I broke a toe, I was alone in the house) or how I’m feeling, it’s just about the fact that my self/spatial awareness isn’t the best. Sometimes I run into shit. I cope, everyone else copes. I think all the Captain’s advice is really great, but if it turns out that you’re just kind of clumsy because you just are, and there’s no real reason for it, then… you know, whatever. And if your friends really can’t be cool with that, the problem isn’t you, it’s them.

  28. So, I know Captain Awkward has already addressed it, and so have other commenters, but I really, really want to make sure this sinks in for you: when you got to the part about your friend’s comment, I literally backed away from the screen in horror. That is so far over the line that it is no longer even on the same geometric plane. And if you were a drama addict, I don’t think you’d have taken the suggestion to heart in the first place: you would take it for granted that things just happened to you instead of trying to analyze whether you had some agency, and the idea there might be something you could do about it would get you defensive rather than hopeful

    Order Muppets break stuff too, by the way. My friends still joke about the time that I walked through a screen door without opening it first. But I can laugh about it because it hasn’t become the only facet of my personality they recognize. If you’re getting blamed, it might not hurt to ask them to not only join you in taking a step back and analyzing what happened, but to be honest with themselves whether they’d have taken that step first if it had been someone else instead of jumping straight to “Oh, Clumsy, not again!” Hopefully they’ll be willing to try and break the conditioning.

    1. “That is so far over the line that it is no longer even on the same geometric plane.”

      Yes. Also, may I steal that line? 🙂

      1. Is it wrong that when I read that I thought “you’re so far over the line, you can’t even see the line from where you are. The line is a DOT to you!” #JoeyTribbianiSpeaksTheTruth

  29. I have ADHD and difficulty getting all my limbs to go the way they ought to go. I guess I’m like what a Chaos Muppet is. I’m routinely used to leaving things behind on transit, losing important documents, spilling things, dropping things, needing to double back to grab things… Even though everyone in my life is super-chill about it, it’s an undeniable fact that I end up in stressful and/or difficult situations more than most people do, because I didn’t adequately plan or keep track of things.

    When I’m like this, it’s really tempting to come up with a Brilliant Plan for how to fix things (“I’m going to meditate every morning! That will help!”) and this fixes things far less frequently than I’d like it to. The trick I’ve found is to pay careful attention to your life, and ask: What is going on when things go well?

    It’s easy to think that the circumstances of rare good outcomes are flukes or freaks–“It was that one time that I was just really well-rested and nobody was watching and I felt really happy, so it worked out.” But sometimes the seemingly random factors that surround good outcomes are part of what makes them happen. (Like, maybe this implies that sleeping enough, not being surrounded by critical onlookers, and being in a good mood are things that contribute to success!) Then you can seek out those things and do them on purpose.

    Like, I always got told that keeping an agenda was The Way To Remember Things. My teachers sent home so many angry little notes about my seeming ineptitude with remembering homework and deadlines; for a few years I wasn’t allowed to leave school at the end of the day without a teacher signing off that I’d written down all my tasks and assignments, and my parents had to countersign that I’d done them at home. (But nobody ever considered ADHD because… I’m a girl, I guess, and I’m smart.) As an adult, I try to keep things down in my Google Calendar, and yes, it’s necessary to be able to easily consult a list of what I have to do when. However, I noticed that writing things down rarely ensures that I do them–but the things I do achieve, I tend to talk about with friends first. Nothing big; it just enters my speech. “I’d love to hang out Tuesday but I’ve got to drop off some forms at the bank in the afternoon, so maybe in the evening?” And then, magically, on Tuesday I remember that I have paperwork to drop off! So now I make a point to casually build that stuff into my conversation, because something about that helps me remember it much better.

    1. Thanks for your suggestion to look what’s going on when things run smoothly. I tend to overthink everything and also frequently come up with “plans” how I can improve every little aspect of my life and it’s just … tiresome.

  30. oh, i am a chaos muppet. like the mupettiest muppet of chaos known to man. i am also a somewhat old lady now, and do not care. in fact? i am most seriously amused. i mean, stuff happens to me that is so off the chart it isn’t even funny. except that it is. once i realized that the things around me that happen are just things that happen and aren’t a validation of my failure to be a good human being, i started thinking of my life as being a series of unfortunate events – BUT me myself? I AM AWESOME.

  31. So the very first thing I thought was when I heard Chaos Muppet was Cookie Monster. Getting so excited about his passion that he’s flying out of control in excitement devouring cookies and causing chaos? Chaos Muppet… of AWESOMENESS. I mean, who doesn’t love Cookie Monster?!

    Other than that, very good thread, very timely for me too. LW, I am sorry your friends are being jerks. It is okay to be clumsy. It is okay to mess up sometimes. It is okay to break things and then apologize for it. It is not okay to be a total jerk to someone for making a mistake! Did your mistake create or kill a human? No? Then it’s pretty much a reversible problem. The stakes are pretty much never as high as we make them out to be in our head. (Guilty. Totally, totally guilty.)

    The only other thing I have to add is that the other day, I was going on to my therapist about something that was happening and how I was feeling X because of this and that and how I had done Y a bit but then refocused myself and was trying to explain and justify and she said, ” You mean you did X because… you are a person? You know, it’s okay to be a person sometimes.”

  32. “My “role” in my family from growing up is to be the girl who is really book-smart but completely lacks any life skills or common sense and who can’t be trusted to make toast, which is why I moved very far away and have a 3-4 day maximum on visits.”

    Been there, done that! I realized this earlier this year, when I began to spend longer periods of time at my apartment/dorm rather than visiting home every weekend because it was sort of assumed that I would. When i started to crawl out of my shell and get involved in activities at school, I had a reason to stay over weekends, and the more I stayed over, the more I realzied that I felt so much better when I wasn’t at home in the House of Evil Bees. And not only did I feel better, I still managed to survive without losing my keys (which hasn’t happened in the THREE YEARS I’ve been away at school, despire my position as the Disorganized Muppet) or leaving my homework behind or failing to eat. AND, when I DID go home, I ended up feeling crappy and sick (occasionally physically- I got back from an extended visit yesterday, and have been struggling to work up the energy to get out of bed) and self-doubting! All because my mother is a massive control freak (among other things) who would frequently “helpfully” move my stuff around and then get hurt and angry when I politely asked her to stop. Obviously I don’t know if the LW’s friends are in my mother’s mold, but I think it’s worth taking a hard look at the way they interact with the LW and whether or not they’re contributing to the “ha ha! LW is so clumsy and chaos-ridden!” profile.

  33. The five occasional Chaos Muppets I know are highly able, ambitious and helpful people with incredibly high standards. Two (one of which is me) have physical and mental issues which lead them towards clumsiness and confusion. But for all of us, the chaos tends to happen when the plates we have spinning start to wobble. That might be picking up that extra dish when we’re already holding five, or forgetting where we left our car because we’re thinking about our work deadlines and our house move. I think if we looked around we might see that other people take on fewer things, and don’t step up to get involved so much. Giving yourself more space and time to be and observe can feel uncomfortable at first, but it does create more calm.

    Oh, and nuts to anyone who accuses you of attention seeking. They were clearly upset about their stove and thought of the nastiest thing to say that they could get away with.

  34. Hi, LW! The Captain and the Awkwardeers have already given you sterling advice on ways you could resolve your concerns, whether physically, socially or in thinky-stuff. What I wanted to add was that your ‘friend’ has basically compared the unfortunate but everyday accident you had with his stove with the rampaging id monster from Forbidden Planet.* Of the two of you, you are not the one bucking for Dramatic All-Star (Best Unconscious Performance) 2013.

    * In this scenario, Jerry is the stove, an unfortunate casualty of misfortune and quality 50s animation.

    ** Fair warning: there was a trailer for The Conjuring attached to the video which properly gave me the fear. Ugh, evil ghost children are the WORST.

  35. I’m so glad I read this as I’ve definitely moved from being the designated chaos muppet at home to slightly assigning the role to other people in my life, and it has made me rethink some of the casual remarks about disorganisation I sometimes make to my boyfriend.
    I remember being surprised when visiting my very organised Mum’s parents as a child that her nickname was ‘Oops sorry’, naturally she promptly knocked over the xmas tree.
    Considering she spent a lot of my childhood being annoyed about things I’d spilt it may well be a pattern. Hopefully identifying this will stop me continuing it!

  36. Hello, fellow chaos muppet here.
    This letter and response have been very eye opening to me. I never realized that the cause of my exceptional clumsiness could be the friends and family that are constantly berating me for being clumsy. I’ve been called everything from ‘the absentminded professor’ and ‘Murphy’s Law’ to ‘worthless’ by people who supposedly cared about me. Knowing now that this is unhealthy friend behavior, I think I’ll be able to stop from shrinking into the corner when called out on my clumsiness.

    Also, I’ve never seen “Call the Midwife”, though I’ve heard great things. My go-to fictional chaos muppet is Sookie St. James from Gilmore Girls. She was always so focused on making culinary masterpieces that she was constantly singing off her eyebrows, cutting her fingers, and causing stove fires. She kind of ended up being a role model for me, in that despite her clumsiness, she was respected in her field and loved by all.

    1. Absentminded professor. The number of times I was called that and supposed to take it as a compliment, even though it was always said as a means to explaining why I couldn’t/shouldn’t do something. Like “haha, you’re just too smart to be a functional human”… in what universe does that feel GOOD?

      1. I’m beginning to feel that even the idea of “potential” can be a backhanded compliment like that. It’s never meant to be, the intent is always good, but my brain as a child clearly twisted it to mean: “One day, /IF/ you play your cards right, then you’ll really be a worthwhile person.” I’ve started teaching the jerkbrain that approval does not come from external sources, it must come from within – but the jerkbrain is still having a hard time taking the next logical leap. Like, ‘if no one outside can grant ~approval, then omg i’ll /always/ be worthless!’ No, no, jerkbrain, that is not what I meant.

        (It’s like when I stopped believing in the christian god but was nonetheless terrified that I was therefore going to hell. So, I know that jerkbrain can eventually move through the logic & get out of this no-mans-land of worst-of-all-worlds.)

  37. There is an entire syndrome here, beginning with fathers who were raised by three sisters and waited on hand and foot. They expect the world to meet their every need and read their mind before they even know it themselves. They throw adult-sized tantrums if everyone does not conform to their expectations. The children of such fathers become clumsy, fearful, and can show all the symptoms of PTSD.

    The Captain’s script (approx: “This stove can probably be fixed, and I will do everything in my power to make it so, but if you keep speaking to me like that, our relationship, not so much!”) works well here. The thing to keep in mind is that such relationships are not uncommon. People get into them all the time, and sometimes manufacture or simply enjoy them for their rewards. (See “Games People Play”)

    The Schlemiel is the person who breaks three pieces of your stemware during your 25th wedding anniversary. He gets off on being forgiven. After the third breakage, tell him you are not interested in his apology, and that you don’t forgive him. Tell him the name of the manufacturer and the style of stemware, and that you expect all three pieces to be replaced within a month. Jews have a name for this, but I’ve seen this game played by Hindu families as well. I’m sure there are many ethnic equivalents. Laing suggests that no one becomes neurotic without help. Don’t help.

    1. Um… what? I… what?

      Your last paragraph there seems kind of hinky to me, but it’s hard to put my finger on exactly why. It just seems… unkind? Maybe like you’re implying that LW is the a person who “gets off on being forgiven,” which… idk.

      Am I the only one, or does this seem off to anyone else? Someone with more wordpower than me might be able to figure it out.

      1. I think what gets you is the shift from: “LW, the Captain’s script is quite solid” to “Jews have a name for this”

        So, yeah, weird tonal shift. And can we try not to blithely hint that the person in question is doing this to fullfil a subconscious desire for tension and shattered tea cups in their lives? Here’s another angle: People are primed to shift blame in that direction based on self talk like “I’m a chaos muppet, so clearly this is my fault”, and then anything awray is attributed to the LW and woo goes the spiral of chaos.

        What I mean is that Games People Play is a pretty interesting book, and transactional analysis of human interaction can be a worthwhile study, but there’s a order of differences between “I think I’m a chaos muppet, here’s why and how my friends react” and someone who breaks things explicitly for the purpose of being forgiven.

        One has a question, the other is a conniving manipulator out to abuse you out of every scrap of care you can offer. Have a care q:

      2. I think it might be because the commenter seems to be agreeing with the “friend” in the OP, whose comment about the LW doing these things unconsciously to cause drama is SO FAR BEYOND THE LINE OMG. >.<

      3. Eric’s whole comment seems hinky to me.

        Also, important note: if someone is showing all the symptoms of PTSD, they should talk to a counselor, doctor, or therapist about those symptoms. PTSD is a disorder and it can be caused by all sorts of circumstances (car crashes, abuse, etc.) People with PTSD deserve care and support even if they didn’t develop PTSD from what other people view as “legitimate” circumstances.

        1. Yes, I could have been clearer. Sorry about that.

          The first paragraph in my note describes a possible background of the kind of father who criticizes and nitpicks everything his daughter does, from loading the dishwasher to making toast. I’m married to the daughter of one of them.

          The second paragraph agrees with the Captain’s response to the father’s behavior.

          The third paragraph notes that while all the above is true, some people really do get off on being forgiven, and will cause havoc to get forgiveness. That’s not what the original writer describes, but it happens often enough that it should be mentioned.

          I was not arguing against the consensus but affirming it and trying to put it in a context of familly relationships. Again, my apologies, and I hope this clears things up.

  38. I’ve got 26 years of ADHD experience under my belt, and plenty of anxiety and panic-attack inducing mistakes, fuckups, and regrets along wish it, and it’s only in the last year that I’ve come to a realization that I wish I’d made years ago: you need to forgive yourself for your own limitations and stop letting people tell you, indirectly or otherwise, that you should feel ashamed for them.

    My ADHD does not strip me of my responsibility for my errors, but it sure is shit not an excuse for people to treat me like an asshole, either. I make mistakes, but I try my best to be responsible and fix them, even through I often want to run away or hide from the shame and anxiety they produce. Therefore, I deserve the benefit of the doubt that what I do is not malicious. I pay hundreds to thousands of dollars a year on medications, therapy sessions, and medical bills – all this extra just so I can go to work and try to function as normally as possible in a society that is highly intolerant of people who can’t. People who are neurologically typical get to wake up every day and not have to work through an extra set of hurdles just to get through it all, so I’ve learned to stop apologizing for the thing I can’t control. I will do my best to improve but I can, but I’m not going to stress myself out trying to “fix” something that doesn’t need fixed. You can’t tell what a person is going through just by looking at them, so part of being an adult is learning that little bit of empathy that helps you to stand back and study unfortunate behavior fairly before assuming the worst.

  39. I am a clumsy sort myself, and never so much as when I am around my constantly “optimizing” and “correcting” dad. That dude will stand over me as I load the dishwasher, critiquing the placement of every fork and dish
    Oh God, I know this feeling. I used to be dating someone who would constantly nitpick the way I drove: I was going too slow, I was in the wrong lane, he would give me directions even when driving somewhere that I had been to a million times, etc. It made me a worse driver when he was around, and I would make mistakes (not stopping at a stop sign, not noticing certain cars) that I would have NEVER made if I was alone or with another friend. Eventually this led to a small accident (he orders me to change lanes because he wants me to take the highway, the light changes, I’m focused on blind-spot checking and not the dude in front of me being stopped–bad). This kind of behavior is not okay from “friends,” family, or anyone.

  40. Ohhhh, LW, I feel for you right now. Growing up I was never the clumsy one, but I was quiet and weird and antisocial, and that became the story of my entire life. In addition to that, my mother’s (and to a lesser extent, my father’s) favorite activities were concern-trolling my younger sister and me, berating us if we loaded the dishes the wrong way, and sitting us down to have tearful talks about how she was “honestly worried about our ability to survive in the real world.” To her I was quiet and weird and antisocial and childish and incompetent, and so I felt that way, and so I acted that way. Picture my surprise when I went off to college and found myself doing laundry, cooking dinner, washing my dishes, keeping my room neat, dealing with bureacracy, managing finances, making friends, and keeping a scholarship, all with merely a few hiccups, all of which were promptly handled without the total collapse of my entire adult life!

    I just finished my second year and I’m back living with my parents for financial reasons. My room is a wreck, I still don’t have a job, I haven’t really spoken to my friends in several days, I constantly forget to wash the dishes, and I’ve needed to call the bank for a couple weeks now but I’ve been too anxious every time I pick up the phone. August can’t come soon enough. It’s hard to realize sometimes that I am not inherently an incompetent person, that I just feel that way because of the way I have been treated in this house (and still am, though they have gotten much better). The change can really be quite drastic when you surround yourself with people who don’t automatically associate you with incompetence, or forgetfulness, or clumsiness, or any other trait you don’t like.

    1. Oh, that’s rough. Living in a toxic home environment for the summers is awful, because you know you aren’t always like this. Is there any chance that once school starts again, you can use your awesome skills to find another place to stay next summer? You deserve to feel functional.

    2. I’m sorry to hear that its been difficult for you! I hope that you can find ways for you to be kind to yourself (if you haven’t already) – many Jedi hugs your way if you’d like them.

    3. That’s super rough. I hope you’re able to get out of there soon and can find somewhere else to stay next summer. You deserve to be treated with so much more respect than that.

  41. I’ve always been one of those clumsy types but since learning about mindfulness I’ve been able to notice the difference between the times I am really paying attention to what’s happening in the moment, and when I’m doing one thing and my mind is somewhere else completely. When I’m distracted, I’m prone to dropping things, forgetting things, bumping into stuff, etc. When I’m present in the here and now, I can make complex meals, do a big load of shopping without forgetting a single thing, and just generally do things properly and easily.

    My friend is the same way – very clumsy, always losing and forgetting things and running late. She’s been that way ever since we were kids. I see a definite link between her clumsiness and the fact that she is constantly trying to do 15 things at once, so nothing gets done properly.

    I second all the mindfulness suggestions. Make an effort to only do one thing at a time and do it properly before moving on. Try and catch your mind if it’s wandering off and keep bringing it back to the present. If your mind is distracting you with specific things, write them down and return to them later. Practice some breathing exercises. Clumsiness is a state of mind – it’s very possible to change if you work at it, so good luck! Maybe there are interpersonal issues at play that the LW needs to consider too, or maybe it really is just a lack of mindfulness – or both.

  42. LW, I am so seeing myself here. When I was growing up, I went from little-kid-size to adult size over the course of one summer vacation, about 2 months, and, in hindsight, I think trying to deal with that made me (temporarily) somewhat clumsy.

    But my entire family jumped on the bandwagon to start scapegoating me for anything that went wrong, to the point where when I went away to college, the water heater at home failed and flooded the bottom floor of the house, and somehow, even though I was 100 miles away, it was somehow my fault. I was considered ‘bad luck,’ a ‘jinx’, and accident prone, though later evidence revealed that lots of times I was set up to have an accident by family members.

    They used my name, as above, as a synonym for massive screw-ups of all kinds, and it really hurt, but I believed it.

    I have had years of therapy which turned up all sorts of abuse and gaslighting and crazy stuff. Years later, (I’m turning 60 at the end of the year! YAAAY!) I’m still trying to convince myself that I’m really pretty okay. I’m mostly convinced, but as you can see, it takes practice and self-love to overcome being put in that kind of place.

    My husband is always ‘catching me being graceful’ and it’s very sweet of him. None of the people in my life now think of me as clumsy or accident-prone. They certainly don’t point out my mistakes. I have no contact any more with my family of origin, for that reason and many others.

    It’s important to remember to listen to what you say to yourself about this kind of thing. Can you drive a car? Open a wine bottle? Ride a bike? If so, you’re not all that chaotic, in my opinion. Remind yourself that most of the time you do just fine and you probably don’t have any more incidents than anybody else; somebody just draws more attention to yours than to their own.

    One of the things I do when I have something happen (break a dish, spill food, trip over my own feet) is, I talk to myself inside my head as if there was a little kid in there who made a mistake. I say things like, it’s okay, everybody makes mistakes, it’s okay not to be perfect, you’re still lovable, it’s just (a dish, a little spill, whatever), it doesn’t mean anything about you as a person. Even big mistakes ( like when I totally busted my ex-boyfriend’s truck) aren’t some sinister evil thing I’m doing AT anybody. Just mistakes.

    So I’m telling you that, too, LW. You made it this far and it’s really not nice that other people make a point of drawing attention to the little mistakes that happen. Even the big ones are just mistakes. If somebody is standing at your elbow criticizing or waiting to pounce, that’s reason enough to kick something over and escape into chaos. Don’t let them do that to you.

    I hope this is helpful. I’ve lived it and I know it feels lousy to think of yourself as somehow not as cool as the people around you. You might actually be cooler.

    1. “But my entire family jumped on the bandwagon to start scapegoating me for anything that went wrong, to the point where when I went away to college, the water heater at home failed and flooded the bottom floor of the house, and somehow, even though I was 100 miles away, it was somehow my fault. I was considered ‘bad luck,’ a ‘jinx’, and accident prone, though later evidence revealed that lots of times I was set up to have an accident by family members.”

