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Free Therapy: Lost Items Edition

You have officially steered me away from hermit crab hell — thank you.  I’m not sure which pet we will get, but I can promise you that it will not molt or cannibalize its friends.  We have a pretty low bar to clear at our house, but those two facts about hermit crabs do not clear the bar.


It’s free therapy week at Stirrup Queens.  So settle in, Free Therapists.  Hunker down in your cushy armchair.

We went to a baseball game last week — a Frederick Keys game, which is a minor league team.  When we got home, I reached into my pockets to empty them and found that while my house keys and thumb drive were there as well as a handful of change, my car key was missing.

Josh had his own copy of the car key and had used that one to get us home, hence how I could travel all the way to our house without noticing that it was missing.  I mentally went through the day, trying to remember any time that I actually used my copy of the key, and the only thing we could come up with was that it fell out of my pocket when I handed my house keys to the kids.  At Frederick Keys games, there is a point where you are supposed to hold up your keys and shake them.  Which meant that my car key was somewhere at Harry Grove Stadium.

All in all, this was a fairly low-stakes loss, all things considered.  Either it would be turned in by the cleaning crew to lost-and-found or it wouldn’t.  If it was found, I could pick it up this week because I had another copy of the key and still had access to my car.  If it was lost permanently, I could get another copy from the dealer.  It was an inconvenience, but a situation that was completely fixable with the cost of a little time or money.

And yet whenever I lose something, whether it is an item of value or a misplaced copy of a CD that I could easily burn another copy of within minutes, I get the same looping anxiety reaction.  I replay my steps in my head, I run around the house looking in highly unlikely places on the chance of a “what if.”  I literally can’t focus on anything else until the lost item is found.  I gave up a writing day trying to locate a video tape recently.  I literally spent the entire afternoon going through random boxes around the house.

Losing something becomes like a burn on my hand.  I can put the ice on and it numbs it temporarily, but the moment the bag of ice comes off, my skin is buzzing again.  And that is how my mind works with missing items.  I can be distracted, but the moment my brain shakes off the distraction, it returns to obsessing about the lost item.

This has only gotten worse over time.  Now it extends to missing computer files or forgotten words.  I can obsess for hours over a word I can’t remember.  Or if I can’t recall a name, but I can remember exactly what the person looks like.

I need to feel like everything that is mine (owned knowledge, tangible items or people) is here and in its proper place in order to relax and let go.

Am I the only one?  Is it a fear of aging and growing forgetful — a natural byproduct of old age?  Is it an outgrowth of loss?  Clear your throats and analyze.

The end of the story: I begged Josh to go outside with a flashlight and search the ground in case I dropped them on my way into the house that night.  He found them on the floor of the car.  No explanation of how they went from my pocket to the floor of the car, but what was lost was found.  Though I also know that finding this item will do nothing to stave off looping thoughts the next time I lose something.


1 Elizabeth { 07.05.11 at 7:47 am }

Hmmmmm….(strokes beard, taps pen on notepad). Tell me more. When did this anxiety begin? Has it always been part of your life, and if so, has it been worse or better recently? When did it begin? Do you ever feel this way about other people’s things, people you love and care about? Are you more anxious about what might happen if the item cannot be located, or about what it says about you personally that you can’t keep track of stuff?

I hate losing things too – I beat myself up about it and it’s mostly about feelings of personal inadequacy. But that’s me.

I’m glad you found your keys.

2 N { 07.05.11 at 7:51 am }

It’s not just you, and I don’t *think* it has anything to do with old age, as I’ve done it my whole.life.long. Occasionally, I can work back and actually remember leaving an item somewhere (most recently: a cd and my sunglasses in a rental car), and then I can sort of get over it. I kick myself, sure, but can stop obsessing.

3 Lollipopgoldstein { 07.05.11 at 7:51 am }

Thought this might be helpful to answer here. I don’t remember when it began, but I do feel like every fear that I have has heightened with age. Even that damn fear of crickets. I used to not like them, now I fear them. I used to dislike flying but it wasn’t a big deal. Now I stress about it pre-trip.

I DO feel this way about other people’s things. If I hear that someone else has lost something, I will also get myself worked up. My brother lost something and I’ve been tearing apart my house looking for it even though it is clearly not here.

More anxious that the item cannot be located and that I don’t know where it is. I can’t access it. Even if I don’t need it.

4 HereWeGoAJen { 07.05.11 at 9:09 am }

It bothers me to lose things too. For me, I think it is because of my need for control. If I lose something, then it wasn’t under my control and I stress over it until I find it again.

5 It Is What It Is { 07.05.11 at 9:09 am }

Do you obsess about losing things BEFORE they are lost? That would, in my arm chair psychologist’s opinion, be more on the psychosis spectrum than not being able to rest until a lost object/word/file/thought is found.