      Last year I had the first of many conversations/arguments to confront my mother. She is seemingly clinically narcissistic and generally is, at best — critical, at worst — exploding at me over something insignificant (e.g. eating the last piece of cake) or otherwise degrading me. During this fight she scapegoated me for our desktop getting a virus years ago. What happened was she had googled her name, clicked something, and the computer got a trojan. When we fought she said, “You would use the computer all the time and nothing goes wrong. I use it, click a link, and we get a virus!”…so therefore the virus was my fault. It is indeed tough to feel as if people blame your mere existence on their problems.

  43. I always felt clumsy and awkward growing up – I was always one of, if not the tallest girl in my class/camp age group/friend group, and I always felt awkward in my own skin. I unfortunately also live with a mother who likes to micromanage when possible. But I’ve grown into my own body, my mom manages less, and while I’m still clumsy to an extent, it’s very minor, less frequent, and often comes from just not paying close enough attention.

    That said, I sometimes still feel a little incompetent depending on who I’m with. It’s happening less with my high school friend group (with whom I was always the incompetent one), though after reading this letter I realized that this sometimes happens with my boyfriend. Example: I’ve sliced my own bagels for years now (even if I don’t make the halves very even), but he always thinks I’m going to cut myself doing it. Now whenever we have bagels I just give him the knife and explain “you cut them more evenly” and it avoids the problem.

    I’m going to start paying more attention to this now, and address it if need be. Thanks, Cap’n!

  44. LW, I think the captain’s advice is great. Keep in mind too that even though your friends are putting you in this position to a certain extent, they and you are also victims of “confirmation bias.” http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/06/23/confirmation-bias/ They are pretty much only remembering the times that you cause chaos, and forgetting the times when everything goes normally. (It could also because of “availability” the times when you have incidents are much more memorable and so they overestimate how frequently they happen.)

    So it’s not just that you’ve been put in this role, it’s also that your brain and their brains are remembering stuff in a way that exacerbates this role. And that is going to make it harder for them to stop seeing you this way.

    (Also, Captain, was your dad an Engineer? Because mine was, and we could probably converse about all the things we do wrong.)

    1. “They are pretty much only remembering the times that you cause chaos, and forgetting the times when everything goes normally”

      This along with the corollary “Nobody notices what I do until I don’t do it” is the main factor in my anxiety, and quickly magnifies what really is a minor mistake into a huge, unforgivable character flaw. It’s always the single time I chipped a glass/left a light on two minutes too long/put the plates in the wrong side of the rack that earns me the ten-minute “I trust you with one thing and you fuck it up why do you have to go and ruin everything?” lecture with certain family members and friends.

      I remember to apologize, offer to fix it, and promise not to do it again for the most part, but being treated that way while never acknowledging the times I do it right makes me even less confident in my skills, leading to more clumsiness with a side serving of “it doesn’t matter if I do it right 99 times, it’s the one mistake that no one will forgive or forget, equaling GAME OVER I FAIL AT LIFE FOREVER”. CA’s and the commentariat’s advice definitely helps in recognizing and reining in that black-and-white thinking. Hope this helps, LW.

  45. Mindfulness hasn’t worked particularly well for improving my coordination or forgetfulness. In my case the concept of poka-yoke (Japanese for mistake-proofing) was a revelation. The idea as I’ve internalized it is to make it easy to do the right thing. You set up the environment so that you have to make an extra effort to make a mistake. The path of least resistance will get the task done without accidents. For example, my car won’t turn on unless the gear is in park. My undergrad ergonomics class was also useful, as ergonomics/human factors engineering have spent a lot of time figuring out minimum-coordination ways to get stuff done.

    The commenters above have a good point about being trapped in a bad story. The previous paragraph only applies to stuff that bugs you, not anyone else. For one thing, it’s a fair bit of work. For example, I don’t much care if a food falls off my fork before it reaches my mouth, so long as it lands on my plate and not my clothes (which is why the utensils move vertically most of the way and only move horizontally after the rest of the bite is stable). It may be that mostly, clumsiness doesn’t bug you and the main issue is your friend’s narrative (side-eye to the “unconsciously, to cause drama” comment in particular).

  46. Mindfulness and paying attention. We’ve had a bit of an epiphany here. My always clumsy and forgetful husband (don’t ask about the family background/ dyslexia etc) had a heart attack with bonus brain injury from anoxia a few months ago. He’s had a couple of months of rehab after a month in hospital, including a week in induced coma, but there are lots of problems that still need attention and improvement. In particular, “scanning” the environment – which includes things like a kitchen bench as well as checking stairs before venturing up or down, and “planning & execution” of tasks – which might be as simple as getting dressed all the way through to doing his physio exercises.

    The solution? We have introduced a 5 second, 10 second, 20 second pause rule for him to select how much attention needs to be paid to looking at something before beginning a task. And a similar, 5, 10, 20 second review of the environment when done. The pause forces him to think about, for example, whether, how and how much to use his now weakened and tremor affected right hand. Which works to steady him physically and make that hand more usable in the first place. Win all round.

    After using the kitchen for something, a pause to check that things are where they should be and, especially, for spills and crumbs left from his not-so-adept handling of foods and drinks. Good for reinforcing the scanning skills we all use automatically before starting an activity. Getting some automaticity into such things is the plan.

    For those who feel that their issues are partly, if not entirely, physical, I can’t recommend Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself strongly enough. It’s about “practice makes perfect” and “use it or lose it” learning strategies as well as about therapies for dealing with various problems. (I’ve also used one example from the book as a not-quite-threat for himself about using his weak hand. I’ve bought a sling, prominently displayed in the bedroom – which is used in therapy for stroke victims to immobilise a _good_ arm and force more use and exercise of a limb weakened by hemiplegia. He does his occupational and physio therapy exercises pretty regularly, but he’s inclined to prefer the stronger hand at other times, until I remind him.)

    1. And by the way. This is my chance to nag everyone to learn CPR.

      I was lucky enough to have a top-notch emergency phone operator to coach me through (crook joints means I couldn’t kneel), but you can’t guarantee that. If you’ve learned how to do it properly, including memorising the earworm rhythm of “Stayin’ Alive”, even if the phone operator is not very skilful, the adrenaline surge will carry you through for a good while.

      1. They played this video in my last first aid class. (BTW, if you haven’t done one in a couple of years, a refresher is a good idea. Skills degrade over time.)

  47. So, in college, I was the weird one. The one who would space out in the middle of conversations and then come back in with a totally off the wall comment. I was always late to get togethers and would make poor life decisions semi-regularly. And my friends thought it was hilarious, and they literally did the thing where they used my name instead of saying so and so did a strange thing. At first I thought this was funny, because I could see their point. I’ve always been very good at laughing at myself because to be honest, I think I am pretty funny and I do some of those things on purpose to make people laugh. But when that’s all they saw me as, and when literally everything I did became dismissed as me being weird and strange, I put my foot down. I said I no longer enjoyed this game. And you know what? They felt so bad they devoted an entire week to me. I got balloons and signs and a Facebook group. And they really stopped with the teasing. And I didn’t even have to change me! We could all laugh together when I couldn’t recognize the guy I hooked up with (trust me, it’s a hilarious story) and I didn’t feel bad.

    So what I’m saying is, if your friends don’t do the same thing when you tell them to get off your back, they are not really your friends.

  48. My stomach dropped reading the Captain’s reply here. I was identified as ‘the clumsy one’ growing up, and have a father very much like the one she described. Extremely neurotic, controlling about the tiniest details, fusses about things that would not be on most people’s radars. Loading the dishwasher was a nightmare. Weekend mornings were awful–he would make breakfast, and then end up blowing up and screaming at everyone for not helping him correctly. If we didn’t help, we would get screamed at for being lazy. But trying to help him was the worst, because he expected us from a very young age to know the ‘right’ way to do everything. So I would mess up a lot. And, it literally never occurred to me til I read this that it might connected in some way to my physical chaos.

    I don’t have vision in one eye and thus no depth perception, so misjudging and walking into things happens to me a *lot*. Not as much if I slow down, but some of it’s unavoidable. I also have a weird effect where things break around/on me when I have very obviously done nothing. My friend once laid a string of pearls on my hands and the second it touched me it snapped and the pearls flew everywhere. This happens to me a fair bit, and my friends and I all comment on it in a fairly positive amused way. It’s much different than how I felt growing up. I’ll never be the most graceful person around, but not panicking that I’m going to be subject to an hour-long tirade because I raked the leaves wrong means I don’t mess up nearly as much.

  49. There is a lot of good advice here already, so I feel justified in asking:

    What on earth is a vintage oven? Is that code for “a crappy oven”? Or was this like a medieval Aga that was cooked upon by the entire cast of Downton Abbey? I’m obsessed with this now.

    1. I would assume it means a high-quality oven that is somewhere between 40 and 100 years old, though definitions vary.

      1. I have a vintage oven. It’s a GE from 1955, teal, with a temp gauge hat has to be-re-calibrated every time it’s cleaned/a big roasting pan hits the thermocouple. High quality it’s not (although the teal is super cute!)

        I don’t love it, but I’ll be super-sad when it finally breaks because it’s a non-standard size and built into the cabinetry. Therefore dead oven = new kitchen cabinets 😦

    2. My uncle has a vintage oven, which looks a lot like what you see if you Google image search for “1940s oven”). He loves it partly because it was the oven his grandmother (my great-grandmother) used when he was a child and partly because it has some features that are nonstandard or expensive on a modern oven (multiple warming ovens, a built-in griddle, etc.). (It is a pretty spiffy oven.)

    3. What on earth is a vintage oven? Is that code for “a crappy oven”?

      Lol, I wondered the same thing. And because the “friend” in the OP sounded like a jerk*, I briefly pictured playing a round of Hipster One-upmanship with him: “Oh. This is the vintage oven you’ve been telling us about? *Yawn* Let me show you my adobe horno.

      *In all seriousness, accusing the LW of subconsciously seeking drama is pure douchebaggery.

    4. Also, what sort of oven BREAKS from having water poured on it? Isn’t that pretty much an expected occurrence? Pots boil over, stuff spills…. if this oven was so immensely fragile that a water spill would hurt it, shouldn’t the friend have it covered in plastic wrap or something?

  50. Ahhh I just had a jacket fight with my dad too!! The jacket was also not of optimal thickness!!

    Me describing my anxiety to my therapist a few weeks beforehand: Like, for example, if I bring a jacket somewhere and it’s not EXACTLY right, if I’m slightly too cold or too warm, it’s all I can think about. I can’t focus on or enjoy anything happening around me, I’m just berating myself for being so stupid and choosing the wrong jacket, and the whole day is ruined.

    And then a few weeks later: No, Dad, this jacket will be fine. Yes, I understand it gets cold at night. I checked the weather forecast and this jacket will be fine. No, I don’t need to borrow one of yours. This jacket will be fine.

    Then of course the lightbulb went on in my head.

  51. Aaargh, the lights and the coat. Endless variations of:

    “Hey, that looks pretty comfortable, but isn’t the light kind of wrong?”
    “No, I’m fine, thank you”
    “I can turn this thing on and you’ll have a lot more light”
    “I assure you, I can read just fine”
    “Here, I’ve turned it on, isn’t is much better?”
    “The difference is minimal, but I guess it’s better, thank you”
    “Actually what if I move this lamp over here instead?”
    “I don’t know”
    “Man, you never take the time to get really comfortable. Here, what if I add a pillow?”
    “Yeah, the light is better now but I’ll bring in another lamp and here, scoot, I’ll jam this pillow down your back”
    “I… I’m reading… can I… what?”
    “[Jams pillow down between me and seat] There! Isn’t this much better? Now don’t move, I’ll bring in another lamp and… still need to adjust this one”
    “Nevermind, I think I’ll just go for a walk”.
    “No, no, stay. I’ve got you three more lamps and here’s a blanket and another pillow”
    “[Muffled sounds from beneath a mountain of blankets and pillows illuminated in harsh, flourescent light]
    “Another job well done. Toodle-pip!”

    I know what he’s actually saying is: “I love you and want you to be comfortable”, but, LW, I have to constrain myself from fiddling endlessly with the lights in my own apartment because, hey, maybe I can make it all just slightly better for ambient light levels…

    The relevance? The relevance is this: If you accept a given attribute as inherent to you, then any event that can be attributed to that tends to be. That’s tautological and obvious, right? So you’re a Chaos Muppet, and weird things happen around you, so any weird things happening is ultimately your fault entirely, damn you you chaos muppet and I can’t read a book without fiddling with the lights for eight hours and buying a new couch because I never try to get really comfortable, damn my laziness.

    Keep track. You’ll break something in your life, it’s practically inevitable given all one does in a day, but how much weird stuff *actually happens* that’s directly tracable to you? And how much is just some half gist left over people tend to blame on you?

    Setting up an internal difference between what happens and what people think happens goes a long way towards realizing that, well, you have not been cursed by eldritch forces beyond mortal comprehension to shatter teacups and destroy stoves from ‘ere till the dawning of a new age, verily. Some accidents just happen.

    (And if you have, that’s a different advice column, I think)

    1. I want to read the “what do you do if you’ve been cursed by eldritch forces?” advice column pretty bad, don’t you?

      1. I really want to run away and start writing that column, but I am not sure I am funny enough or have enough time. I think you need a team to handle problems like that, anyway.

      2. Hope this is okay!

        So you’ve been cursed by an eldritch horror!

        1) It’s okay to panic.

        Often people’s reactions — and our own internalized reactions — advise that we not panic in the face of such an upset. Some of this stems from a desire not to rock the boat, particularly if we’re still in the middle of the eldritch-horror-exposure situation. Some of it is an “ostrich” reaction: if others don’t see you panicking about the curse, then they can pretend that it doesn’t exist and therefore they are safe from it. It’s a natural reaction, and one that you will unfortunately be running into a lot from here on out.

        However, it’s also completely unhelpful. For crying out loud, you’ve just been noticed and condemned by an ineffable, unknowable evil! You may or may not have tentacles growing where they shouldn’t be! Your grasp of the mutual agreement we call “reality” may have been shredded to near-breaking point! If anyone has cause to panic, you do!

        Seriously, telling someone who’s just been cursed by the Neverclosed Eye to “just calm down is a little” like telling someone who’s just had their leg eaten to “walk it off.” If you haven’t been through a cursing situation, then it’s unlikely you can understand how bone-deep the instinct to curl up in a corner and shiver can get. But as with any traumatic event, the important thing is what you do after you panic. (You can still continue to panic, though. There’s no statute of limitations on panicking when it comes to these things.)

        2) It is not your fault.

        “But I opened the hidden vault!” “But I read too deep in the Necronomicon without adequate lighting!” “But I built my house over the old sealed well!” Yes, these things may be true. So what?

        No, really. So damn what? If we were talking divine retribution here, then you might have a reason to think that you’ve done something to deserve this curse. (And even then, there are quite a few arguments to be made against it.) But right now, we’re talking unfathomable sentiences, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, and more to the point, ineffable.

        Eldritch horrors don’t need a reason to curse. Eldritch horrors just curse. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Eldritch horrors don’t give a shit about causality, and they don’t have great aim, and frankly, they should know better. After all, they’re in the position of cosmic power; using it to smite little finite intelligences such as ourselves is just wrong.

        This may be hard to hold on to, especially if your friends and family are asking what you did to trigger this curse. Keep in mind that where eldritch horrors are concerned, if you hadn’t done one thing, you’d have done another. It doesn’t matter what you did; it matters that here and now, you have to deal with the curse.

        It’s also a short hop from “I brought this on myself” to “we as a species have brought this on ourselves.” This may seem like a stretch now, but gaslighting oneself is one of the primary side effects of eldritch curses. You may want to watch yourself for uncharacteristic thought patterns, particularly those that identify with the eldritch horror in question. If you find yourself experiencing moments of alien clarity or realizations of how we are only bugs fit to be ground beneath the gelid heel of Yog-Sothoth, then you may want to find a reliable third party to talk to just so you can be sure these are your thoughts and not echoes of the blasted waste within which terrors dwell. Which brings us to…

        3) You are not alone.

        It’s easy to feel that no one else has ever been in such a pit of horror as you, and if we concentrate on the specifics, it’s possible that’s the case. However, curses by eldritch horrors are rarely a one-person thing, and there are others in similar situations out there — more and more lately as the stars align and Case Nightmare Green becomes a reality!

        What this means for you is that there are support groups out there. Too Many Tentacles (TMT) is based in Innsmouth, but they have divisions all over the world, and chances are there’s a group local to you. Thousand Young, Thousand Old is internet-based, but for IRL interaction they have a support line that can give a list of recommended therapists who’ve had interactions of this sort in the past. As with any therapy or support group, though, make sure you vet them first. The Pasadena division of Squamous Out! recently had some issues with overidentification, and they’ve since broken and formed their own less-than-helpful group. (I’m not naming any names, but if I did they’d rhyme with Schmultists-of-the-Ichor-God-Bel-Shahamroth (Unreformed Division).)

        And then there’s your family and friends and whoever you have decided is on Team You. (Hint: if any of aforementioned family and friends are still in the “you must have done something to draw this curse upon you” stage, they’re not reliable members of Team You.) Talking about the curse with them may be difficult, depending on the curse in question. If it’s against you and all your lineage, for example, you may want to sit down with your partner to reassess birth control measures. If it involves physiological changes, now’s the time to think about your new needs and whether they’re reasonable within a relationship. (Hint: Saltwater baths=fine. Hamster snacks=less fine.)

        Just remember that what you’re going through now may not be natural, but it can be manageable. Hang in there.

        1. I ❤ you forever and ever.

          Ladies & Gentlemen, I present Margaret Ronald, author of the Evie Scelan novels (Spiral Hunt, Wild Hunt, Soul Hunt) and numerous short fictions of great deliciousness.

          If you are ever like, man, Captain Awkward knows the coolest people, it’s because I do. Present company, as in, all of you, included.

          1. Love you too, Captain. Thanks for writing all this, and for being awesome.

            Credit where credit’s due: Case Nightmare Green is from Charles Stross’ Laundry novels, and the Reformed-Cultists-of-the-Ichor-God-Bel-Shahamroth are from Terry Pratchett.

        2. OMG Awesome!!!! I had to look up eldritch horrors. (Just BTW, if you do that and end up at the ‘live action tv’ section of ‘eldritch abominations’ on tvtropes.org, you will notice that Doctor Who has literally four times as many examples as any other show.)

          1. Doctor Who has four times as many examples of basically everything. That’s because one, it’s been around for fifty years (really! November 23rd this year is the anniversary. Yes, I am a HUGE geek), and two, the Doctor is *really* bad at not opening interesting-looking doors, books, boxes, computer files, etc…

  52. When I was fourteen, I suddenly grew three inches, got boobs and started falling over at least once a day. My clumsiness was almost certainly caused by the sudden growth-spurt (brains take a while to get used to body changes, s’why so many teens are clumsy), but very quickly my friends started referring to tripping UP the stairs as “doing a Rachel”. My mother, much like the Captain’s father, lives in the land of YOU WASTED SO MUCH DRAWER OPENING ENERGY!!! and it became the dominant narrative of my teen years that I am scatterbrained, “blonde”, untidy, disorganized etc etc etc.

    In fact, the last time I saw my mother, she said to me “Why is your house so clean?”

    This week I dropped and broke both a plate and a glass. The plate-breaking was a magnificent slow-motion misjudge-where-the-sink-is-and-smash-the-plate-on-the-edge-of-it-like-someone-in-a-barfight. Yet I have not been described as clumsy in years, because I changed the narrative by getting away from my mother, getting new friends and by not to think about myself that way.

    LW, you are not a chaos muppet. Things happening around you doesn’t mean they have anything to do with you. You don’t have a disorganized aura or a shadow that hides peoples keys. You are hanging out with people who make you feel shitty about yourself though and who blame you for their misfortunes.

  53. Wow, thank you everyone here. I struggle with being accident prone but you have just made me realise that some of my accidents are me trying desperately not to be weak or useless. I’ve had shoulder trouble for a couple of weeks, might be a trapped nerve I’m waiting for a referral to get it checked out and sorted. It let up for a couple of days and I was so determined to catch up, do my fair share etc… that I tried to carry a heavy wet rug down stairs on my own, missed a step and landed on a shoe spraining my ankle. Then determined not to let this make me like I had been the previous two weeks (tired, unmotivated and incapable) I went and worked on some jewellery and bashed my head hard enough to leave a massive bruise. It could have been worse considering the tools I was working with. I have no idea how to fix this cycle but you’ve made me realise it is there and that is a start.

    1. Do you know The Spoon Theory? There’s this ordinary societal narrative that people shouldn’t have limits and that it’s virtuous and good to constantly push yourself further than you feel comfortable going. On the other hand, as Spoon Theory shows, people who live with acute physical limitations all the time have learned that knowing your limits and being able to carefully budget your energy so you don’t exceed them are actually important, useful skills.

      1. I hadn’t come across that, it is really amazing story and analogy thanks. I’ve been trying to unpick this all weekend so this is sort of on the fly musing still. I’m not sure yet whether I swing from not pushing myself at all to pushing myself too hard or whether sometimes I just don’t have enough spoons.

        It does seem hard when your motivation doesn’t necessarily sync nicely with your capability or number of spoons. If only I could be crazily motivated when I feel 100% and not when I don’t. I’m a little worried that I need something to push against to feel motivated and just don’t mind slacking about when I face no adverse conditions. Along with an unhelpful sense that I’m always sick and I have to make up for it when I’m not.

        At the very least I need to be more careful with my health and not let a bout of overly abundant motivation of any kind push me passed safe limits.

        1. I work on an IT Helpdesk and I think I have a high number of sporks but if weren’t being able to immediately rant about the previous call to co-workers 9 out of 10 times I’d run out a lot quicker.

  54. I think another aspect of this is people seeing what they expect to see. So once your family/friends get the notion that you’re clumsy or accident-prone, they notice every time you knock over a water glass, while your other friend/sibling can cause a 10-car pileup by driving carelessly and because they’ve been blessed with the label “graceful” or “naturally athletic” or “coordinated” or whatever, and it goes under the heading “shit happens” and everyone will rush to reassure that person that it wasn’t their fault.

    My label when I was younger was as an obsessive, antisocial reader. I still read a lot, but I’ve gotten tons better about being able to tune into things around me, and to put down a book and walk away because I’ve realized the great thing about books is they wait for you! But when visiting my mom, or when she visits me, I feel like I’m the one person in the family who can’t pick up a book without getting a little dig about it. EVERYBODY else in the family can pick up a book, and they’re just enjoying themselves. If I do I’m “tuning everyone out.”

    1. Oh wow, me too. I was the only one in my primary school who was ever threatened with detention unless I stopped reading during recess, and my best friend at the time had actually figured out how to read in the shower so that’s saying something.

        1. Haha. Well, we had a shower with a curtain when I was a teenager and I would lie on my back with my legs up, and put my head out so the rim was under my neck with a rolled up towel to keep my head up, and the curtain over my breasts so my arms were free for my book but it wouldn’t get wet. 😀 SO GOOD. So wasteful. >_>

          I STILL want to design a grey-water system where you can switch your water from actually-washing shower water to lying-in-lovely-shower water (I don’t like baths.)

        2. They had a strange kind of bathtub with a seat, so she used to sit down and prop a book up on the shampoo stand – it was kind of specific solution. 🙂

        3. I use a gallon ziplock bag with my Kindle in the bath. Oddly, that’s made me more likely to use the ebook reader in the tub than a paper book because I’m much less likely to do damage

          1. I do the same thing! I wouldn’t, you know, hold the device underwater even so (I am not *that* inclined to press my luck….), but it protects against random splashes or accidentally-dipped corners beautifully, and the ziplock is clear enough that I can read through it easily.

      1. I used to read assigned novels from Englsih class for pleasure in other classes. NERDS UNITE.

      2. Lol I can relate xD
        I spent at least 90% of my primary school life in detention for reading in class… usually after I’d completed the set task in 5 minutes flat xD
        Thinking back, they really should have given me more challenging tasks to do, instead of trying to punish me for being bored out of my mind xD
        (I spent most of the detentions doing exactly what I would have done if I didn’t have detention: reading :P)

    2. I got the same label 😦

      When I was about 14, I went overseas for about two weeks on a student exchange program. While packing, I experienced that panic of “What if I get bored? I should take something to read… but I don’t know what I’ll feel like reading… I guess I’ll just pack several of my favourite books then…”

      Then I went on my trip. When I came back, my school and parents immediately sent me to counseling for being anti-social because I took so many books. Nevermind that I followed all the advice of spending time with the host family, making myself visible… and didn’t even read all that much except on public transport and stuff. No, instead, simply by the fact of packing so many books (and also not becoming fast friends with ALL the other young people participating in the program), I was a social failure who must be fixed ==’

      (I’ve managed to make most people forget about this perception of me somehow, and am now considered a fully functioning adult. To the point that people are often surprised when they find out that I still struggle with social insecurities >_>)

    3. Dang. My parents do that also. About the books. Although usually now when I pick one up in company, it is because I am BORED TO TEARS by the conversation or there is no conversation. See: I only really do this at my parents’ house.

  55. “For someone so intelligent I don’t understand and how you can do such stupid things”

    Yup, catch cry of my childhood. One I thought I’d grown out of but reading this, I haven’t. Whenever SO is watching me (he sounds like a more benign version of Cap’s dad- it MUST be done presicley like THIS and how did I end up with such a SMART girl who fails at such BASIC things) I fumble, drop, forget and otherwise fumble what I’m doing, especially driving. We both know how that one goes and he admits I’m a good driver, he just can’t stop criticising the way I do it. I now fuse to drive him anyway and he accepts that.

    I definitely find slowing down and focusing helps, as does disengaging from other activities- it’s just not possible for me to multitask, especially if anything reading related is involved. I need to switch of and focus on the task at hand.

    All that aside, I think I bloody well have the right to be clumsy and forgetful. I have a bajillion other qualities and as long as its not affecting the quality of anyone else’s life, so what? The only person that suffers (in my case) is me. If I make a mess, I’m the one who cleans it up. Apart from a few cups, all I’ve broken is my own stuff. And my psychotic morning disarray inconveniences no one but myself.

    1. “For someone so intelligent I don’t understand and how you can do such stupid things”) plus any mistake or mishap was followed by “What’s WRONG with you?” were the refrains of my childhood as well. Not that was an unfortunate thing you did/choice you made/thing that happened to you, but “what’s wrong with you?” Oh, also, that wasn’t a rhetorical question. I would have to stand there until I answered. If you frame a question at a little kid that way enough times, eventually they start looking for the list of things that are wrong with them and default to “something must be wrong with me when bad things happen” as an explanation.

      1. Yep, my life as well.

        Also, as you mentioned in your response, many of my mishaps weren’t actually mishaps…or at least, it may be a horrific mistake one day and pretty acceptable behavior on another day. As an example, sometime last June we had cake at the house. I took the last slice and my mother lost her mind, screaming, calling me names. A week later we happened to have cake again, some other kind of cake:

        Me: “Can I have the last piece of cake?”
        Mom: “Sure, you don’t have to ask.”

        Makes you constantly question your reality and feel like you are losing your mind.

        1. Oh my god, that is my mom. She spent my entire childhood/adolescence vacillating between “HOW DARE YOU EAT THAT!” and “have however much you want!” It didn’t help that she was also constantly putting me onto wildly different diets and/or exercise programs. If we were around the rest of the family, she would pull me aside for terse, whispered guilt-trips about how I needed to leave food for other people if I got a second spoonful of whatever (when there were two casseroles full and we never, ever ran out of food) half the time, and the other half she’d encourage me to get seconds before everyone else had even gotten their food. Such a mindfuck.

          It took me years to have a healthy relationship with food. Even now, I still worry about if I’m getting too much food at any kind of public gathering where food is served, and at family events that involve food (all of them), if she’s there, I still cringe at the memory of getting told off for eating too much.

          My former stepdad sounds a LOT like the captain’s, and some of his bad, controlling habits bled into my mom’s approach to me and my brother, even after they divorced. I know some of what my mom did was because worse stuff was happening to her (almost all of her narcissistic traits dropped off drastically after her divorce, for example, and looking back, my ex-stepdad was totally gaslighting all of us, but especially my mom). She’s married to a much more mellow, non-controlling person now, and it has done wonders. We get along a lot better now, even if I’ll never really feel totally at ease eating around her.

        2. Ooof yes. It also made me question the fuck out of any compliments my parents gave me – because on one hand, Yay positivity! But on the other, the narrative was also a constant – “Youre so smart, why do you do that?”

          Ugh. UGH.

        3. Do you watch Dr. Who? Because this reminds me a bit of my family, too, and I’m thinking it’s like the Vashta Nerada of familial relationships–not everything you do is wrong, but anything you do could be wrong.

          My mom can reverse tactics within *the same conversation*, and it’s almost literally whiplash inducing. Like the time she went from furious with me because I was speaking to my sister and trying to give her some emotional support, to accusing me of abandoning my siblings and not having enough contact with them.

          It’s never really about what you have or haven’t done. It’s about making you be wrong no matter what.

          1. During a huge ‘breaking the status quo’ argument with my mother in the past several months I said, “You counter me, literally, seemingly, just to counter me,” regarding whenever I voice a thought/opinion. I told a friend if I were to say, 2 + 2 = 4, I imagine she’d say, “Don’t be so negative, it’s 5.”

      2. TW: for shitty parenting, mention of physical abuse, and because even typing this out made my shoulders start inching up to my ears.

        I also got the “What’s wrong with you?” stuff.

        Actual interaction that happened as a young teen.

        Mother: Pass me that blanket up there. (Points vaguely to an area with several blankets.)
        Me: This one? (Pointing to one.)
        Mother: No, the other one.
        Me: This one?
        Mother: (Really ramping up the irritability.) No. Not that one. The other one. (Now I’m grabbing randomly.) That one there. (Now I’m fumbling.) What’s wrong with you? For CHRIST’S SAKE. The blue one!
        Me: (In such a rush to grab blue blanket that I drag it down, unfolding it, hitting myself on the chin and scratching myself with my thumbnail.)
        Mother: Now, you’ve unfolded it. Pull it together at the corners.
        Me: (begins to fold it lengthwise)
        Mother: You’re doing it wrong. (She grabs blanket from me.) I have to do everything myself. (notices blood on my chin) What have you done to yourself. You’re so clumsy.

        In retrospect, it’s like, wow, lady, you are really bad at communicating, and kinda suck, and your history of physical and verbal abuse make me likely to freak out when your voice gets raised, so that’s what’s wrong with me.

        I haven’t been in contact with her for about six years and I wonder if she has any insight into why that might be.

        1. Yes, I’ve had similar interactions with my mother, with the same vague “Pass me that thing,” being furious that I can’t read her mind, chaos ensuing, etc.

          For a while my body would just automatically clench up when I heard my mother coming downstairs, just bracing myself for screaming whether or not she was even angry. And frankly, I live with my parents now and whenever I hear someone walking around upstairs or coming down the stairs my body is hypervigilant.

          1. One of my dad’s favorite things when I was a child was to send you looking for something in a totally disarrayed freezer/workbench/cabinet, and when you can’t find it, come yell at you that it’s “RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU, OPEN YOUR EYES” while he moves 75 things to dig it out from the back of wherever it is located. Awesome, right?

        2. Yeah, that is a familiar story to me. Along with “WHY ARE YOU CRYING. STOP CRYING. GOD, YOU’RE SENSITIVE.”

          1. My dad did a lot of this stuff too. I think the thing that stopped it bring really abusive was that my mum stuck up for us, and said things like, “For Gods’s sake, they’re five and seven – of course they spill stuff!” and, “He’s tring not to cry, but he’s scared because you’re shouting at him!” I hashed the arguments that my parents had, but they were probably very protective for us because they showed us that it was my dad was being really unreasonable. It’s weird to be seven or eight and KNOW that your dad is utterly unreasonable and frequently wrong,.but it’s better than not knowing it and wondering what’s wrong with you.

          2. Yeah…what made it particularly hard was that no one stood up for me, ever. My dad always supported my mother in whatever her behavior was, assuming he didn’t just stay out of it completely, and then no one save for my college best friend and my mother’s youngest sister took anything I said about her seriously. At best, they thought I was exaggerating or something because she’s very much Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, at worst, it was dismissed as “typical” mother-daughter bickering. Although as you said, it’s very weird to know how very unreasonable, irrational, and just plain wrong your parent is as a seven-year-old. It wasn’t until last year, when I was TWENTY-seven, that I started to realize that her behavior was flat-out abusive, understand that she will never entirely change, and come to terms with the way my relationship with her (among other factors) has really affected me throughout my life.

            On a related note, recently I read a book about daughters with narcissistic mothers, it said that most of these mothers tend to fall into one of six categories. It somewhat amused me that “The Secretly Mean” was its own category.

          3. Errrrrggggghhhhh the story of my liiiiiiiiifffffeeeeeeeeeeeee. Took me to my mid/late 20s to realise that getting angry and shouting at someone who cries at the end of The Little Mermaid IS WEIRDER AND MORE WRONG THAN CRYING AT THE END OF THE LITTLE MERMAID

          4. There’s nothing wrong with crying at the end of The Little Mermaid. I cry at the end of A Little Princess (the Shirley Temple version) EVERY.SINGLE.TIME.

            I’m also the only person I know who thought Silence of the Lambs was funny.

          5. I think they all go to the same school somewhere to learn this thing. There seriously has to be a textbook somewhere. Although I eventually figured out that, while they did blame me for being over-sensitive when I started crying hysterically, it made them switch from outright yelling to mere contempt, and that meant I could escape to my room.

        3. I was also constantly accused of being clumsy and uncoordinated growing up. It’s taken me years to realize that my dad is really bad at explaining things. Anytime he decided to “teach” me something physical – like how to throw/catch a softball, how to drive a stick shift, how to goal-keep on the soccer team – it ended with him screaming insults at me and me sobbing. My dad’s way of “teaching” involves standing several feet away from you and barking complicated, difficult-to-follow orders, and then losing his temper when you can’t put them together.

          I have since realized, it wasn’t me. I am not uncoordinated, any more than most normal people. My dad just sucks at explaining.

      3. Yes. This. Yes.

        I still have a lot of trouble with this. There are a lot of things that stick out in my memory, but I’ll give you some examples.
        Backstory: When I was fifteen and Dad was at the height of his abusiveness, he unplugged my computer and threw it in the bin because I “used up too much internet” and “spent too much time online” (that year, I was doing “School of the Air” and the only time I was allowed to use the phone was for classes, so the computer was almost my only way of contacting my friends. He did plug it back in after a few days, but with incredibly stringent regulations on how I could use it, blocking non-educational sites, blocking MSN and my other email account, etc.).
        Two months ago, I looked at the internet chart thingy to see how much we were using and OMG! WTF! BBQ! it was in the red (at the time, we had three boarders living with us rent-free, with full access to the net. I was paying $180/wk for the “privilege” of living under my parents’ roof, and – here’s the thing – I paid for and used my own internet dongle, not their internet). What I did when I saw this was have a (mild) panic attack. I must’ve apologised ten times in a row, for using too much internet when I hadn’t even been using it at all. I offered to pay the difference. I offered to stop using the computer. I don’t even remember what else I offered to do, because I was shaking so much. There was a lot of “oh God oh God it’s all my fault”. And Dad said, “for fuck’s sake, [Ms. Kittenwhiskers], it’s not all about you. Probably [boarder 1]’s been streaming a few too many movies.” I still feel like it was my fault. Intellectually, I know it wasn’t. It just feels like it.

        Three months ago, [boarder 2] left his bike out and it was stolen. I was apologising non-stop because I “should have realised that the garage door was open and closed it” – my words, nobody else’s. I was blaming myself because some person made the conscious decision to steal somebody’s bike.

        A month ago, I was given a second-hand lamp as a sort-of housewarming present. I want to replace the lampshade because it’s stained and badly torn and isn’t even attached to the metal frame anymore, so it keeps falling down and scaring the cat. According to Dad, this is “wasteful” and I should just “fix it” (magically? because it’s broken?) rather than getting a new one. Now I’m second-guessing myself and trying to live with this broken lampshade.

        Most of it’s me, that anxiety about everything and tendency to blame myself, but at least a bit of it I can pin on Dad and his thoroughly unrealistic expectations and belief that everything I do is wrong in some way. Do they realise how toxic it is, the blamers of this world? Do they realise how FUCKING toxic it is?

    2. Oh, yes, I sympathize. The ‘you’re so intelligent, why did you X’ was the same old song. And there really was an expectation that I would answer ‘why’, with repeated insistence I explain why I had forgotten to hand in an assignment/let library books get overdue/whatever else thing.

      I am sad that there are so many others who had these similar experiences, though also oddly comforted by it. And that so many reacted in ways similar to me, as well.

      1. “I am sad that there are so many others who had these similar experiences, though also oddly comforted by it. And that so many reacted in ways similar to me, as well.”

        Honestly, this has been one of the biggest blessings to having the Captain and the Awkward Army as a resource. That “you are not alone” feeling is pretty priceless when talking about these situations, regarding giving advice, receiving advice, and even just reading others’ experiences and seeing that they’ve dealt with something similar.

        1. “I don’t share my thoughts because I think it will change the minds of people who think differently. I share my thoughts to show people who already think like me that they’re not alone.”

          Could not find source, but saw it on Facebook yesterday, and, yes. Thank you, Awkward Army, for showing me I am not alone.

      2. My own parental unit’s expression for this was “book smart, but no common sense.” The through-line I’m noticing with a lot of commenters who were painted with that brush is that a lot of us don’t have a lot to do with our parents anymore, at least, not if we have any choice in the matter.

        Personally, I moved away from my family, like ACROSS THE COUNTRY away, and didn’t move back within driving distance until I was capable of defending myself/shutting down the discussion effectively. That was my strategy when I was a kid, too, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I would do extracurriculars (because “book smart” is good at school) or read all the time or spend whole days at the library because it meant being away from that narrative.

  56. I was very much like this for a long time: in my case, it was partly a combination of ADHD, and vision problems – my ability to concentrate on tasks was horrible, so sometimes thing went wrong, and I couldn’t judge distance in any way. I was always having accidents, or breaking things.

    I totally second everything the Captain said, I want to make that clear: what your friend said/how they behaved was unreasonable, and even the most orderly, non-chaotic person can suddenly turn into an Accident Magnet if they’re nervous and worried about doing something wrong.

    I do just want to say, though, that in my case, at least, I did have some general problems with Things Going Wrong Around Me. I found (apart from physical stuff, like needing better glasses) that I slowly became a lot less prone to that stuff when I slowly, over severl years, tried to develop a habit of thinking things through more before I did them – so, if I was cooking for example, going over all the recipe steps beforehand, and making sure that all the ingredients and utensils I needed were set out before hand so I wasn’t bustling around frantically looking for them while I was trying to cook. And I learnt to think about the things I was doing: if I needed to carry a bowl of soup, I carried it with both hands, and I didn’t put it down right near the edge of the table where it coudl be eaily knocked off. If I was going to fry something in oil in a pan, I didn’t turn the stovetop on until I’d dug out what I was going to fry and added it to the pan as well (because it turns out that if you leave a frypan with oil on it on the stove too long, without food in it, it catches fire? Who knew, right?) And I try not to do more than one thing at once, so that I can focus on the one thing that I am doing which needs attention.

    I don’t know if you genuinely do have a Things Going Wrong Around You problem, or not? But I’ve talked to other people who have, and I found that a lot of them, like me, maybe had problems thinking things through or planning them properly. So I thought I would mention that.

  57. Oh man, I have so many theories about Chaos and Order Muppets! It’s one of my favorite and most useful ways to explain things to myself.

    First—everybody is a little bit Chaos Muppet and a little bit Order Muppet. Nobody is completely one or the other! So LW whenever you find that you are blocking yourself into the Chaos Muppet category (in your head especially after an event like the one you described), remember the times when and parts of your life in which YOU are the Order Muppet. Given that you have most of the big life components under control, you definitely have some Order Muppet in you. And probably there have situations with friends, maybe with someone going through a tough time with some drama, that you were the voice of reason and stability— the Order Muppet in their Chaos Muppet world. There are definitely some people in our lives that seem to always be on the Order end of the spectrum, but maybe you’re just not seeing the Chaos side. Maybe you just happen to not be around, maybe they don’t let it show, but probably you’ve just never chalked it up to anything Chaos-like. To me, there is a sweetness to being able to see that side of people, because I get to see that they are human! Just like me! It’s easier to relate to people who let me see when they muck things up sometimes.

    Second—life itself is both Chaos Muppet and Order Muppet. Ups and downs, fun times and boring times, whirlwinds and stability…but it depends on what’s going on, your internal and external environment, and sometimes just crazy stuff that happens. The Universal Chaos Muppet brings in change and excitement, the Universal Order Muppet gives you time to rest and stability to straighten out your head. Both are necessary, just like your internal Chaos and Order Muppets.
    Just be yourself. You’re OK. We’re all OK.

    1. I like this a lot. I had been thinking about something that was related to this idea.

      I read most of the comments and didn’t see that anyone had pointed this out yet. But, LW, you know how you overflowed the cuisineart? Chances are pretty good that your friend has done the same thing at some point. I don’t make a mess when I use my own food processor anymore, because I use it all the time and I know how to pull the container off the base without spilling. I also know that if I’m using it to process something very wet, I need a towel around the top, because the lid leaks a little.

      Basically, people know how to use their own stuff. People know where the stuff in their own homes is. People have made choices about what to have in their homes and how things should be done so it’s as easy as possible for them.

      I think it sounds like lots of this is because of the pressure and confirmation bias stuff. And your friends sound pretty unpleasant. But whatever mistakes you’re making in other people’s homes, um, well, of course your friends are more at ease and graceful in the places they set up.

      You might be clumsy other places and other times too. But like KMacky said, everyone is clumsy sometimes. Even your hypercritical friends.

      1. Yes, I wanted to add something like this as well! No one has ever called me a Chaos Muppet or even clumsy but I am. I bang into doorways and drop things. I bought a set of twelve glass bowls at IKEA three years ago and only six of them survive. Also, I have had a couple of spectacular food processor accidents (I… once had to climb on the kitchen counter and scrub the ceiling).

        No one is immune to moments of clumsiness. It is the social group that interprets them as a particular person’s identity.