I think that for human beings that desire order in their lives (‘everything has a place’) losing something that should not have been lost is frustrating and crazy making. Case in point, I bought a Louis Vuitton wallet (actually I exchanged an LV gift that I rec’d for this wallet). It took me almost a year to finally move my things to this new wallet. I had been using the wallet less than a month when we attended an Imagination Movers concert with our young son. I lost the wallet (at 45 yrs old, the first time I’d ever lost a wallet) at the venue. Given how expensive the wallet was (and how guilty I felt ever spending that much on a wallet to begin with), I was relentless in my quest to find it (I did not realize it was lost until we got home). For WEEKS I attempted to locate it and/or coax whoever might have it (it was a FAMILY event for f*ck’s sake) into returning it. It never made its way back to me. That was in November. I still think about losing that wallet today.

6 Mrs. R { 07.05.11 at 10:39 am }

I just saw that you were considering getting a hermit crab and I’m so glad to hear that you have decided against it! I grew up with many different animals (dogs, cats, fish, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, frogs) so I consider myself pretty open to all different kinds of pets. but, having taken care of a hermit crab for my friend’s children while they were on vacation, i have to say that they are really are not a fun pet. they aren’t cuddly, interesting to watch (they are always sleeping except at night), their tanks really stink (even when clean!), and they are very fussy about their environment.

7 a { 07.05.11 at 10:51 am }

Anxiety, from what my husband has translated from his therapist when he was going, is a fight or flight response, and the adrenaline builds up over time to the point where you can no longer fully relax. So that may be why you feel like it’s getting worse.

I worry occasionally about how my mind is unable to recall words. The internet says that it’s just that we flood ourselves with so much information that we lose the ability to access it as easily – and we are more easily distracted at the same time. I’d say that you’d have it worse than many because you are constantly flooding your brain with more and more words, whereas I take a break and flood my brain with images and patterns.

For the anxiety, you can probably try to research some relaxation techniques. For the memory issues, well, I don’t know what the answer to that is, but I doubt worrying about it will help. 🙂 I find that an internet search helps immensely.

8 Kathy { 07.05.11 at 10:55 am }

I get very worked up about losing things too. I have a photographic memory, so often have had amazing success with retracing my steps and somehow remembering where I was and have found things in crazy places. But I have also not been able to find many things and that is so frustrating. I lost my favorite fleece jacket earlier this summer and have not been able to find it anywhere. I am trying to let go of it and certainly get a new one, but it still bugs me that I don’t know when, where or how I misplaced it. GRRR!

I also don’t think it has to do with old age, at least for me, I have pretty much always been this way. For me I think it more about being somewhat OCD. Anyway, so glad you found your keys!

9 Annie { 07.05.11 at 11:34 am }

No it’s not just you. My brain has been particularly dysfunctional in the last few years. It will be interesting to see if it suddenly starts working properly again in a few weeks once my rainbow arrives (alive and healthy please!)

As for pets, I think monarch butterflies are great for kids because they are low maintenence, free, fun, and it’s a short time commitment. My kids are about the same age as yours and we go out hunting for eggs/little caterpillars every summer. We put milkweed in a vase and put that in an aquarium. Then we sit back and watch them grow. We’re releasing a butterfly today – so fun!

If I remember correctly, you have an aversion to bugs/caterpillars, but no worries – you NEVER have to touch them and the kids can handle everything themselves! Email me if you’re interested in more info.

10 Sharon { 07.05.11 at 11:44 am }

Nope, not just you. I obsess when I lose/misplace things and have since childhood. I have spent untold hours searching my house since March for a set of keys I know I put away in a “safe place” before leaving on vacation. They’re still missing, and I still think about them–and search for them–occasionally, even though I’ve pretty much despaired of their ever turning up.

11 loribeth { 07.05.11 at 1:38 pm }

I am well known among family & friends for my steel-trap memory. Which makes it all the more disconcerting when I do forget or lose things. Which is happening more often these days than it used to. Since it doesn’t happen often enough to qualify for early onset dementia or Alzheimers (yet?), I try not to let it bother me (too much). I do think it’s a function of aging — maybe not so much an aging brain as having so many more distractions/things to think about & remember than when I was younger. Sometimes, something’s gotta give. :p

12 Mali { 07.05.11 at 4:08 pm }

Oh, this makes me feel so much better, especially Loribeth’s comment. Last couple of days I turned the house upside down looking for a favourite pair of pants. They’re summer weight, and so I won’t need them till September when I go on a holiday, but I HAD to know where they were!

I do find myself more forgetful (though not about work stuff) as I get older, and more anxious too. I’m working on learning to relax, as I don’t want to turn into my mother who worries about everything all the time.

13 Emby { 07.05.11 at 8:51 pm }

I.Hate.Losing.Things! I mainly hate it in general because of the inferior feeling I feel when I have lost something or forgotten to do something. It makes me feel very inadequate. I have found that things that make me anxious have also gotten worse over time. Therapy has helped, although it is not free.

Some of the relaxation techniques I like are laying down and closing your eyes and relaxing one body part at a time, making them feel heavy. If you find your mind wandering, not allowing you to relax, count backwards in your head, or repeat the number “one” over and over in your head, which will keep you focused on what you’re doing. I thought it was a bunch of crap the first few times, but I really do think it works. Unfortunately, when I lay down in bed, I have to lay on my back to truly feel like I’ll relax.