  58. Every single day until I left my parents house I broke or spilt something, on the table, on the floor, on myself. It reached such levels that my parents started giving me the evil eye for having a drink outside of the kitchen, and for many years every person I knew had seen me walk straight into a wall, or a post, or (hells, why NOT?) a tree, that I was looking right at. Mr. Wonderful has never laid a hand on me, but if anyone had seen me take off my clothes during that time, he would surely have been accused of domestic abuse, and I didn’t even know where I got all those bruises! I was known as a careless scatterwit who couldn’t feed herself and who broke or overturned whatever was in her immediate proximity.

    Curiously (and I don’t necessarily recommend this approach), I stopped beating myself up and spilling things the day I started cooking for a living. I suppose the constant closeness of hot oil, fire, and sharp objects made me focus (I’m ADD; strangely, I hear the ability to randomly focus under pressure is normal for people like me). I wasn’t keen to lose a finger or the last entree to a 20 top to the floor, so I’ve paid very close attention to everything I’ve done ever since. I honestly thought I’d wind up in the emergency room by the end of the week, but would you believe I haven’t even needed stitches?

    That approach IS a bit dangerous, and you probably don’t need a career change, but I think the reason it worked for me (besides the job going along swimmingly with my neurophysiology), is because it made me pay attention to my surroundings, I was so busy concentrating that I couldn’t be anxious, and it made me more aware of my body and how awesome and adaptable it really is. What is one stumble in a day, really, compared to the thousands of steps I take where I don’t stumble? Or the one plate I break out of the thousands that go through my hands without incident?

    It helps to start paying attention to all the things you do right. Even if, you know, in that first month you spill a gallon of that guacamole you just made all down your front and maybe it’s squishing around in your shoe? And hey, it’s 6 a.m. It’s okay. You’ve already made that mistake, so you probably won’t make it again. If you’re really lucky, you’ll have a good friend who will laugh wildly out of sleep delirium with you and help you grab the mop, and they’ll tell you about how every time they touch anything electrical it shorts out. You won’t feel so weird, because you’re really not. Most of us have klutzy, bumbly, fumbly moments.

    P.S. My friend just thought she ruined all electronics, but many hours of Super Mario later, and my video game system is the same. Also, I haven’t spilled a whole gallon of guacamole for 5 years. Turns out it was all in my head, too. Who knew?

  59. Hello LW (and Awkward Army)!

    Long time reader and first time commenter here. I’m a bit of a chaos muppet myself. I’m a creative girl, and a bit day-dreamy, which tends to cause me to trip over minor sidewalk cracks, bump into things, wack my head on the underside of my desk, etc etc.

    I couldn’t tell if LW was a boy or girl from the letter, but I really wanted to mention this:

    When I PMS I get HELLA CLUMSY. I’ve even referred to it as my Pre Mentrual Stupid on occasion. It seriously feels like someone flipped off the common sense switch in my brain. So for 3 or 4 days a month, I’m on super clumsy overload, blundering around and leaving a path of destruction behind me.

    Just the other day I was unloading dishes from our dish drying rack, but forgot to unload the side bit with the utensils, so when I took a heavy pot out of the rack, the whole thing went crashing into the sink. And this was MERE SECONDS after I had knocked a plastic cup filled with water all over the kitchen floor.

    My crazy PMS brainlessness, coupled with the usual hormonal emotional stuff, can turn me into in the kind of person that spills chopped vegetables all over the floor and then sits down in the mess and cries. And then eats chocolate for dinner. (Confession: I absolutely did this once)

    So LW, if you’re noticing that your clumsiness is extra-strong at specific times of the month, this might be something to think about.

    When I feel overwhelmed by my chaos muppet, good things I do are:
    -Stop whatever I’m doing (this is KEY! if I get emotional or clumsy and I try to keep doing what I’m doing, it always ends badly. Best to take a short break and go back to it later, when you’re calm)

    -Go sit down somewhere comfortable and quiet. Take a few deep breaths and just…settle

    -Remind yourself that the clumsiness is just a passing event. You can turn around, be more focused (with some effort, of course), even if something bad happened just minutes ago

    -Remind yourself that mistakes happen to everyone

    It’s hard to break free of a label like “the clumsy one” in a friend or family group. You may never be free of it entirely, but you can choose whether or not YOU believe it’s true, just like Captain said.

    Goodluck, LW! There are SO many chaos muppets in the world who feel your pain. You’re not alone!

    *jedi hugs*

    1. This is so funny. I don’t think I get more clumsy/absentminded when PMSing, but I’m certainly more easily bothered by minor mistakes I make, which makes me flustered enough to make more and… yea, I’ve probably ended up sitting on the floor crying in the middle of a mess I just made more than once. Granted, other people being dicks about it sometimes contributes, but sometimes it’s just me.

      Anyhow, I totally want to see a chaos-muppet related post on your blog now, because I have a feeling it would be awesome.

      1. I’ve been told that that might have something to do with levels of relaxin (the same stuff that loosens the joints for pregnancy) in the body during PMS, so your joints get looser, which might lead to more clumsiness, since your body isn’t calibrated the way it usually is during the rest of the month.

        I want to do some more reading about it though.

        1. Oops. I comment-treed this to the wrong comment – more in response to kaiwilli!

          1. YES. I always sort of figured the PMS spazziness and the “pregnancy brain” were kind of related. So glad to have a concurring opinion!

      2. Awww! Thanks, Keely! I will put it on my list of future posts 🙂

        But seriously. My PMS…I think it must be like the “pregnancy brain fog” women complain about (although I wouldn’t know from experience).

        Sometimes after a series of mistakes, I’ll be like “What is WRONG with me???” and then I’ll remember it’s my damn period.

    2. Clumsy is also in one of the random manifestations of my PMS…but I never know which major symptom I’m going to get in any given month. Crying in the middle of the mess and eating chocolate makes perfect sense at these times!

    3. Before the injection I totally had this, it was horrid I’d walk into tables, doors and all those objects I avoided every singe day the rest of the month. Break things burn and spill things. It was one of the reliable indicators I had that my period was coming but it took years to realise that it was linked, I wish someone had said before. I felt like once I knew the cause I was much better able to deal with it just like the emotional upheaval, knowing it was hormones or something just meant it wasn’t me just some chemicals and I could at least separate these bouts of clumsiness from the story of who I am.

      I’m lucky I have been described as the accident prone one and the clumsy one but always in good humour and with fondness but this thread is going to make me more careful about this label with other people. They might not have had this story told about them in a nice way and even if you are just indulging in the usual light hearted banter you can’t know that it isn’t adding to a negative story that is causing real pain.

    4. When I PMS I get HELLA CLUMSY.

      I definitely experience that. I have a theory that the hormones that cause the connective tissue to loosen during late pregnancy also pop up during PMS in some people. I drop things, trip over air, turn my ankles and stub my fingers.

      1. I’m actually kind of stunned that so many other people have experienced this. I haven’t really met anyone else who has. It’s nice to feel like I’m not the only one!

    5. The menstrual cycle makes physical changes to your body. It’s not just the bleeding – there’s bloat, cramps, joint aches, increased skin sensitivity, enlarged breasts…and those are only the common physical side effects. Plus there are all the hormonal changes messing with your brain, making it harder to concentrate and harder to control your emotions the way you normally would.

      Imagine you grew five inches taller a week before your period. Of course you’d walk into things, lose your balance, drop things. Now imagine you shrank five inches the week after your period. You’d have to readjust to your normal height all over again.

      It’s not clumsiness. It’s not PMS craziness. It’s a completely normal reaction to your body going through major physical changes.

      On the plus side, yeah, this can be a great indicator that your period is about to start, especially if your cycle is at all irregular. And it’s nice to know that there’s a legitimate reason for the sudden clumsiness and emotional changes.

      For me, with my family and friends, the simple comment that it’s that time of month is often a great way to let them know that I need a bit of extra space or a little extra help.

  60. The captains advice is great; in fact, I think it would be super helpful to not just log the circumstances and reactions of chaotic stuff that happens to YOU, but log things that happen to your friends. When a similar thing happens to them, does it even make a wave, do people react at all? Or does your life seem more chaotic because weird shit gets pointed out when it happens to you, but unnoticed when it happens to others? You yourself might have trouble noticing such events because of how un-chaotic you see them!

  61. Yet another person nthing this advice, though in my case it’s slightly different. My mother still likes to turn everything I do into a story about how autistic I am. If I say or do something that’s not perfectly in line with her view of how neurotypical people are (which is already quite skewed), she’ll say something like “That’s so Asperger’s of you!” She only really started in on it once I was a teenager but boy, that one’s still fucking me up even now. It’s only been within the past couple of months that I’ve been really able to examine my behavior and say, no, doing this thing was actually really not out of the ordinary and I can stop being so hard on myself for not passing for allistic 100% of the time.
    Anyway, I hope you’re able to talk to your friends about this and they aren’t douchemunches about it (though frankly stove-guy can fuck himself with ten thousand cacti for that comment about you causing drama.)

    1. Your mom: o_O

      I’m really glad you’ve been able to hold onto a sense of what is true & important in the face of your mom’s constant barrage of shitty comments.

      You didn’t ask for advice, but if you’d like to maybe stop your mom from doing that so much, may I suggest waiting until the next time she does it and then asking: “Mom, what are you going for when you say stuff like that? What are you hoping that I’ll feel or do?”

      (Listen to her explanation/justifications)

      “Ok, well, I thought you should know that it makes me incredibly self-conscious and hurts my feelings, and I wish you would stop it.”

      1. I think the whole “what are you going for?” thing is something LW should consider asking their friends, too. I mean, really, what does this asshole friend who thinks she “subconsciously” loves drama expect her to do about it? How is it in any way helpful to say that? What is it going to change or fix? If it’s so subconscious she doesn’t even know about it, then what the fuck is she supposed to do about it?

        Ugh. The whole “you subconsciously feel/think/do this bad thing” argument is so awful because what can you even say to that? How can you possibly prove anything about the nature of your so-called “subconscious”, even to yourself? It just sows this horrible seed of self-doubt that’s so hard to silence and get rid of because it’s based in something so nebulous and difficult to pin down or prove in any way. Poop to that.

      2. Thanks, but she’s basically stopped doing that. I moved out for good two years ago after the fight from hell and now I only see her on my terms, so she’s mostly stopped doing the things that hurt me the most. It hasn’t stopped her from being horribly passive aggressive and trying to push me into doing things by complaining to people that she knows I talk to, but I don’t respond to anything she does unless she does it to my face. She’s finally (crankily) respecting my boundaries about when I’ll see her and what we’ll talk about. Your columns have been immensely helpful there, by the by.

    2. Also, wow your mom using it as a kind of pejorative. Most of my closest friends are Aspies, so our group norms include really clearly verbally spelling out what are normally unspoken social dynamics. “I am inviting Anne and Bob and not you because although I really like you, I know you don’t like talking about model trains, so sometimes I want to spend time with my model train friends and not have to worry that we’re boring you and we should be talking about something else. I would be happy to hang out with you later, and we all value you as a friend.”

      So to us, being very articulate and insightful about people and relationships is being “so Aspie”.

      1. That’s the worst part though: she doesn’t mean it as a pejorative (or at least, that’s not usually how she phrases things). She’s actually on the spectrum, but she’s never been fully diagnosed. So for her to point out all these little things like was her fucked up way of saying, “You are totally weird but we know why you’re weird and that’s a good thing (both that you’re weird and that we know why).” She’s terrible about respecting my boundaries when it comes to my identity and I’m positive she doesn’t realize how erasing it is to say shit like that.

        1. Same deal with mine. She also likes to throw in “but you’re not AUTISTIC like THAT” when I use “autism” instead of “Asperger’s” in conversation with her, because, 1. same/diff, 2. solidarity wih people who share my neurotype without the socially “better” label, and 3. that’s my preferred word so bite me? She’s also spectrumy and undiagnosed, and while I know her intentions are good in both cases (she, too, likes that we now have a word for why I am how I am! She also doesn’t want to see me “unfairly stigmatized” by my insisting on the less socially okay label), it drives me nuts.

          I did the Captain’s advice a year or so ago and it’s helped tremendously.

    3. Hey, you know what else is common in people with ASDs? Lacking social filters and unusual bluntness. Consider the advantages in turning this on your mother.

      “Mom, shut the fuck up. Oh, whoops, it’s not OK to say that, right? I’m sorry, that’s so Asperger’s of me. You know how blunt we are.”

  62. Wow, thanks for this discussion, it is eye-opening for me. I am on the other side of this conversation, as someone who is finicky about doing things a certain way, and I am sure the people in my life find it frustrating. But I had always sort of conceptualized it as, “This is a weird thing about me that might be annoying but that my friends will put up with because they like me.” I hadn’t thought about how it could be hurting the people I interact with and making them feel like Chaos Muppets because they do things differently than I would and I fuss about it. I need to be more aware of that, and be careful to phrase things more like, “I know it’s weird but I am a perfectionist about [X], will you let me do it?” and not make so many sarcastic jokes about people Doing it Wrong to cover up my anxiety-driven need for control.

    1. Especially, try hard to get a grip on this before procreating. I’ve had to point out to my husband that when my son is cooking, for example, and my husband walks into the kitchen and immediately turns down the burner, it’s like he’s saying “you suck at cooking, you can’t be trusted to get this right.” Even when he does it to me it’s annoying — it’s like he’s saying that even though we’re both adults and supposedly equal members of the family his judgment trumps mine.

      1. I had a “the gauntlet has been thrown” kind of all-out fight with my husband about this, because he does the same thing re: cooking. He is a kitchen control freak, and if I were cooking, he’d either swoop in and take over my cooking projects, or he’d constantly snark at what I was doing. Then when I’d give up, or just start to not bother with the cooking at all, he started complaining that he was always doing all the work in the kitchen!

        Oh lord, reader, let me tell you how I saw RED. The next time I was cooking and he did the passive aggressive technique snark I turned to him, handed him the spoon and said to him, “Do you want to do it, then? Because you never think my work is good enough.” That stopped him dead in his tracks. He tried a few “But I just like it a certain way!” and I said “Then you can do it by yourself, and you can do all the cleaning up. I will not participate in kitchen work AT ALL if you insist on controlling everying.” He eventually did fess up to his control freak nature and lighten up. He’s much better about it now, thank goodness.

        1. What is it about cooking that brings this out in people?! I am guilty of doing the same thing, like watching someone stir a pot of sauce and then feeling compelled to immediately go stir it myself, as though the spoon only works when I am wielding it. I fully admit that this is not necessary at all, and I have apologized for it before and said things like “I’m a kitchen control freak, I am sorry for being weird about this.” Ugh. Continuing to work on it.

          1. A lot of it’s about learning to sit with the tension and anxiety that’s part of the compulsion to fix it, and not respond. Being able to admit to yourself that you FEEL like things will go badly if you don’t act, but knowing that it will actually be okay if you don’t.

          2. I don’t know! I wish I could give an answer to that, but yes I too have noticed it tends to be common with cooking in particular. For me, I like to cook, but I’m happy not to cook too because it means someone else is going to make me a delicious meal and I can put my feet up and read a book or surf the internet or something instead of cooking. 😉 Maybe trying to reframe it like that in your mind whenever you start to feel anxious about someone else doing the cooking? I have no idea if that would actually help, but that’s how I think about it and I find it pretty pleasant. Good luck!

    2. I think it’s easy to go too far in the other direction, though. I lean more towards the perfectionist side and I’ve had to train myself out of, say, apologizing profusely when I ask people to take off their shoes when they come into my apartment on a rainy day. There’s no need to do a whole “I’m so sorry, you know I’m weird and crazy about this!” dance when not wanting my floors to be muddy is a reasonable desire. It’s not like I’m blaming my guests for the rain.

      Basically, we should stop telling stories about how we are bad and/or how other people are bad and just ask for what we need, which is something this blog has really helped me to do. Thanks, Captain Awkward!

    3. I am picky about certain things as well, and if it’s not All The Things, communicating what you want to be the boss of is the way to go. I am the friend group expert, for example, in Buying Tickets For Things, because I have Specific Ticket Needs*, so I get to be in charge of that.

      And when you can’t be in charge of it (sometimes, other people apparently like to drive…sigh…), try to relax. Or, at least, try to be quiet about it. Friends will notice and appreciate your efforts.

      *Not actual needs. Wants.

  63. What the Captain said about processing disorders was right on the money. Like you? LW, I am the most chaotic of muppets. Stupid fender-benders, random breaking of antiques, lost rent cheques… basically, my life was a series of dumb little accidents. And I did blame myself, hate myself, wonder why I was so bad at just BEING A PERSON, GOD. Part of this is that i was indeed Surrounded By Assholes, partiularly my super-insecure perfectionist mother, bu I was recently diagnosed with ADD. Just having another explaination besides ‘you are terrible at living’ made me less clumsy and more able to focus, because the dread and the pressure to not fuck up this time, to prove my worth as a person through tidiness and unbruised legs, is gone. I want to mention here that ADD doesn’t necessarily mean you behave like an unruly 10 year old, or having a supershort attention span. There’s another type that involves being easily distracted by the thoughts inside your head and being daydreamy rather than hyper. Paradoxically,
    many people with ADD can ‘hyperfocus’ once something suffieciently intruiges them. I figured out how to trick myself into hyperfocusing as a kid and so people thought I was jusy lazy because I seemed to have an extremely long attention span when I wanted to. I’m still figuring out how to deal with this, as I was just diagnosed about a month ago. Either way it might be useful to see a therapist to see if the problem is a case of FriendSuck of something more neurological (or both)

  64. Also, I second the advice on stress levels and self-care: while I am rarely clumsy, I find starting to break things is an unfailing sign of too high a stress level. This happens well before I really feel that I am too stressed, so it might be worthwhile to have a look at the rest of your life. Incidentally, friends telling you you’re clumsy is a stress factor.

    My story was being the one who was really bad at all physical things – until I started doing martial arts and found out I have good co-ordination and ridiculously fast reflexes. Stepping away from the environment (school) where the destrcutive story is told really helps.

    1. I often find that clumsy people have some of the best reflexes, due to the fact that we’re used to dropping things and needing to catch them, etc.

  65. Reblogged this on Artistic Anarchy and commented:
    I know the feeling. My life seems like a constant stream of horrible mistakes and actually had been accused of the very same thing in a similar circumstance. Luckily, my friends aren’t as hard as this scenario. It helps immensely to have good people on your side and I’m lucky to have a lot of them now.

  66. Excellent advice Captain. This goes well for other family narratives too, our environments cause legions of self narratives. I grew up as the “lazy” one and also the “wild”. The “wild” one led others into bad situations where someone got hurt (never me) and it was all my fault! This applied to simple stuff that was innocent as hell, like deciding to bike down a vertical hill cos, wow the speed of it! and it was awesome but the best friend decides to try, slides out and breaks an ankle. My fault. My younger sister was forever being told not to act like Datdamwuf every time she did or was even suspected of doing anything remotely out of line or at all risky, pretty sad that.

    The “lazy” one still lives in my head, no matter how well I take care of things, no matter how old I am. I hear myself calling myself lazy all the time, constantly telling myself I am not, it’s hard to stop it. I tell myself I simply prioritize sitting on the front porch watching hummingbirds or reading a book over vacumming every time, so yeah that carpet is a mess, but so what, that doesn’t mean I’m lazy, I just care more about watching the birds than dirty carpet.

    As a twenty something I had the “if it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all” syndrome. I think this relates to the chaos puppet. The way I worked on that was to consider the ways a thing could go wrong and pay special attention to have mitigations in place just in case. After a while I realized most of those plan ahead exercises were not needed. The problem initially was that I had too much confidence things would always go right rather than auto factoring that “shit happens”. Once I went through the mitigation exercise for situations regularly, I found a middle ground that maybe most people already have. The paying attention to the possibility of shit happening without worrying about it because it was the worrying about it that caused the shit half the time.

  67. I had a somewhat different reading of the LW’s letter. I agree that her friends are being jerks, and I agree with much of the advice given here, especially for people who are clumsy and are unfairly treated as a result, or even become clumsy because of the unwarranted criticism that is heaped on them. And suggesting that she subconsciously wants to cause drama is just over the line.

    But… first the LW says that things happen when she is around that are not her fault, but then the one incident she describes actually kind of is her fault. Not in some horrible, awful way that she should be shamed and berated for: it was an accident. But accidents can be caused by inattention and sometimes even carelessness. I sympathize with the clumsy, because clumsiness is difficult to control, but overfilling a container is not actually an example of clumsiness. If she had knocked over a container and it had spilled, that would have been clumsy, but pouring a liquid is an action that one has some control over.

    It seems to me, from the tone of the letter — why does stuff over which I have no control always happen around me? — and even her acknowledging that she is describing the events that happen around her in the passive voice, instead of owning them, that she may be failing to take responsibility for actions that might be, at least to some degree, within her ability to control.

      1. I think it was a bad example to use, definitely, because it wasn’t just a mysterious accident that just mysteriously happened to happen. That’s why a couple of other folks are saying that the LW needs to make sure to take ownership of incidents like these and make good-faith offers to make amends. And it seems like the LW is on their way, else they wouldn’t have written the letter 🙂

        It seems like there’s a couple of things at play here — there’s the toxic environment that can grow up when someone is being scapegoated and their “role” is ALWAYS AND ONLY as “the clumsy one,” which is damaging to that person and can MAKE them more clumsy and prone to mistakes. But there’s the other side, where it’s important to make the effort to say “whoops, I’m such a klutz sometimes — let me pay for the repairs/a replacement/clean it up,” which some people don’t do. When people don’t do that, when they act like accidents are just these things that happen, it can make their friends feel taken for granted.