Then, you also have to work on not getting so worked up about your losing things, which is hard to do. Not sure what to tell you there unless you can just put a positive spin on it like…at least I didn’t lose____. But, if I had spent all that money on a LV wallet, I don’t know that I’d ever get over it either. I still feel bummed about a purse I lost at the mall when I was about 8 years old that had $20 in it. I think it was money I’d saved up or Christmas money or something.

14 TasIVFer { 07.05.11 at 9:01 pm }

Yesterday EVERYTHING was going wrong at work. Everything. I had to start training in a new information system today, and yesterday morning the system wasn’t working, no tech people were in because they were all ill, someone stayed in the conference room I needed to set up in over an hour late, the wireless network was down and some of the classroom laptops weren’t working, etc etc! I was already in stress mode – already felt I’d lost something. So I flew around the office looking for the data projector – which was right where it should be but I was blinded by something-is-lost-stress. Ugh – fight or flight, indeed. I think I did both. 🙁

15 Pundelina { 07.05.11 at 11:55 pm }

*leans back in armchair and clears throat*

Well, I’d say that something about the act of searching/fretting is paying off for you; it must relieve your anxiety a smidgen – and then when the anxiety returns, you return to the thing that helps – searching. OCD works like that, finding a small modicum of alleviation from anxiety by engaging in tasks. (I’m not suggesting you have OCD, just drawing a parallel.) Your task is very focussed and appropriate. However, I’d probably work on calming down and getting the anxiety feeling to back off in ways other than searching/fretting. E.g., breathing exercises, deliberate distraction, leaving the environment. Sometimes you do have to let things go and prioritise living over searching/fretting or fearing.

🙂 (The crabs sounded like far too much work for low-maintenance pets!)

16 coffeegrl { 07.06.11 at 12:22 am }

Funny. I’m currently obsessing about my missing bras. That’s right. All of my bras have gone somewhere and I don’t know where. I have this vague recollection of packing them up and stashing them somewhere before we left for our extended trip but that was 6 months ago and I cannot for the life of me remember where I put them. The weird part is that I don’t even need them at the moment as I’m still using nursing bras and have the ones that I currently need, but I anticipate wanting to use these nice bras that I got just a couple of years ago (I got properly measured for them and everything!). I think just knowing that I can’t find this one thing brings up all the anxiety I have about having to pack everything up and store it the next time we migrate and that makes me worry about how to do it better and more efficiently so that I don’t misplace or lose *anything* next time.

Sometimes I stress about misplaced/lost items – like this instance, but there are other things that I just don’t worry about. I see no pattern to it. Some things I’ll spend days worrying about (even though I don’t *need* the thing but just can’t figure out what the he*l happened to it and that’s maddening enough) and other things are barely a blip on the radar. No rhyme or reason.

17 eve { 07.06.11 at 3:23 am }

hey, i know the feeling!!!!!

18 Ellen K. { 07.06.11 at 7:54 am }

I lose stuff all. the. time. I lost my wedding ring for 7 months, only to find it in the front yard on the edge of the front walk. I prefer to blame the Borrowers.

19 Bea { 07.06.11 at 10:41 am }

Yes, I think heightening of fears is a part of aging. Why do you think they prefer 18yo’s for the frontlines of war? 18yos are only sort of afraid of getting shot up, compared to their seniors. Is there any way you can channel this heightened fear into something useful? For example, fear of losing things -> reaffirming your superorganisedness?


20 Anna { 07.06.11 at 3:07 pm }

I’m another one who has troubled with this, but I think it’s less common to be unphased by losing things – losing things being evidence of error and lack of control and our fallibility. If it gets worse with age (though I remember ransacking a whole coach after a school trip in floods of tears to find a tiny painted shell I’d bought for my mother) I would suggest that it’s because we are more aware of and concerned about the implications of loss, we have a greater understanding of consequences or see our errors as indication of problems. With words there might not be any consequences of the loss, but this might also make us aware of our frailty, ageing, and related fears. However, I would suggest that the occurence of losing things and losing words is linked strongly to fatigue and multi-tasking. As adults we have a lot of concurrent responsibilities and are much more likely to be juggling and take our eyes off something, then we make slips. You’re not going mad, you might be anxious, this is all probably linked to the fact that you’re probably tired and have a lot to think about!

(and I am a psychologist, though not a therapist, if that helps!)

21 Anna { 07.06.11 at 3:11 pm }

ps. sorry for sounding pompous and I’m relieved that you found your keys, it’s a horrible feeling. I look forward to hearing about what happens on the pet front.

22 Lori Lavender Luz { 07.06.11 at 6:09 pm }

“I literally can’t focus on anything else until the lost item is found.”

Oh, sister, I cannot help you. I loop on lost things, too. I feel like a piece of me is gone and my guts are gushing out the gaping hole that can be plugged only by finding the item.

Even stupid things. Like if I had 6 paper clips and can only find 5. I’ll search and search and search as if the clip were a magic wand that would solve world hunger.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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