        So there’s two things to be done — the LW should stand up to their friends and tell them to stop hurting hir feelings, and the LW also should check their own behavior and make sure they are owning up where appropriate. It really sounds like the LW is on their way, but this is some deeply-ingrained stuff, and can be hard to tease out.

        And hey — is it me or is some of this really gendered? I don’t know how the LW self-identifies, but it sure seems to me that clumsiness in men is more tolerated, but women are supposed to be graceful and accomplished and whatever.

        1. I think the gendered-ness of it is really super complicated.

          There’s definitely this thing where you get the “he’s a big ol’ manly man, you can’t expect him to remember to put down a coaster or wipe up his spills!”, which you wouldn’t hear about a woman because women are expected to be graceful caretakers. But there’s also a thing where klutzy women are “cute” (how many Manic Pixie Dream Girls have, as their solitary “flaw,” the fact that they can’t catch a thrown object or they trip a lot?), whereas a man with the same kind of fumbledyness may be seen as “unmanly” because athleticism is frequently associated with masculinity in our culture.

          Basically, It’s Complicated, I think.

          (My friend-who-broke-my-stuff-a-lot played up the ‘but it’s CUTE when I do it’ a lot, which made it especially difficult because it felt bitchy to say, no, it’s not cute, it’s annoying, and you should clean it up.)

          1. It is Complicated, for sure. There’s just something that is poking my brain, as I’m reading all these posters and CA herself talk about their “family role” growing up, etc. But yeah, there’s way more to it, as you pointed out. Lots to think about 🙂

    1. I noticed that also.

      I had a friend who was something of a ‘chaos muppet’, and it wasn’t because things ‘just happened’, it was because she was CARELESS. Sure, anyone can spill crumbs on the floor; but she would do it constantly by wandering around the kitchen with the breadboard instead of moving the plates to the bread. Anyone can break a plate while washing; but she broke twice as many because of the way she slammed things around in the sink. Things like that.

      I can totally imagine her overfilling something, ruining the appliance below, and being SHOCKED and DESOLATE, but still not changing the way she did things.

      So, OP, as well as the excellent advice everyone else has given, it might be worth considering; was doing something involving liquid over the antique stove really something where the possible consequences were unforeseeable? To what extent do the circumstances of each accident contribute to the consequences, and is that something you have control over?

      Because while what your friend said was way out of line, it may be that they are looking at a pattern of behaviour in which you set up circumstances in which an accident happens, and then are surprised and disclaim all responsibility when it does. And if that pattern of behaviour is resulting to damage to their cherished possessions, I think a little frustration may be understandable!

      1. Yeah, I agree with a lot in this comment.

        I am a certifiable Clumsy Person, and all the people who are in my life right now are really nice about it. (That was not always the case, but it is the case now.) But I think part of the reason for that is that I take concrete steps to limit the amount of damage I might do.

        For example, a friend had a limited-edition, signed-by-the-now-deceased-author graphic novel that she was enthusiastic about me reading. I read it… while sitting in her apartment, with my hands freshly washed, and with no food or drink even in the same room as me. Because I am clumsy, and even though she was willing to lend me the book, I knew that if I took it home with me it might get dinged up or–worse–have something spilled on it, and given its nature it was literally irreplaceable.

        Taking responsibility, and minimizing the damage I can do (by paying for or replacing broken things, being the first to go for the paper towels when I spill something, double-checking to make sure I sent out the right meeting time, etc.) has gone a long way toward reducing the damage my clumsiness has done to my relationships. I can’t help being clumsy, but I can anticipate it and take responsibility for it like a grown-up.

    2. There’s a fine line between “carelessness” and “doing things in a rushed and stressed way,” but the result is the same — spilled soup/shorted-out stove. I think the Captain’s advice actually addresses this very well without making the assumption that the LW’s issue is one or the other. If it’s carelessness, then mindfulness strategies and how the LW can make amends without beating him/herself up come to the fore. If it’s feelings of being rushed/stressed, then the issue becomes dealing with how s/he’s viewed by friends and why, with an important side dose of self-care. Either/both could be useful for the LW and only s/he can know what the final answer is.

      1. I think this is a really good point. There was a lot missing from the letter and people (including me) tend to fill in the blanks with their own experiences: “I too have someone in my life who treats me like a clumsy idiot whenever I make an innocent mistake, and it’s awful!” “I too have someone in my life who breaks things all the time and doesn’t take responsibility, and it’s awful!” Hopefully the LW will sift through it all and figure out which parts are helpful to them and which aren’t as relevant.

  68. So many things jumped out to be about this letter and the reply that I am having trouble organizing a coherent response!

    I am a chaos muppet; my nickname with some of my friends is “the destroyer” (in a way that I am OK with, this is not a friend issue). I have a dad much like your’s, Captain, who always has the “optimal” way of doing thing and cannot possibly fathom that there is, in fact, another way. And he cannot keep his opinion to himself; “why are you doing it like that?” is the constant refrain around him. Being around people who are going to be hard on you for your mistakes can definitely contribute to feeling like all you ever do is mess up and, subsequently, making more mistakes! So, if you are around people who make you feel this way, as the good Captain says, either give yourself time away or re-evaluate your relationship with them. I also wanted to echo Badger Rose’s advice way up-thread that how you respond to the accidents you have that effect other people is key; if you are appropriately apologetic and offer to help repair in whatever way you can, it goes a long way.

    I didn’t read all the comments above, so I apologize if this is redundant, but I definitely find that my chaos muppet often comes out when I want to do something RIGHT NOW. I don’t take the time to plan or organize myself for an activity and it ends in disaster and I get really mad at myself for screwing up (a different issue for a different day). If I had been the LW, for example, I likely would have been cooking on the stove because I didn’t take the time to get organized and clear off the counter because I really wanted to MAKE SOUP RIGHT NOW. And this usually ends in disaster. So, just a note that it really helps me to think for a few minutes before taking on a task about things like: is now the right time to do this? what do I need to do this? do I have the space/materials/mental energy to see it through? Slowing myself down and thinking before I do things about the best way to go about doing them is definitely super helpful for me. It may not always allow me to do things right when I want to do them, but it will allow me to be more successful when I decide to do them.

    OK, wow, this got super long! Hope it’s helpful to someone who decides to read this far 🙂

  69. A lot of what people are describing about performing terribly when in a toxic environment and having a reputation as the chaos muppet sounds like a variant of stereotype threat, which is usually applied to categories of race, gender, etc, but I think is equally valid for official scapegoat/whipping boy.

    I can sympathize. I was one of the oldest cousins in my extended family, and nobody else looked like me. So I always felt like the big, awkward ugly duckling who never fit in and never did anything right. Always in the wrong clothes, bumping into things, dropping things, saying the wrong thing at the wrong moment, what-have-you. And that carried over into other relationships for a long while too.

    But I have been living with that sense of clumsiness for decades now, and most often these days people comment on my “good catches” as I automatically intercept hats blowing off, cups or vases knocked over, or whatever little personal vector intercepting gravity occurs in my orbit. Lots of practice. Lots and lots of practice expecting and preparing for falling, dropping, tipping objects nearby. I’m no longer stressed or self-conscious about it. But still sometimes amazed that after 20+ years, still haven’t quite adjusted to having these hips.

    And yet, I also have a lot of grace too. Years in physically demanding jobs and dabbling in various physical arts from juggling to belly dancing to tai chi have made me mostly comfortable in my own body and given me the safe space to learn to move efficiently, to flow, to bend and twist, to balance, and most of all to listen to my body.

    It’s a work in progress, as my body changes, my needs and strengths change, and my relationships change. Good luck paying attention to yourself and your environment. It’s worth the effort.

  70. I’d just like to emphasise one thing about all the advice about taking a moment to re-center yourself in order to minimise clumsiness: it’s okay to do that not just when you’re alone but around other people, too. I’m sure most people would prefer a moment of inactivity to possible accidents and mishaps.

    I used to work in a really stressful customer service position and my standard phrase was “Just one moment, please”. I actually still find myself reflexively saying this to friends and family when they’re stressing me out, and it comes out with the same polite smile and everything. And then I turn my back to them and take a deep breath and mentally go through what I’m supposed to be doing, and lo and behold, less mistakes.

  71. This isn’t directed to the LW, but to Jennifer. I just wanted to say that I am so, so sad and angry on your behalf that you had to go through this abusive, awful shit from your father, although glad to hear you got the therapy you needed and managed to get away for the vast majority of the time. (And, by the way, this sort of behaviour of his goes way beyond casting you in a ‘clumsy person’ role, and into some very serious obsessive and control-freakery issues. I know you almost certainly know this, but sometimes it’s worth pointing stuff out.)

    Will it ever be an option for you to cut this person out of your life completely? Or are there still benefits of your occasional 3-day visits that outweigh the drastic downsides? Hypothetical question – obviously that’s between you, your loved ones, and your therapist. I wish you well.

    1. I’m very aware of the stuff that is not ok between me and my folks, but I love them and don’t want to cut them out of my life. So I go in with eyes open, an escape route planned always, constant e-contact with people who don’t make me nuts, my awesome boyfriend as a human shield, a lot of learned skills in redirecting & refocusing conversations, etc.

      I think my dad has some undiagnosed stuff going on that is worsening as he ages, and my mom is pretty inured to it (though she bears the brunt of it and it wears her down, too) – he’s pretty much warped their little world until that passes as “normal” for them. I know it hurts them that we are not closer and that I don’t visit more (or, their heart’s desire, move close to home and start with making the grandchildren) and they don’t really understand that DUDE, THERE IS A REASON WHY THIS IS HAPPENING.

      I’ve got a good support system in place and the self-awareness to know that it’s not me, it’s them. Thanks for your concern and support.

  72. LW I can see this from several different sides here. I grew up as the Clumsy One in my family. I was tall and muscly and a bit overweight from a very young age, and if anything broke anywhere near me it was because I’d used my flailing huge un-feminine hulk-limbs to smash stuff to pieces. If something broke it was typical me and if I walked anywhere there were comments on my elephant-like stompings. On hindsight this was a whole mess of gasslighting and emotional abuse and I still have crazy self image issues because of it.

    So when you wrote that your friend said you were subconsciously trying to cause drama, I was super angry on your behalf.

    Having said all that, I’m also a person who’s quite careful with objects and I get pretty ticked off with people who aren’t careful with my things – for example, I recently had a housemate who basically chipped and smashed his way through my bowls and cups, stained my dining table, wrecked my pretty new tea-towels – you get the idea. His response to these things was that it was an accident and he didn’t notice, but that was exactly the cause of the problem – he didn’t pay enough attention to taking care of my stuff. I think about how I stack things or use things in advance, so as to minimise the risk of damage and accidents. Because I still have plenty of accidents just like anyone. I just know that (as someone said above) if I stack the bowls with the biggest one on the bottom in a nice stable pile, I’m less likely to knock them over. I make sure dishes are not covered in black grease before a take to them with a tea-towel. I never ever put my phone anywhere near a cup of liquid, because occasionally I do knock those over (I learnt that one the hard way).

    So if you think you really are accident prone (which may not even be true, as everyone has pointed out!) it’s helpful to assume that you’ll be occasionally clumsy and plan accordingly (*everyone* is occasionally clumsy). If you’re about to use anything sharp, fragile, precious, on fire, or full of liquids you can take a moment to think about what might cause what you’re doing to go wrong and plan accordingly. You can wrangle liquids over the sink/in the laundry/outside. You can take care to keep fragile items away from edges and heavy objects. You can save doing the complex task with the fragile thing until after you’ve had a good night’s sleep. It’s possible to learn this stuff – I’ve learnt a lot of it the hard way. As others have said above, you can take a moment to stop and think. Become the OH&S rep of your life – identify trip hazards and stuff that can fall on your head in advance. 🙂

    Finally, I’ve been the bad-story-teller in this scenario, to my shame. The story between my former partner and me was the classic man-can’t-be-trusted-with-housework cliché. Early on he wrecked some of my delicate clothes, and didn’t clean things properly, and generally made all the rookie mistakes of someone who’d never done housework growing up. I believe partners should share equally in chores, so I stuck to my guns, but because he would mess it up (and I’m cringing while I write this) I would basically stand over him and micromanage the procedure. This was not a healthy dynamic. He played into it because he was hoping to a) get out of doing things, and b) it was a way to deflect my criticism. And I stuck with it because the funny story of how he was a loveable childlike incompetent with practical things meant I didn’t have to be angry at his refusal to be a responsible adult and learn how to do practical everyday chores. Instead of just saying to him that I needed to be able to trust him not to put my lacy lingerie in the tumble drier, and then expecting him to develop his own system for achieving that, I would turn up with the “Oh no, you’re so silly!” and the exasperated sigh and fix it (cringe!). But it messed with his self esteem, and made us both resent each other, and was generally made of suck.

    These dynamics sometimes exist as a way of covering up a real underlying problem, making it into something that doesn’t actually have to be dealt with. LW maybe you really could take more care with stuff, and your friends are being terrible at communicating this, and trying to soften it into a running joke. Or on the other hand, maybe you’re being gaslighted by awful manipulative people and are choosing to see it as friendly ribbing to avoid having to recognise that your friends are abusing you and perhaps aren’t really your friends. Whatever the case, the story of how someone is the Clumsy One is pretty much always toxic.

    1. To my general shame, I have also been the bad story teller about a partner. She is not good at housework because her family never really let her do the housework, so she never learned, you see the cycle that’s going to happen here? Yeah. It got to the point where I was re-washing dishes, re-sweeping floors, redoing just about everything (and really fucking annoyed about it). Strangely, this did not have the desired effect of her magically being able to clean. It just made her more anxious about messing it up and thus worse, plus bonus anxiety for her and increasing levels of frustration and resentment from me. It hastened the demise of our relationship drastically–this was a person I thought I’d be with forever before we lived together.

      I linked her to this post and we talked about it. I don’t WANT to make her feel that way–it’s shitty! My family and ex-friends did it to me! I KNOW it sucks to be on the receiving end and I’m mortified I did it to someone else. I’m trying to let go of my perfectionist tendencies and help set things up so the possibility of failure is less present. (Can’t sweep well? Dust buster.) I’m thanking her when it goes well so she knows that I do appreciate the effort and notice when things are good, too; I’m hoping it’ll reset both of our expectations and confirmation biases.

      1. I could be that partner. I grew up in a house where I was always assumed to be incapable and it was always easier to do things for me because teaching me was far too troublesome (with the unspoken assumption that I was too stupid to understand it anyway). Then suddenly I was spoiled for not doing housework which I had never been trusted with. And I am still crap at housework and I still sometimes just don’t see dirt. I feel awful about it because I drive my fiancé crazy.

        In fact it got to the point where every single thing I did was always rechecked and i was called difficult when I insisted I had done it right. I was Incapable to a fault, and it was pressed on me that I was Awkward. One thing that I apparently couldn’t do was read maps and oh, of course I had a terrible sense of direction. Several years ago, I went travelling around Europe and discovered that without someone double-checking every single thing I did and ignoring all my suggestions, I discovered that I *could* actually read maps and actually had a very good sense of direction.

        I definitely think the LW needs to add “you think” to all these people who are blaming them. “You *think” this is my fault.” People will press roles on you, sometimes just to help their own insecurity. But the reasons why are irrelevant, they shouldn’t bloody be pressing that crap on you in the first place.

  73. To the LW’s friends? I’d say “WOW SHUT UP SHUT UP RIGHT NOW PLEASE SHUT UP”.

    Seriously, girl. Fuck that noise. You do not have to take that. 😡

  74. LW, your ‘friends’ are jackwagons.

    Actual friends might pull you aside and say “LW, you should probably check to see if you have a vision/executive function/ADD problem, I’m worried about you because you keep having these disasters and they’re stressing you out, and I want you to be OK.”

    People who mock you, roll their eyes and get their shorts in a wad because AN OVEN, you know, a kitchen appliance that is so notoriously prone to food and liquid gunking-up that there is an ENTIRE VARIETY OF CLEANING PRODUCT dedicated to it, suffered a spill at your hands – those people are not actually your friends.

  75. “My “role” in my family from growing up is to be the girl who is really book-smart but completely lacks any life skills or common sense and who can’t be trusted to make toast”

    This is all the me. My nickname at home is the “mad scientist” because I will ramble cheerfully at people about whatever awesome work I am doing and then walk out of the house without my keys. BUT. Living on my own, and having a basically functional life (as well as friends who run the gamut of chaos muppetry) has been REALLY helpful in realizing that this is an okay state of being. When I fuck up, I am bright and resourceful enough to fix it. And now, in my own head, it’s gone from an awful personality trait to a real but manageable weakness that is really not so bad on the spectrum of awful things. Especially since some of the brightest, kindest people I know are chaos muppets.

    If you are scatterbrained our absent minded, that is a fine state of being as long as you own your mistakes and can get yourself out of them. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and that is a wonderful thing.

  76. Am I the only person that is disturbed that LW’s friend has a very dangerous oven?

    It may be beloved and vintage, but if a small amount of liquid can destroy an entire oven, it probably wasn’t in the best condition to start and certainly shouldn’t have been in active use. My aunt has a beautiful antique oven with claw feet that I’d estimate is from the 1920’s. She keeps it in the garden as decoration because it is old as fuck and would burn her house down if she used it.

    LW probably saved her friend’s life from a later, unwitnessed malfuction.

      1. Re: misspelling.

        If you pronounce it out loud, it still makes perfect (if somewhat obscene) sense. 🙂

    1. I don’t know; we know nothing about the oven except that it was old and that it had a short. “They should be grateful that their friend broke their large appliance because it was probably dangerous anyway” seems like quite a leap to make. “Fragile” doesn’t have to equal “dangerous”

      1. Yes, this. And frankly it’s pretty jerkface-y to try to turn “oops, I made a mistake” into “not only was what I did perfectly OK and you have no right to be upset, but you should be THANKING ME!” LW didn’t go that route (likely because LW is not a jerkface).

        1. Yes–thank you.

          I admit to being a bit dismayed by the “that must have been a crappy/terrible/dangerous stove anyway!” comments, which popped up a few places. I have some old, fragile, creaky belongings of various types, some for sentimental value, some bought when I was broke and couldn’t afford better. If a friend destroyed one by accident and apologized that would be totally fine, since accidents happen… but any “well it was old and crappy anyway” or “really I was doing you a favor” comments would piss me the fuck off.

          (Not directed at LW, who made no such comments! LW seems to be trying to take responsibility, which is laudable. But I think it’s not so good to encourage people to treat breaking someone else’s belongings as doing them a favor.)

          1. Sorry guys. I had meant that mostly a joke, which is a very bad habit. I don’t actually think that the appropriate response to an accident is “it was going to happen anyway so I saved you! Thank me and give me cookies!”

            I was struck by a funny idea that it would be interesting if there was a person that was cosmically delegated to causing small accidents where larger, more horrific incidents were meant to occur. No one would know that the chaos magnet was actually some sort of guardian godsend.

            “I’m going to say something unhelpful and hyperbolic because I’m on the internet and it amuses me.” is probably be a good way to get banned from here. I’ll keep my tangents in short stories instead of here.

            If I’m going to make grand exaggerated assumptions, I could also say that maybe the oven was left to LW’s friend by a departed grandparent and that the emotional trauma of having it broken caused a mental break. Or that the spilled water seeped into the wall and will cause rot which will lead to a fire later, or for the floor under the oven to cave in, causing thousands of dollars in repair work to the home. Or that gremlins did it. Or that the oven achieved AI and was very disappointed that it had to exist as an oven and opted out of life.

            Once again, I’m sorry.

          2. @SketchedLilly

            And I’m sorry for taking your meant-in-jest comment overly seriously! It hit me in a weird place (I have a bad history of people telling me that they’d gotten rid of or wrecked my things “for your own good”) and so I was, er, rather more humorless than was warranted, and that’s not your fault. I don’t think you need to apologize. 🙂

          3. I often find myself thinking or try to tell myself “this annoying/frustrating/expensive/sad thing that happened, while being upsetting/unpleasant, might actually be saving me from something worse because i’ll be driving slower/in a different place at a time when something worse might have happened/something like that”. Which is sort of how i try to view the Universe, and sort of a way i try and be less cranked or anxious or self-kicking about things that can’t be undone, and just generally feel more ok sooner and keep a kinder, less anxious view of myself and Things. Commenting on this sparked by SketchedLilly’s idea about the chaos magnet bleeding off impending things in less bad ways. Sometimes i think ‘well, if i had that kind of karma to burn off, that was at least a recoverable-from way to have to do it’.

            The big thing is i *almost never say things like that to anyone else about their experiences*, and **certainly never ever if i had gorped something of theirs**. It’s my own coping-strategy deal and i might share it as something i’m trying to do or that occurred to me about this thing that happened to me, and it’s not easy but it sometimes helps break up the solidity of my story about What’s Going On. That’s me talking about my mind, and if it introduces an idea that’s useful, great, and if not, what a curious way to think about things. But it could feel very invalidating to someone to be told that about their currently distressing experience (and i think people do use that kind of thing that way, maybe to deflect blame or discomfort). And imagining other people reading this, i wonder if i do sometimes also invalidate my own hurts/upsets this way. It can be really helpful, but, timing, readiness, permission to just feel hurt or whatever first….

            Thinking more about it in trying to write about it, it’s not that i have any certainty that X, while seeming to suck, saved me from Y, which would have been even worse if not for X, so i could appreciate X instead of being pissed off about it. It’s that i feel like for me, considering the possibility that that _could_ be happening, there’s no way to know for sure that it’s not, takes my mind out of a state of This is Definitely Not Ok and closer to one of Don’t Actually Know The Big Picture, Could Be Anything. To other people though, i usually say “I’m so sorry, that sucks” and let perspective be their job unless i’m asked to provide it. Exponentially so if it’s something i did or caused.

    2. Too many assumptions!

      We don’t know how much water ‘leaked out’. We don’t know whether that water leaked onto the normal places that eg overboiling water would leak, or whether it was leaking over the control knobs or similar. We know literally nothing that would validate the idea that the stove was dangerous to start with.

      Some of my friends once borrowed my fridge for a year. They put a freezer on top of it, and when they defrosted the freezer the water from it leaked into the electrics of my fridge, destroying it. (They apologised and bought me a new fridge!) That doesn’t mean there was anything wrong with the fridge (it was barely a year old!), it just means that water got somewhere where water was, in the normal way of things, not expected to get.

      Plus everything that Badger Rose said.

    3. I see where the other commenters are coming from, SketchedLilly, but I read what you wrote as a joke. I can’t put my finger on why, but I chuckled at your comment before moving on and thought it was meant humorously.

    4. Re: your later explanation of the concept of someone whose purpose in life is to have small accidents that prevent larger accidents: you want to read Craig Shaw Gardner’s Ebenezum Trilogy. It’s both hilarious and right in line with this idea.

  77. Captain, did your father and my father go to the same “how to be a perfectionistic gaslighter” school? Because this is so, so familiar. When i was a kid, he would scream and yell if sugar got dumped on the floor when Kool-aid was made and then not speak to us for days except to mutter “stupid women”. He’s not allowed in my house anymore because he would start cleaning it and refuse to leave (at 1 AM when I needed to be at work at 7 AM). He also does crap like calling my mother “someone with no brain” or “a member of the No Housekeeping society” because she forgot to put something away that is Not For Kids before we came to visit them with kids in tow.

    I think the point I fully realized how fucked up this actually is was when he was being his usual sarcastic self at my mom during FirstKid’s 1st birthday celebration, and after they left Spouse was all “WTF?!?!?!” and I was, “Um, that’s just my dad being his normal self…?” and Spouse was, “No, seriously WTF, that is not an OK way to treat your wife!”

    Spouse has started calling him on this – when Dad started in on Mom and being insulting, Spouse just *looked* at him and said, “This IS your wife you’re talking about?” And he has even less tolerance for Dad directing this kind of thing at me, and none at all for directing it at one of the kids. (This, incidentally, is part of why Mom, who wasn’t so sure about Spouse at first, came around. The other part is that Spouse was willing to talk to Mom about computers without calling her multiple variations on “ignorant technophobic idiot” or just plain “stupid woman”. Mom was just short of in tears, she was so grateful to hear, “No, YOU did nothing wrong to your computer. Here, let me look at it and tell you what’s not working so I can recommend how best to fix it, if that’s OK with you.”)

    And sort of like the LW, I’ve done a lot of stupid things, mostly around money and failure to Clean All The Things on a regular basis (and have ADHD that went untreated and unrecognized until after SecondKid’s birth) but I’ve also done a lot of “responsible adult” things. With two very short-term exceptions (one of which was for grad school the first go-around), I have been steadily employed since I was 19. I’m 35. I have nothing worse than traffic tickets on my criminal record, I have TWO Masters’ degrees and am working on a PhD, I’ve been with Spouse for almost 11 years, I bought a house and a car, I’ve kept cats alive for the last 10 years, and CPS found no reason to take my kids when a malicious asshole filed a false report on us. I must not fail at adulthood quite as badly as I often think I do?

    1. Crap. I didn’t mean to say “done stupid things” in reference to the LW. I’m sorry. More that it does seem like I have that same chaos-surrounds-me reputation, but some of it comes from trying to bail OTHER PEOPLE out of THEIR chaos. It got better when I learned to stop doing that.

  78. This post just reminded me of a poem, so I would like to leave it here. (And Auntie Google, bless her, came to my rescue when TWO ANTHOLOGIES did not have first-line indexes, what use is a poetry anthology without a first-line index?)

    Most of the other comments have covered what I wanted to say, especially with regard to “friends who say that are not good friends” and “how you deal with being clumsy is a big part of how it will be received.” I just wanted to add that it’s okay to be clumsy sometimes. Humans are not perfect. We are all clumsy.

    Love Poem

    My clumsiest dear, whose hands shipwreck vases,
    At whose quick touch all glasses chip and ring,
    Whose palms are bulls in china, burs in linen,
    And have no cunning with any soft thing

    Except all ill-at-ease fidgeting people:
    The refugee uncertain at the door
    You make at home; deftly you steady
    The drunk clambering on his undulant floor.

    Unpredictable dear, the taxi drivers’ terror,
    Shrinking from far headlights pale as a dime
    Yet leaping before apopleptic streetcars—
    Misfit in any space. And never on time.

    A wrench in clocks and the solar system. Only
    With words and people and love you move at ease;
    In traffic of wit expertly maneuver
    And keep us, all devotion, at your knees.

    Forgetting your coffee spreading on our flannel,
    Your lipstick grinning on our coat,
    So gaily in love’s unbreakable heaven
    Our souls on glory of spilt bourbon float.

    Be with me, darling, early and late. Smash glasses—
    I will study wry music for your sake.
    For should your hands drop white and empty
    All the toys of the world would break.

    –John Frederick Nims
    ( I found it at the site called Poemhunter, I don’t think I can put a link in)

  79. This thread reminds me SO MUCH of Elizabeth from “Keeping up appearances”. The main character, Hyacinth, would invite Elizabeth over for tea and make a big fuss over how special the tea cups were, or that the carpet was brand new, and what a disaster it would be if someone spilled something on the carpet or broke the china…. and poor Elizabeth would be so nervous that the cup rattled on the plate because her hands were shaking… and would always, always spill the tea or break the cup, and was always, always labeled as clumsy.

    (But the show always made it clear that Hyacinth was the problem. Moral: Don’t spend time with people who behave like this.)

    Clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmB82-QWNNk

  80. I don’t really have anything constructive to add, but thank you for this post. It’s given me a lot to think about regarding having a role in a group and other people being more invested in the stories they tell about you than in who you really are.

    1. Chiming in to agree here.

      It’s also made me think about those times that my stories changed.

      Like the “fact” that I was Truly Terrible At Sports, a story that became so natural to me that I completely accepted it and even made self-deprecating jokes about it, Until one day in high school when our gym teacher was a substitute in Maths or something, and someone made I joke, and I joined in… and the teacher had no idea who or what we were talking about. And I sort of vaguely pointed at myself, and she looked SO PUZZLED, you guys. Because I wasn’t Terrible At Sports. It had never occured to this person, this person who was grading me on my physical prowess, that I was Terrible At Sports. I wasn’t a shining athletic star, sure. But I was fine.

      Sometimes I’ll realize that part of me still believes it, and I’ll have to drag that memory out and tell myself: See? This story probably isn’t true. Stop telling it.

  81. Oh wow, when I got to the part about people making things about How You Are As A Person, I think a lightbulb switched on over my head, because that’s a huge part of how the dysfunctional dynamics in my family played out. With a side of “$THING that you did is just like $THING that $PERSON does, and we all know $PERSON is bad, so now you are bad in precisely the same way that $PERSON is bad.” And, just for extra lulz, there could be other times when the same $PERSON was good, and I was failing to be enough like $PERSON.*

    Basically, I grew up thinking I was a lazy, irresponsible, unreliable slob (who was nonetheless counted on to drop everything and take care of everyone whenever there was a family crisis), and I grew up believing that about myself. I grew up believing that about myself even though I also knew I was depressed and needed help, and even though most of the evidence of how lazy, irresponsible, etc. I was were actually symptoms of depression.

    A couple of years ago, I went to talk to my doctor about how things were going. By that point I actually thought I might have ADHD because I was having trouble concentrating, couldn’t get organized, and kept forgetting things. I was hoping I had ADHD because that would mean I wasn’t a fuck-up, just a person with a totally explainable problem. She told me that I may or may not have ADHD, but that since we knew I was depressed, and depression can account for those symptoms, too, we should get the depression under control first.

    And oddly enough, once I started managing the depression, I started being able to manage lots of other things more effectively. Getting up and planning things and cleaning my house and getting my kidlet to story times and even sometimes having friends over for dinner are actually possible for me now!

    Lately I’ve been having a lot less to do with my parents, too, and lo and behold, the less contact I have with them, the better I seem to do. It’s like when I’m around them, they start defining who I am, but when I’m away from them and I can define myself for myself, and I much prefer my definition to theirs. Getting away from the stories they tell about me means I get to write my own story, and theirs start to lose their power over me.

    *and I have now succeeded in making “person” not even look like a word to me.

  82. Hi LW,
    There was a personal essay in XOJane recently about a woman who was diagnosed with ADHD in her mid-20s. Maybe read it and see if it feels like it fits or not. http://www.xojane.com/healthy/late-diagnosis-adhd

    This paragraph reminded me of your letter:

    “Many loved ones through the years have found names for my problem too: Slothy Slothiness. Another Day in the Life of Disaster Girl. The Anna Show, Where the Rest of Us Can Only be Extras. Subconscious Animosity. Subconscious Disrespect. Laziness. Selfishness. Cruelty. Bob O’Reilly (that one is a long story). ”

    maybe the diagnosis fits for you and maybe it doesn’t. I was recently diagnosed with ADHD, too, though, and one thing that’s kind of neat is, a lot of the behavioral coaching/advice I’ve been getting very much mirrors what’s been said in this thread anyway. for example:
    – change the narrative about yourself
    -slow down and be mindful to avoid mistakes
    – notice how your sleep and stress levels affect your performance and plan accordingly
    – have routines so you don’t accidentally leave out steps

    but yeah, if you think the diagnosis may fit, it’s worth talking to a psychologist about! there are medications that help! there are more structured behavioral interventions! (I am actually literally meeting with an “ADHD coach” and so far it feels really useful.)

  83. Man it sucks that your friend said that.

    I would say: maybe you are a clumsy person, maybe you are chronically inattentive, maybe you really do fuck a lot of stuff up, or have a myriad of other common, low-level flaws. Maybe getting more sleep, or meditating, or making a big effort consciously double-check All The Things like blender lids or whatever will benefit you. But even if you found a good way to deal with all that other stuff, honestly? Everyone fucks up. Friends should understand that and handle it without slinging bullshit diagnosinsults at you.

    Honestly? If you were a person who seemed to consistently break stuff, I would probably take steps to keep you from being in contact with my stuff. I think it is not unfair for friends who have Nice Stuff They’re Concerned About to find a way to interact with you without putting their stuff at risk, but I don’t think displaying a level of friendliness, respect, and decency while doing this would hurt. And giving you the benefit of the doubt that all of this pretty obviously accidental stuff is really an accident, and not being accusatory and dickish, should be mandatory. If they really think you’re a drama monster, then maybe they don’t think highly enough of you to be deserving of your friendship?

    I mean, seriously. Accidentally spilling food onto a device used to cook food and it being ruined by that because it was a shitty appliance that was on it’s last leg: not your fault, and not a way that even your subconscious could plot to use to cause drama. That person is being an asshole, making up bullshit to try and vent their impotent rage at losing their shitty (but probably adorable?) old oven. They are the ones who fucked up here, and it is up to them to quietly decide whether they want to be friends with someone they have absurdly decided was a drama monster based on the face that they own crappy appliances. I think that they owe you an apology, but if you really think they’re decent folk who think you’re equally decent folk, maybe mention that you think they made an incredibly unfair and rude accusation at you, and it hurt, but that you’d like to extend the olive branch of “I really don’t want to break your stuff, maybe next time I chop the vegetables/we just go out to dinner?”

    But if they are as the Captain suggests, just eyeing you with suspicion and waiting for you to fuck up, I would try to find more friends who actually know how to enjoy your company.

  84. Hey, I know this thread is a few days old, but it didn’t look like someone else has touched on this yet– LW, you say that people have been telling you this chaos muppet stuff lately– if you’ve been noticing a lot more of these comments from people lately, maybe it’s worth checking in with yourself just to see how you’re feeling and if other stuff in your life is going on.
    By which I mean: in my own personal experience, I have a tendency to try and juggle a lot of things at once, and so I do sometimes whack into walls or break stuff when I’m distracted, and yet I manage to be a responsible person/friend/employee. BUT: if it really ramps up, and I keep forgetting equipment for work or I show up a day early for someone’s Halloween party (true story!) that tends to be a signal (for me! personally!) that I am a)sleep-deprived b)depressed c)sleep-deprived because I am depressed (OR IS IT THE OTHER WAY AROUND?).
    Of course, that feeds the depressed jerkbrain cycle, so instead of saying ‘hey, I’m feeling really fried from lack of sleep/time for some good self-care’ it’s ‘I always screw things up,’ and then I head on down the rabbit hole.
    I’m definitely not saying that you’re actually a chaos muppet doomed to sow broken appliances in your wake, and your friend was an asshole for saying what he did. And breaking a dish or losing a book isn’t an indicator of like, the deepest issues of your psyche. But if you’re getting more of these comments recently, it might help check to see if stuff in your life is affecting you in ways you haven’t registered.
    p.s. if it’s just that your friends are being tools, that sucks and I’m sorry.

  85. Dear LW,

    I had a significant other give me that same “you’re unconsciously causing chaos as an attention-getting mechanism” line, and that sucks. It turns out that my wall-hugging and forgetfulness were being caused by undiagnosed dysautonomia and a worse case of fibromyalgia than was realized at the time. [I am by no means suggesting you have either of those, this is just my situation.]

    I have since parted ways with that SO, become better at self-care, and learned strategies to work past my forgetfulness/etc [calendar on phone + wall calendar in kitchen, as well as dry erase boards *everywhere*]. Interestingly enough, I’m now the organized one in my marriage.

    I wish you all the best, and I hope that you are able to figure this ‘chaos muppet’ pattern out and either work past it, or eliminate it.

    *jedi fistbumps*

  86. Also signing in a little late, but I had to chime in. YMMV, but for me, when I am depressed I get dissociated. I feel like I am constantly spaced out, I have no idea where my limbs are and my short term memory is shot. Someone upthread mentioned ‘forgetting you are holding a cup of tea and just letting go of it.’ THAT. That was my signature chaos muppet move. I would have a short-term memory blip and forget I was holding something/that the lid wasn’t one the blender/that I was cycling and there’s a wall-! It took a long time and a Doctor before I realised that for me depressed doesn’t look like sad. It looks like clumsy, confused and really frickin’ forgetful. I was self-harming to help myself concentrate.

    Head meds really REALLY helped. It was like I suddenly had control of my limbs. I could remember things that happened five minutes ago without having to write EVERYTHING down.

    The other thing that really helped my physical clumsiness was taking up a social dance. It was HARD but I have learned where my body is, along with gaining some sweet moves and good, supportive friends. I took it up because a therapist recommended something that uses both sides of the brain in parallel, and suggested dancing or juggling. I truly believe it has helped rewire my wonky brain.

    Like many folks, I was a tall child. I’m not a tall adult now at 5’7, but I am mentally about 6 foot 2, because I spent my formative years being told I was so tall, and all limbs and why did I have to flail so much?! I am still startled to see pictures that I am a quite normal height. LIke many folks, my Dad used to affectionately call me “fuckup” and applaud chaos monkey moments with a sarcastic “how unlike you, Salamander.” I shut that shit down. You can too. Much love.

  87. I, too, dated an Order Muppet who never misplaced his keys or cell phone, never broke a mug, always had clean matching socks, etc., and (loudly, frequently) considered me immature for not being the same way. I’m sorry so many of us have had that experience, but it’s also nice not to feel alone!

    When I first read the Chaos/Order Muppet article, I thought of it as a fuzzy and adorable way of revisiting the right brain, left brain dichotomy. So to me, yes, Chaos Muppetry is losing and breaking things, but it’s also spontaneity, creativity, and improvisation. I don’t know, LW, if you’re saying “Chaos Muppet” in that way — but if so, it’s not all bad to be a Chaos Muppet, even in a world that prizes Order. I can leave the house in five minutes; my Order Muppet roommate needs half an hour, minimum.

  88. I have yet another way that the ‘clumsy’ story can happen. I was a year and a half younger than the rest of my class in school from the time I was 4 years old. And in childhood, that’s a looong time. So I was the clumsy, uncoordinated one in comparison to my peers – and so began all the family stories and confirmation bias. (It also didn’t help that I moved schools quite a lot, and they all had different ways of teaching handwriting and games, so even the adults thought I was doin it rong.)

    It took over two decades for it to dawn on me that – wait a minute, duh, of course I wasn’t as physiologically well-coordinated as kids a year or two older than me…

  89. I just wanted to say thank you because I sat down to read this and it really really [i]really[/i] helped to hear that this kind of thing can be caused by tensing up because someone [i]expects[/i] you to fuck up. I mean, I know it intellectually (and suspect it’s related to the self-consciousness described in the “That Suimsuit Becomes You” paper), but hearing it from you, it [b]helps[/b].

    Last week I was very tired and stressed and I put the leftovers from dinner away in the tupperware, and then I put the tupperware back in the cupboard instead of in the fridge. I caught it three minutes later, and then put it in the fridge, but when I mentioned it to my spouse later (“jeez, I’m exhausted – look, I did X), he just looked at me sadly and said “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but that’s why I check your work.”

    Which is making me want to cry again just thinking about it.

    So thank you, thank you, thank you for being the voice of reason, and for reminding me that when this kind of thing mostly happens around one person, it’s probably not entirely me?

    1. That reaction would have made me really angry. Doing something like is the fun silliness of life!

      Everyone does that sort of thing, I put the milk on the windowsill and went to put the sugar in the fridge before I realised my mistake just last week and we all giggled about it! Also what about putting the yoghurt pot in the sink and going to put the spoon in the bin? It seems to me that any small task that doesn’t usually take any brain power can go wrong when you’re tired and elsewhere.

      I know plenty of people that are hyper watched at work (through stats etc…) and if you start getting the least bit anxious about your performance it can spiral out of control. I hope they stop saying unhelpul, stressful things.

      1. Or mornings where I get cereal for breakfast, and go to put orange juice or coffee on it instead of milk.

        I actually did speak up about it, after I took a moment to check myself and conclude that yes, I really was upset, and not upset-due-to-being-so-tired-I-made-the-mistake. I think they got it. I’m actually pretty sure they got it, I just remember it as something that really hurt at the time.

        It’s hard because I have a history of depression, and neither the condition nor the side-effects of the pills made me less absent-minded (I’m currently, after several years, trying very carefully to manage the depression without medication), so they got into the habit of checking me. And I think maybe sometimes I am more absent-minded than The Average Person, whoever they are… but that doesn’t mean the distrust doesn’t hurt, you know?

        1. The distrust would definitely hurt, especially if it had become just a general habit that relates to things that anyone might do. I think after a time someone can become hyper vigilant to some things you do.

          My experience of this was that I had severe stomach cramps with my period for years and years. It got so bad that I was worn down all the time and often sick after my period as well. I realised that even though I’m not suffering currently I, my partner and family still talk about any sickness/injury I have in a way that joins it all together and was warping my sense of how often I am actually ill.

          1. I think part of the reason it recognizably hurt (if that makes sense; that it was clearly pinpoint-able as the source of something wrong, rather than being hard to pick out of a general background haze of “This is uncomfortable. I feel bad. There are bees”) is that it actually surprised me. I thought we were over that, you know? (I mentioned below in response to Vicki that I’ve noticed they’re specifically doing underdismissiveful things less.)

            I’m so sorry to hear you’re hearing so much about “Madebyryn is ill all the time” that it’s distorting your own perceptions; that can be really uncomfortable and draining. I really hope your partner and family can regroup and remember the other times, and stop trying to make a forest pattern out of passing trees.

          2. Well it seems like you are both handling it really well! Reading about all the times things don’t work it is easy to forget that most of the time the people that love us will take things on board and do their best.

            I have had a talk with some of them, my partner certainly seemed to get it and I’m going to make an effort to talk differently myself about my health and see how it goes.

    2. “Please don’t take this the wrong way” is usually a bad sign: people say that when they know that what follows is going to be rude or upsetting, but can’t be bothered to either find a better way to say it, or to not say it at all.

      I think there’s a problem here, and it’s not that you put the tupperware in the wrong place. It wouldn’t be that even if you had noticed three days later instead of three minutes, or if your spouse had been the one to find it because he wanted the leftovers and they weren’t in the fridge.

      1. I get you. (I don’t think it’s an unmanageable problem? We frequently frustrate each other, but when attention is called to something (which is sometimes hard for me to do (I tend to get very wordy when I’m stressed, and bring in asides and tangents, and I’m going to stop getting quite so paranthetical now–

        Gah. I know what this sounds like.

        I will say that first, I have a history of medical problems and medication side-effects that mean I have been more absent-minded in the past. And that when we say “please don’t take this the wrong way” in a serious discussion, we’ve generally managed to make it mean “please don’t take it as a judgment of personal worth”. Which doesn’t make what is said *right*, I know, but it’s not the “Well, I know this isn’t politically correct, but…” of our conversations.

        (There may be situations in which that phrase is brought up and not followed by something egregious. I personally just haven’t met many.)

        And second, in about the last year, when I call my spouse on managing me–on helpfully interrupting to tell me I’m not answering correctly, or speaking for me in front of people–they’ve stopped. I don’t mean “for a bit”, I mean “since I last said X was a problem, which was back a few days after Christmas, it hasn’t happened, and X was the most recent thing I said was hurtful; they haven’t done Y, either, and that last came up a couple of months before X last did.”

        Still… That unexpected comment stung because it suggested a pattern which required extra effort at The Chore of Living With Me, rather than a brief incident, you know? I am at least glad it was unexpected. It suggests to me that they’re improving.

    3. I hope your spouse finds a way to start saying things like, “Hey, good on you for catching it.” Being able to catch your mistakes is an important part of managing them.

  90. I didn’t see anyone mention this explicitly (though the Captain’s advice #(a) implies it), so:

    There’s always the possibility that there’s a medical condition that is causing or contributing to your “clumsiness.” A reputable doctor should run the appropriate tests to rule out medical conditions before assuming anything psychological or neurological.

    (P.S. to Captain: is this the new permanent theme for the blog? Because my browsers at home show only the blue header; the rest of the page is always blank.)

  91. it looks like I am late to the party (I always am), but I wanted to give my two cents because I don’t 100% agree with CA. I think it is absolutely possible your friends are being assholes- but I don’t see anything in the letter to make it seem this is 100% for sure the problem. As a clumsy disorganized person, I have a couple of questions for you. If your answer is Yes, your friends are jerks. If your answer is NO, maybe re-think what you are doing. Being clumsy happens to everything- being thoughtless doesn’t have to.
    1) You borrow something and lose it. Do you try to replace it? Or at least talk to your friend about it?
    2) With the stove incident- when you saw that your were spilling, did you try to fix the situation? Or did you just let stuff spill and walk away and leave it for your friend to find later?
    3) When you borrow things, do you genuinely TRY to be careful (forget about success here. I don’t care if you break the damn thing into a million pieces. I mean are you being careful with it and thinking about it before you drop it, or do you toss it around like it’s nothing?)

    If I had a clumsy friend who sometimes lost things, here is what I would do.
    1) Depending on how often things were lost, I might stop lending the very precious/irreplaceable things. Or I might mostly stop lending things in general. BUT- unless asked I wouldn’t tell the friend why, because it would be a matter of “I like A, but I don’t like when she loses things”, and I wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings. If you asked, I’d tell you though
    2) For a generally clumsy person, I would go out of my way to help them. “Oh- you want to make soup? Here- I’ll clear room for you so you don’t have to do it on my super-special stove”, “Oh, you want to pour me wine? Great! Thanks! Let’s just not do it over my rug”. If your friends aren’t bothering to help you but ARE complaining after the fact, they aren’t being good friends.

    Bottom line: If you genuinely care about your friend’s possessions and attempt to take good care of them/not damage them, it is ok if you sometimes mess up. It happens. The problem is only if you damaging things because you just don’t care- and I don’t think that is the fact, as you wrote in for help

    1. I have to say it didn’t even occur to me to assume that LW might have said “Oh, wow, look at that spill go – well, I’ll just leave that there, then.”

      LW wrote in about a problem with being clumsy in some situations. If even you don’t think that she’s being thoughtless–and the level of thoughtlessness described in questions two and three is framed as being pretty obnoxious–why ask her if that’s the case?

      This reads like a response to “I’m clumsy sometimes” that’s “Are you sure? You might just be really selfish.”

      1. I think some people are responding with these kinds of questions because of the way LW described some of these things as “happening to her,” language which, intentionally or not, seems to be avoiding some level of responsibility. It makes sense that people would wonder how LW responds when these things happen because they seriously inform people’s reactions to events that would otherwise not be a huge deal.

        I read this comment more as, “Okay, sometimes that does effect other people, though, so what steps are you taking to take responsibility for those times?”

        1. Yeah, that. Especially since the one example we have of something that “happened” was something the LW did actually cause–not deliberately, it was clearly an accident, but it wasn’t a random act of nature or something.

    2. Agreed. Shit happens in life, but how you deal with something when you’re at fault – even if it was an accident – says a lot about how you value relationships.

      I’ve been on both sides of this. When I’m tired, my motor skills and depth perception suffer, and I’ve accidentally dinged co-workers’ cars before, trying to get out of a crowded parking lot to go home. It was an accident, but I had to do my best to make it right. In this case I had to cover their insurance deductible with my credit card so they could get their car fixed.

      I’ve also been the friend who was constantly stuck helping someone navigate chaos and escape disasters in her own life. After a while, I started to see a pattern – she was being reckless with herself, and her recklessness about her health/capabilities/resources/relationships ended up negatively impacting the people close to her in a number of unpleasant ways.

      As an aside, though, that thing that your friend said to you was unnecessarily cruel, no matter what the context of the situation was.

  92. There are so many great comments on this thread that I wasn’t going to write anything, but kind of feel compelled to.

    I had terrible eyesight (not anymore, thank you eyeball lasers!) as a child and didn’t get glasses until I was nearly 12, because nobody noticed that I was nearly legally blind. I routinely fell down the stairs, smashed into things, walked into cabinets, was booted from ballet class for bashing into the other girls, often got hit in the face with things when I was forced to play sports, and was seriously injured when my mother decided the best way to teach me how to ride a bike was to put me on an adult sized bike and shove me down a hill.

    By the time I got glasses, I had been labeled as the clumsy, uncoordinated one who is terrible at sports and can’t be trusted with anything fragile.

    Combined with a mother who liked to tell me to do things I had never done before, like making me cook a complicated, multi-step stew dish at 12 and then screaming and slamming cabinet doors at me when I forgot to add the fried bacon at just the right time meant that I grew up into a very self-conscious, timid person who was always stressing out about doing it the Right Way. She did the same stuff to my brother, but he responded by becoming the person who Doesn’t Care What You Think.

    With the help of a good therapist, I’m starting to see how those things defined me, even though I am, in other settings, really competent. It’s also made me realize that I can’t really be around my mother or HER mother, where she definitely learned those behaviors (like standing over me when I’m putting clothes in the washer, because….because? They may not end up in the right order at the bottom of the washer? Who knows!)

    Anyway, the Captain’s advice was impeccable. Even if you are clumsy, you aren’t the Swirling Vortex of All Disaster Ever, and people who keep trying to convince you that you are can take the proverbial long walk off the short pier. It took a lot for me to start taking responsibility for the minor things I did break or damage, because it was the End of the World with my mother, whereas most people will understand that you didn’t maliciously spill the drink and won’t hate you forever for it, but I lived in such fear of the out of proportion consequences that it was hard for me to own up to anything. It’s still a big problem, especially at work, but I’m actively trying to convince my jerkbrain that a mistake just means I’m human like 100% of everyone else, and not a Big Stupid Mistake-Making Unforgivable Idiot.

    1. Thank you for this. I have trouble owning up to things, too. First, jerkbrain tries to convince me that I can just silently hope no one will notice. Then jerkbrain tells me I can’t expect to get away with that, and I better own up. When I do, I tend to come across as over-apologizing and self-flagellating, and people usually tell me it’s not a big deal. So then jerkbrain kicks me because I would have been better off not making such a big deal out of it. I struggle to find the middle ground of acknowledging, apologizing, fixing, and moving on.

      It makes total sense that living in a situation where someone imposes out-of-proportion consequences, would result in an out-of-proportion fear of consequences. Sometimes my mom’s answer to “I don’t wanna do dishes,” was a cheerful “what if you offer to trade your brother one night of dinner dishes for two mornings of making both your beds,” and sometimes it was a slap across the face followed by “we all have to do things we don’t want to do, just like I didn’t want to have to hit you to get you to do your work.”

      1. “It makes total sense that living in a situation where someone imposes out-of-proportion consequences, would result in an out-of-proportion fear of consequences.”

        That seems so obvious written out, but yes. I’m so used to my mother exploding over complete non-issues that it can be a challenge owning up to self-admitted mistakes.

    2. Wow, this is horrible. People not paying enough attention to you to figure out that you can’t see much and how your mother treated you. This is a really hard thing to overcome, the programming that it’s a GREAT BIG DISASTER OF DOOM when you make a mistake.

      1. It is! Sometimes I wish I could just send my therapy invoices directly to mother. I wasn’t in school for several years when I was younger, which is usually where eyesight problems get noticed, and it was just assumed that I was sedentary and kind of lazy by nature, rather than preferring to be that way because it meant I wasn’t going to fall down the stairs or trip over something. The narrative of me being the uncoordinated one got written when I was really young, and while I’m not a paragon of gracefulness, it’s not like I’m Mr. Magoo, either. Also, PEOPLE TRIP OR WALK INTO THINGS SOMETIMES. It happens.

        For a long time my MO when I screwed up was to cover it up and try frantically to fix it, which sometimes worked, but often doesn’t, and I end up looking more incompetent than if I had just owned up to the issue. But it’s really hard, because no distinction was made between actual-big-mistake and not-so-big-mistake when I was younger, so the consequences were ALWAYS disastrous, so as an adult I have a hard time not feeling like every error, no matter how minor, is a huge problem. I guess the one positive is that when someone else messes up and they tell me, I try really, really hard to make sure that my reaction is in proportion with the mistake and also not to make people feel worse when they own up to it.

  93. I suggest going and getting yourself tested for dyspraxia, also known as developmental coordination disorder (DCD).

    1. Captain specifically stated that saying things to the tune of “It sounds like you might have (condition), so you should ______” are 100% Not Okay. Encouraging and de-stigmatizing seeking support from professionals, both in medical fields and counseling/therapy routes, is great! But attempting to diagnose from afar… not cool.

      1. I would really like it if someone could explain the logic behind this as frankly it smacks of ableism. WTF is wrong with suggesting “hey, I don’t know if you’ve heard of this, maybe you want to check this? I’m not a health care professional so clearly do not know, but you may want to look into it.” I seriously don’t get what on earth is offensive about that? I can see where “omg LW you are so [INSERT CONDITION HERE]!” is super not cool, but when I see someone displaying misery and all the signs of a certain condition they may not even know about, I’m not going to vaguely suggest they see a health care professional. A lot of HCPs are fucking idiots frankly, or more specifically they think they know everything about everything, when the truth is NO ONE knows all about all, so they might not know about Velociraptorphobia. If I see someone living in misery, displaying signs of a condition that is familiar to me, I think it is downright cruel to not put a name on it and share. WTF is wrong with having something “wrong” with us anyway?!

        1. Hi, it’s my blog, and it’s my rule, and it’s not going away. It saves us from a lot of conversations like this: “You probably have x” “My sister’s cousin has x, right on.” “I read in a magazine that you should take y for x, that will probably help you” “No, it sounds like z.” “I have x, that’s definitely not x.” “I tried taking y, and it didn’t help my x, therefore you are wrong.“Could it be q or r?” I see it happen on other sites (and on this one before we had that rule). It totally hijacks the thread, and as a lay person moderating 1,000s of comments/week I can’t suss out the good science from the bad science in a timely & responsible fashion. We can’t reliably know how to diagnose or treat x condition in someone we haven’t met, but we can talk about behaviors and share personal stories. I prefer to focus discussions there.

          You say: “If I see someone living in misery, displaying signs of a condition that is familiar to me, I think it is downright cruel to not put a name on it and share. WTF is wrong with having something “wrong” with us anyway?!

          Nothing is wrong with having something wrong. I specifically gave ground rules for the discussion where people could say “I had something similar going on, it turned out to be x, that might be useful to you if you get checked out.” But the “don’t diagnose total strangers through the internet based on 400 words they sent in” rule stands.

          1. Woah!
            I had no idea my comment was going to provoke such a strong response. It was a shock to read such vitriol but I can appreciate other posters took exception to what they perceived as a breach of the rules. I apologise for any offense caused, however unintentional!
            Let me clarify that I did not, was not and do not intend to diagnose the LW. I merely read the letter which mirrored a conversation I had recently with a friend about their dyspraxia prompting me to post the *suggestion* quickly before heading out. I’ll be sure to be more careful of how my posts could be interpreted in future.
            Oh and to add my last name to differentiate myself to Captain Awkward herself.

        2. A ton of the rest of us on the site have found ways to talk, at length, about diagnosable conditions that may explain something in a letter, treatments that work for them, and who to go to for help. We just do it by talking about our own experiences, instead of presuming to know somebody else’s. There are multiple examples here–just Ctrl+F for “ADHD”.

  94. I find interesting the dichotomy many people are seeing here — either the LW is stressed/has ADD or a spatial disorder, or she is somehow being careless/selfish. But what if this is just part of who she is, and that fact is neither something to be explained nor something to be fixed? I have a dear friend who is super organized, a go-getter, has it totally together and on the physical end of things is athletic and coordinated. She’s also one of my most empathetic friends, the one who keeps far-flung people in contact, always sends a card and organizes the birthday party and checks in to see how you’re doing. But! She is also the proverbial “bull in the china shop.” She spills things. She knocks things over. She came to visit me a few years ago and busted the lock to my (sixth-floor) balcony door by trying to turn it too hard. (Thankfully the locksmith came and fixed it before my plants all died of thirst.)

    I’ve known her since we were 3 years old and this is just who she is. I certainly don’t believe it suggests something about her subconscious, like the LW’s possibly gaslighting friend. But I don’t assume she has some kind of “condition” that requires managing, either. I simply accept it along with the other good and bad things I accept about her. The same way she accepts that on occasion when we go on a trip together and things get stressful, I might have a brief mini-meltdown. That’s really the core issue I see here — that LW’s friend maybe doesn’t want to accept him/her for who s/he is, warts and all. Either that or s/he simply let anger about the damage to a beloved possession lead him/her to say something nasty to LW that s/he didn’t really mean. I could have done that to my friend — gotten all bent out of shape with the “How could you be so clumsy? Now I can’t get outside and my flower boxes are all going to wither away!” But I didn’t, because a)I’m a polite hostess and b)much more importantly, a perennial friend is worth a lot more than annual flowers.

    1. Good point! I have a friend like that, she’s strong and athletic and just super uncoordinated. She falls down (and up) the stairs, off chairs, and runs into walls, and nobody cares. If I had something breakable and irreplaceable I would put it away before she came over, but otherwise, NBD. If she breaks one of my $3 IKEA tumblers, so what – it’s the price of admission for hanging out with her and really not that important.

    2. I hate to say this but if she’s continually doing things like this she needs to slow down and be more careful. There really isn’t outside of cognitive issues an excuse for being a perpetual chaos tornado like you describe here. Every time I’ve heard someone who is klutzky and bull-in-china-shop-ish, someone who is always accidentally elbowing people or things… somehow it always comes out they are frustrated/in a hurry/not paying attention etc. Somehow, they always end up saying that in some sort of fashion. Well… my response is then they need to seriously evaluate themselves, their behavior, slow the fuck down, and pay fucking attention to what is actually going on around them. I say this as someone who suffers from severe ADHD so I get the “wow I’m an idiot and do stupid shit” complex, totally. And it’s also my responsibility to grow up and get it the fuck together, either through modern meds, or by taking some personal time to figure it out. People shouldn’t have to worry about being bruised or having their shit ruined around a grown adult.

  95. I dunno, the dichotomy I’m seeing is different. It’s “takes responsibility” vs “shirks responsibility,” and taking responsibility is something that pretty much anyone can do, regardless of diagnosis or not.

    Someone who is terminally clumsy (like me!) but who takes responsibility for the things they lose, break, or screw up, is just being who they are, but being a mature adult about it. Someone–whether clumsy or not!–who plays the “but it’s not my fault!” card at every opportunity may be being who they are, but in a way that’s not going to garner respect from me.

    Screwing things up needs no explanation or fixing. Doing so while making other people fix everything for you kind of does.

  96. There is a lot of good advice here and I don’t think I can add much to it. 🙂

    I’m just commenting to say I was happy to see the mention of gaslighting. While I don’t know enough about LW’s relationship to their friend to say whether the term applies to them, it’s good to see people becoming more aware of this type of manipulation. Maybe more people will recognize it in someone else’s behavior or their own and get out of a dangerous situation earlier when they know more about it.

  97. LW here. Thanks for all the comments — lots of things to consider here and I really appreciate all the support, stories and practical advice for solving, or at least ameliorating, the chaos problem. Apologies for the gaps/inconsistencies in the letter. I agree that general clumsiness =/ the example I gave.

    Jennifer response was so right on: The friend whose stove I spilled on has a history with me of trying to manage my every move, so I do make mistakes around him that I wouldn’t otherwise, because I start feeling watched and nervous. I had been resisting taking responsibility for mistakes because I knew if I admitted to something, I wouldn’t ever live it down; it would become another chapter in the book about How I Mess Things Up. I was also resentful that I was being micromanaged in the first place, because I am a competent person, in general, who’s been managing for many years without his constant stream of “helpful” suggestions (which end up sounding like “I don’t trust you to do anything right on your own,” with a side order of “MY way is the right way and yours is wrong, just because.”) On the other hand, I do break stuff and make mistakes like this one, and it’s OK that he doesn’t want his things broken.

    We had been locked in a really unhelpful dynamic in which we weren’t communicating well. However, the stove incident was the beginning of a change in the way I operate. After I wrote the letter, I took responsibility for the spill, told him how much I loved the stove and that I would pay for a repair. He backed down, apologized for the comment, told me that my spill make him realize that the stove was improperly installed, and anyone could have been the one whose spill shorted it out.

    (The stove, happily, was repaired and is now properly installed.)

    The next time an incident happened when I was at his place, he called me up later and said, “You did this x thing I don’t like.” I said, “I’m sorry, that sucks. I didn’t mean to do it. Can I make amends by doing y?” and he said, “Well, you know, I could have done that myself since I was standing right there. I’m not actually sure you did x.” Shock!

    Everyone who has said that it’s crucial to deal with mistakes the right way is spot on, and I may not be able to avoid shattering a glass, but if it’s someone else’s glass I won’t be thoughtless about my reaction. I think this is going to go a long way toward rewriting the bad story about my clumsiness.

    1. Yay, LW, I’m so glad that the process seems to be in motion and that things are looking up for you. High five!

    2. Yay! I’m glad things are looking up for you.


      “I’m sorry, that sucks. I didn’t mean to do it. Can I make amends by doing y?”

      …seems to me to be pretty much the perfect example of apologizing for an accident. It’s taking responsibility without being self-flagellating, which is awesome.

    3. Great news all around for you, your friend, your relationship with each other and the stove. Well done!

  98. This community is the best. I lurk 99.7 percent of the time, but I learn so much about being an well-functioning adult here. Thanks again, everyone.

  99. I’ve never commented before, though I’ve read probably half of -all- the comments from this amazing collection of people. So many great insights above, especially about self-fulfilling social prophecies of clumsiness or incompetence.

    Just wanted to chime in with an observation from a few years of teaching martial arts, very much related to Salamander’s comment above about full-body motions like dance: physical competence is something that -can- be gained, or improved on, throughout adulthood. PT may help with serious and/or diagnosable conditions, but I was astonished to discover, once I re-started serious martial arts in adulthood, that I -stopped tripping as much, and was suddenly (sometimes) able to catch things when I fumbled them-!!! When, a few years later, I was encouraged to start teaching at our school, I developed a couple of close relationships with older students (50s-70s, mostly, but not all, women) who had never developed a sense of competence in their own bodies, or who had had things happen that encouraged them to dissociated from their bodies. The activities of martial arts, in (and this was really key) a nonjudgemental, personal-growth-oriented environment helped all of them/us get more competent with our bodies in ways that -totally- carried over into other parts of our lives.

    Not at all saying that martial arts are the magic solution to physical clumsiness – but that full-body activities, that help you develop a sense of where your core is, how you balance, -and- where your extremities are – can be a really positive developmental experience even in adulthood. There’s a lot of crappy messaging and sometimes a lot of baggage tied to “exercise” and “sports”, but finding a physical activity that -you take pleasure in- (and yes, for me, hitting other people (and later, helping others develop the confidence and skills to hit other people) in a friendly, supportive, and consensual environment was a key part of the fun) can be a real revelation to the “clumsy” among us.

    1. Yes! This is so true, especially about our perceptions of our own bodies and their capabilities being fluid. I do martial arts as well, but that’s not entirely relevant to the story I’m about to tell.

      I used to teach a human physiology lab for students in allied health professions (nurses, physician’s assistants, etc). We had a lab on senses. Most people know the five senses of smell, taste, touch, scent, and hearing, but there is a sixth one: proprioception. Proprioception is your body’s ability to perceive itself in space. You know where your hand is relative to the rest of you even when your eyes are closed and you’re not looking at it, because your nervous system relays information to your brain about the state of your muscles and how contracted they are.

      (Incidentally, proprioception is one of the first things to fail as you drink alcohol, it’s why sobriety tests include making you touch your nose. Anyway.)

      For our physiology lab on senses, at the proprioception station, we would trick students. We’d blindfold them, have them hold their arm out straight in front of them, and apply a massager (er, basically a giant vibrator) to the outside of their elbow, just above the joint. Then we told them to bring their index finger as close to their nose as they could without touching it, and to tell us when they could go no further. We’d take off their blindfolds, and to their surprise, their finger would inevitably be ~2 inches from their face – a lot farther away than they thought! The pressure of the vibrator “tricked” their brain into interpreting their elbow as more bent than it was, influencing their sense of proprioception. This worked for every student, except one.

      She was a very accomplished ballet dancer.

      The trick never worked on her. She always knew exactly where every bit of her body was in space, even with the deliberate interference from the massager.

      tl;dr: your sense of your body in space, your proprioception, can be trained. Things like dancing, gymnastics, and martial arts are particularly good at training this sense, because they require extreme, full-body coordination, but basically any kind of physical activity will do. “Clumsiness” and “gracefulness” aren’t necessarily things you’re either born with or without.

      This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with being clumsy, whatever, it doesn’t make anyone lesser to be clumsy! But if anyone’s ever told you “oh you could never do X, you’re too clumsy!” they are just plain wrong. You can learn. You might learn a little slower than someone with a better natural sense of proprioception (or someone who hasn’t been gaslighted into believing they’re clumsy by definition), but everyone learns at their own pace anyway.

      I feel like I should close this with something profound, but I’m terrible at that, so I’ll just leave it, heh.

    2. There’s a move from tai chee that actually helps clutzes like me focus on where the hands are – hold your palms parallel to the floor, and gently float them to shoulder height and down again, a few times, in time with your inhale – exhale.

      I drop things less often when I stop and do this – its calming and really orients me to where my hands are in relation to the rest of me.

  100. I am an extremely physically clumsy person when I am not concentrating intently. This causes me personal injury a few times per hour (stubbed toes, catching my hips on corners, papercuts, falling off rolly chairs, walking into walls, missing doorways). I have slammed my own head in car doors and fridges (how do you do this? easy! one hand commences slamming the door shut, but then you remember you have left something inside, so you stick your head back in and… BAM!).

    If you are a clumsy person it only takes a sprinkling of additional misadventure, like food poisoning, a train cancellation, or dropping your keys down an elevator shaft, and your narrative is confirmed.

    So basically my entire life history is accidentally breaking/spilling/damaging/losing stuff.

    Setting aside abusive relationships for the moment, here are the practical life lessons I have learned, so my narrative is clumsy, but not irresponsible or incompetent:

    1) Apologise, and don’t act like a corporation trying to limit liability. Yes, it was an accident, and you didn’t intend to cause any damage, but don’t mince words trying to limit your responsibility to the action and not the consequences. Keep it to “Oh no, I am so sorry, I absolutely did not intend for that to happen!” and then…

    2) Take actual concrete steps to fix the problem. If you break a light fitting, where possible don’t say: “Let me know how much it costs to replace” — take the light fitting home with you, match it, and replace it. It doesn’t matter how sincere your offers are if you’re making the other person do the *work*.

    If they truly insist you don’t repair/replace, drop by with a bottle of wine or some homemade jam or something. You have inconvenienced them and damaged their stuff, acknowledging that in a physical sense goes waaaaay beyond a verbal offer to make good.

    2) If you can afford it, be generous. You burned the non-stick pan irredeemably? Replace it with a nicer one. You misplaced something and they had to spend a bunch of time looking for it? Bake some muffins or spend a few hours helping them in the garden. Give sets of glasses as housewarming gifts, in-joke style.

    3) If possible, host at your own place frequently. Then you are on your own turf, and those are your own glasses you are smashing! But seriously, if the reason you’re always damaging Friend’s stuff is because you’re always at Friend’s place, consider the reasons why. If it’s because your own place is chaotic and you enjoy spending time at Friend’s place partly because it is more ordered… you need to be contributing to the order at Friend’s place, and not encroaching on it with your chaos. Offer to clean the oven. Nobody likes cleaning the oven. I have cleaned a friend’s oven and it was incredibly rewarding in a “the sandwich is love” kind of way.

    4) Help yourself to be dependable and responsible. I chant “keys, phone, wallet” out loud whenever I leave a location. My watch is set fast. Every event goes into my phone with alarms set to 1 day before + 1 hour before.

  101. I can somewhat relate…not to this specific thing, since I’ve never been very clumsy (I learned as a very small child that a thing dropped and/or broken meant a beating that could well leave permanent scars, which some did, so I learned very early to not let things fall. People seem shocked sometimes when they drop something-a stack of papers, glass vases, flimsy figurines that come apart-fall anywhere near me, and I manage to snatch them all safely out of the air before they hit the ground, even if I was a few feet away.) so that’s not it…but I do have a habit that is a problem to this day.

    I apologize for EVERYTHING. And I do mean everything. Sometimes it happens without me even realizing it, with absolutely nothing causing it. Someone says hi to me? “I’m sorry!” Someone mutters a quick ‘excuse me’ when pushing past me or even not bothering to say anything as they outright shove me out of their way? I immediately move out of the way and stammer apologies. Sometimes I just start letting out a string of apologies, one after the other, for no reason whatsoever, though I’ve noticed it mostly happens when I’m stressed or worried. I’m pretty sure I know the cause….when I was little, everything constantly seemed to be going wrong, and I lived with another girl who loved to purposely break things, take sweets or other food, make huge messes and do other things like that, then blame it on me. She was older than me, so if I tried to explain that I hadn’t done it…even if I had proof that it wasn’t me…I’d get punished for it, and then a worse punishment for saying I didn’t do it. So, I learned that if something went wrong, I’d better just start apologizing and hope I wouldn’t be trying to figure out how to not get blood on the sheets or carpet (another big offense) when a band-aid wouldn’t fit over the mark if they thought I was trying to avoid blame.

    I…did not have an ideal childhood.

    Anyway, now I tend to start stammering apologies at the slightest, SLIGHTEST provocation, even if I had nothing to do with whatever went wrong, or even if there isn’t anything wrong at all, if I’m feeling stressed about something, which is pretty much always since I’m very very paranoid and always expecting something terrible to happen, especially if anything good has come my way. My friends, particularly the friend I’m living with right now and his family, have noticed this and try to get me to stop. Unfortunately….well, my friend and his dad’s methods of trying to get me to stop usually involve yelling at me to knock it off, which just makes it worse because my brain translation works thus: (Slightly raised voice/change in facial expression/change in tone/change in overall behavior=OH SHIT RUN) and it almost sends me into a panic attack, but they don’t seem to realize that.

    His dad actually has accused me multiple times of doing it on purpose for either attention or to purposely irritate people, which has driven me almost to tears (as soon as I can get somewhere where I’m alone, of course. I never, ever, ever cry in front of people, or show any kind of emotional weakness, or even physical weakness when I’m sick, in front of people. I’ve gone in to work after throwing up blood that morning just because I didn’t want anyone to worry about me, so I didn’t want to call in sick even though I’d been in the hospital only a few days before.) and I do my best to stop myself if I catch myself doing it, but it’s like a verbal tic, and if I do it once and they start yelling at me, I get more stressed and end up doing it more because it’s just one of the reactions I have to being freaked out. (I also laugh sometimes when I’m freaked out…weird, I know. I don’t know where I get that from.) This results in more yelling, which results in more apologizing and more of me freaking out, until it either gets cut off or I manage to choke myself into not saying it and holding it together until I am alone somewhere and can cry and have my mental breakdown without bothering anyone. I’ve gotten to be VERY good at acting over the years, so it’s very easy for me to act convincingly like there’s nothing wrong in front of people, even when internally I’m going to pieces.

    My point, if it’s not already clear, is that people treating you in a manner that just makes you feel worse is just going to make the problem worse, resulting in more of their mistreatment, and thus creating a vicious cycle. You’ve got to break the chain, and tell them to knock it off. If they’re the kind of friends who are constantly blaming you and using you as a scapegoat..well, maybe they aren’t the kind of friends you want to have around. Talk to them, tell them how it makes you feel, and if they continue after that…ditch them. You deserve better. Friends don’t treat each other like that. (I know, from what I’ve said it seems I need to take my own advice…I’ve tried talking to him about it, but I’m really bad at talking to people, and he generally doesn’t take anything I say seriously anyway, and right now I’m not exactly in a financial position to just ditch, so…yeah.) If they aren’t willing to listen to you and treat you with respect, they aren’t worth your time or effort.

    1. Even if you’re not in the financial position to live on your own, isn’t there any way you could at least live with someone else? Because, seriously, this shit is not o.k.

      If you’ve talked to them and asked them not to yell at you, and they nevertheless still yell at you – causing you to have nervous breakdowns, for heaven’s sake – I’d say the reason is not you failing to communicate your wishes but them not giving a damn.

    2. I’m so sorry. I definitely would suggest that you try to find a therapist (and I understand that it’s a daunting process, can often seem too expensive to be realistic, and it can take a couple tries before you find one) but I will say that therapy has been immensely helpful in letting me make the connections between my behavior as an adult and the way I was treated as a child, and to start working on untangling those connections and slowly changing my behavior. It also gives you a safe space to get those feelings out, which really helps me. It sounds like you’re not in the most ideal living situation, either, and a therapist can help you come up with strategies to handle that. I know it feels like you should just take whatever treatment they give you because you’re living with them, but you still deserve to be treated with kindness and respect, no matter what.

      I don’t know where you live or if you’re in school, so I can’t offer any suggestions, but I’d say just to start Googling and look for therapists with a sliding scale, or maybe ones connected to a teaching hospital or university. I have found that the therapists who call you back quickly and have flexible schedules tend to be the best to work with, and I’ve had good experiences with those who practice cognitive behavioral therapy, but YMMV. Don’t be afraid not to go back to one you don’t feel a good connection with.

      I think the Captain had a post about finding a therapist, I can’t find it now, but she does talk about different resources in some of her answers.

    3. I’m so sorry. That sounds like a shitty situation to be in, and really hard to cope with.

      I think your friend and dad have their own shit to work out. I have a hard time with people who apologize all the time, because MY brain parses it as, “This person interprets me as a malicious threat which must be appeased.” I get uncomfortable because I don’t know how to cope with that. So I feel like I have to make a display of being unthreatening and soothing, and that’s sometimes difficult to do.

      Anyway, it might be worth figuring out (on your own or with their input) what kind of response you DO want when you go off on a string of apologies. Because this behaviour bugs me, I have to sit down and sort out how to respond in a way that makes things better, and I tend to ask. Some people genuinely want reassurance that it’s okay and I forgive them. (Which is fine, except it still puts me in the position of power, since it’s my job to Make It Okay.) Some want me to ignore them. With other friends, I make a wry or funny response that kind of draws attention to it, halts the mood, and moves us on. Like a really absentminded, “Oh, that’s nice.” or a mock-somber and stern, “I forgive you… THIS time” (especially when it’s a really nonsensical apology).

      Anyway, going to them with a preferred plan of action can help smooth over that conversation. “I notice I do this apologizing thing and I want to train myself out of it, so from now on, when I apologize, can you say X instead?”

      1. Honestly, if they just ignore it when I start doing that, I’ve found I have an easier time of making myself stop. I’d probably only say it once or twice if they didn’t respond, or if they responded sarcastically, but when they yell it just freaks me out and makes me do it more. I’ve tried telling the friend I’m staying with right now that, but he thinks I do it for attention and yells at me anyway.

        1. That’s making me imagine a Monty Python-esque routine.

          “I’ve decided that when I apologize, I’d like for you to ignore me.”
          “I will not! I know you’re only doing it for attention, so you deserve to be yelled at.”
          “But, see, I want you not to give me any attention when I do it.”
          “JE REFUSE! I will pay attention to you whether you like it or not, you attention-seeker you!”

          (Someone might point out to him that his cunning plan, as it were, has a wee flaw.)

          1. *snicker* Ah, another Monty Python fan! Mayhaps I should recruit one of the knights of Nee to say NEE! at me if I start apologizing.

            Oh, wait, they say something like NEE-WHOM! now, don’t they?

  102. A couple of things that occurred to me in reading through Clumsy Lover’s letter and all the ensuing commentary and discussion:

    It’s completely normal to occasionally break something. That’s not clumsiness or carelessness, that’s a fact of life. When you break something multiple times a week or more, there’s a problem of some kind.

    There are multiple causes, physical, mental, and emotional, for clumsiness. Some of them can be fixed or mitigated. Some can’t.

    For example, multiple eye doctors (correctly) told my parents that I did not have astigmatism before one particular doctor realized that (1) my eyes sometimes focus slower than is normal, and (2) I have a minor spatial awareness issue. My brain has difficulty processing perspective, which means that while I can play sports where the ball is on the ground and I can judge its position from the topography of the ground, it’s extremely difficult for me to judge the position of any ball that’s in the air. There’s nothing for me to gauge its relative position from. So I’m an excellent driver, but if you throw something to me, it’s extremely unlikely that I’ll catch it.

    There is no therapy, surgery, or medication that can fix this. I can only adjust to it as best I can, and everyone around me has to accept it as well. There are no fancy glasses or contacts or laser surgery that will make me able to catch a baseball.

    It’s not helped by the fact that I spent a couple of summers doing massive overtime at my last job, which involved way too much typing. I don’t have carpal tunnel, but my hands now go through occasional periods of nerve misfirings, especially if I’m tired or have been doing too much typing again. My hands just…twitch…and I drop whatever I’m holding. The only cure for this is time and rest.

    So, LW, while the last thing I want to do is armchair diagnose, it may be useful to go to a doctor and see if there’s an actual issue causing your chaos. But be aware that the doctor might, or might not, find something…and you might, or might not, be able to do something about it.

    And finally, I’m a total Order Muppet. I love organizing things, I find it very satisfying when things are where they’re supposed to be. My mother is also like this…but she also tends to get distracted sometimes and puts things away/puts things down in places where they aren’t supposed to go, and I find it incredibly irritating, frustrating, and anxiety-inducing. So I have to work very hard to avoid being nitpicky and accusative when this happens, because it triggers her anxiety and she gets more distracted…you see the lovely death spiral we can create for each other. I’m also very good at forgetting/excusing/dismissing the times I’ve put something away in the wrong place!

    LW, there’s been some fantastic advice here. I hope it’s been helpful. It’s certainly reminded me that I need to be more aware of my Order/Chaos Muppet relationship with my mother.

  103. Wow, this was all actually very validating for me (I can see it similarly resonated with a lot of people) but somehow I feel kind of… sad I guess, where I suppose I ought to feel empowered.

    I’ve always been the family “project” and I had no ally there, not even extended family who, actually, were often recruited to extend pile-ons (like the letter I got from my grandmother about how much it would improve my life if I’d just work harder at getting pretty for my own good because it was my mother’s latest obsession). I was the subject of a lot of “in jokes” and got bullied a lot at school too.

    It’s a pattern I’ve repeated time and again, entire groups of friends who were quick to pile on but when it came to defending me, well that would be disrespectful I’m a grown person and can fight my own battles. One-off intense friendships that would end as soon as I wasn’t towing the line anymore or expressed an original opinion. Increasingly abusive boyfriends who kept up the narrative of whatever would I do without them, I was so clumsy and naive and stupid and whatever. Even damaging dependent relationships with internet forums that were keen on backbiting (the story of How I’ll Never Mod Anywhere Again is in there somewhere…).

    Despite some therapy and learning a few better tools and meeting some great people online who have helped a lot, I still keep doing it. LW, one thing I will say is, try not to feel ashamed, if this is a thing you might be inclined to feel about these kinds of things, for ending up surrounded with those who would gaslight and belittle you, even though “these were the ones I chose this time!” Like I’m constantly feeling, because I still can’t frikkin get this right.

    But people are complicated and hell I still get confused, because mixed in with piles of egregious bullshit was some pretty stand-up shiz my family have done for me. And I do believe they genuinely love me even though they have only learned a sick system for processing and going about interacting in the world and don’t seem inclined to break from that pattern. And even though I’m often wondering when will be the time they finally just get so mad they cut me off (grudges, they bitterly hold them).
    Don’t even bother asking how my current SO relationship is going, lol. Still, even if things don’t work out ultimately, he’ll always be remembered as The One Who Wasn’t Abusive, Finally. A personal best. So that’s always something.

    Bla. Okay time for comment wrapping up, things are just… rough lately, in a lot of ways, so I probably should have refrained to begin with, but it was hard to resist this one. Anyway, as a final note, to anyone else who has this problem, there’s always pouring all the empty wishes into imaginary friends who are super good to you, supportive and loving and always there. It can seem a pretty hollow substitute some days but others, it is a lifeline. I draw out conversations with mine on paper. It’s a good sounding board.

  104. Oh Captain, thank you for this. It’s so helpful to read the compassionate perspective. It’s like I think “How is that a big problem?” and then I read your response and I REALIZE all the ways that is a problem, and it makes me a better person. How can you know all these things? (and then I read the back story, and I’m so SORRY about the ways you know all of this. How can anyone BE like that to their own children?!)

  105. Slightly tangential, maybe, but anyone who called me any sort of muppet would soon be an ex-friend. Even without the “chaos” bit it’s goddamn insulting. (Yes, I do like the Muppets, but being called that? Total putdown.)

  106. My friends affectionately call me a “gremlin” and ban me from playing with technology that is not mine. I make computers fail by simply looking at them.

    I’ve identified the source of my “gremlins” as a couple things:
    1. ADD. I have trouble concentrating on one task and can easily get distracted while, say, pouring water and pour it everywhere and then I ADD LEAP INTO ACTION to panicky problem-solve. Meds and some therapy have helped, as well as not starting on tasks until I give myself a moment to outline what I’m doing. At work, when I close the store, I’ll say, “Okay, I need to do X, Y, and Z, and when I do X I need to remember Q.” Yes I say it out loud, I’m known for talking to myself.

    2. Ignorance. I often *don’t* know how things work or what the fuck I’m doing, which is why I harm electronics so easily. I’ve stopped interacting with things I don’t understand and clearly stating to people I have a tendency to break them. If they insist on me using the object, that’s on them.

    3. Carelessness. I view most items as tools. This is a bowl, it is meant to hold stuff. I don’t care if I treat it brutally because it’s a bowl. I’m the same way with my purse, shoes, car, cabinets, and doors–shit is meant to be used, slammed, and then thrown away when I break it. Many people disagree with me. This causes friction. In the case of your friend, I can think of nothing stupider than having a “beloved vintage oven”. It’s a tool. It’s like having “beloved vintage panties” and getting pissed you that you have sweat and vaginal secretions in them. *That’s what it’s for*.

    AS A CAVEAT–I had a friend who broke stuff all the time, and it wasn’t funny. Because he was an asshole. He had a giant case of mansplaining and would often “fix” things we explicitly told him to stop fucking with. I once removed an object from his hands, put it in a drawer, and found him ten minutes later going through the fucking drawer and breaking the object because he “knew” he could “fix” it and I wasn’t smart enough to see how awesome he was. My boyfriend finally banned him from speaking to either of us or entering our homes because of his entitlement, arrogance, and his inability to recognize he was dumb as a brick.

    So do take a moment and make sure you’re not being an asshole. Short of that, take a deep breath and try to see if you can control the flailing. And have friends who love your for who you are.

  107. Excellent reply. I find that I need to keep going to yoga regularly, or everything starts falling apart. Ditto getting enough sleep. Hard to make myself sometimes but always worth it.

  108. If I feel myself getting into the kind of tizz where I know my motor skills are going down the pan, I stop for a few seconds and assess my situation. Usually, it’s been brought on by something(s) annoying happening, so I find it helpful to say out loud “This is not a disaster. Something annoying has happened.” That reminds me that the situation can be resolved, and I can take a few deep breaths and carry on.

    If something genuinely bad has happened, the few seconds of stopping will have been enough to realise that I am probably not in a position to continue doing what I am doing, and I will initiate self care.

  109. Captain, thank you for the dad anecdote.

    I optimise. I am an optimiser. And I’ve just realised it must annoy the *hell* out of people.

    I want to make things better! And constructive criticism is OK and incremental improvement is OK, but not together. They are ketchup and gravy.

    New motto time, Greg: “Adequate is adequate.”

  110. I am many things: I am hypermobile in all of my joints, I am able to take input from multiple sources at once, I am a thinker, I am highly creative. And these things have taken me YEARS to get even remotely to a place where they don’t add up to also being very clumsy, very flaky, and very messy. If you are never sure of where your limbs are because they can be anywhere, you fall down a lot. And run into things. If your mind always spins at a million miles an hour on multiple trains of thought, keeping track of it all is a challenge. If you make things and test things all of the time, they get messy and broken.

    My advice is to get checked out for medical issue – I spent 27 years with just being laughed at and laughing at myself when I sprained things and walked funny and hurt myself for no apparent reason. It wasn’t an eccentricity or some innate character thing, it was a fucking medical condition that took months of physical therapy to start fixing and requires daily maintenance.

Comments are closed.