I Follow the Rules Because I Have To

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Or, “Get in line, you’re causing me a lot of anxiety.” Or, “Love is rules, rules are love.” I guess you get to pick the headline of this article.

Though I don’t have a religion1, I follow rules as if they were religion. While on the surface this may seem really nice of me—”hey, this guy doesn’t cause problems”—it actually can cause problems. And this does have a lot to do with my OCD.

I am an extreme rule follower for a few disparate reasons, of which I’ll detail each: my dislike of confrontation, my dislike of mess, and my dislike of wildcards. I’m sure you’ve already noticed the trend here—my following of the rules is an offshoot purely of the negative. And thus, when things are born out of the negative, they themselves are usually not a positive.

Let’s start with the easy one—I very much am afraid of confrontation. I’m not a weak person, I can actually be confrontational in a comfortable setting. I manage twenty-plus people for a living, that begs confrontation no matter how well I hire! But most confrontation is a risk. A very big risk, as it presents many possible outcomes from the severely bad to the tremendously great.

I’ve already outlined my “every eventuality” thinking in other articles, but for the sake of keeping this article singularly understandable, I’ll reiterate: my OCD forces me to consider and feel every possible outcome to an action I may take. Even ones that are seemingly crazy in terms of their chances of happening.

Thus with confrontation with people who do have some power over me—even those I am equal with—I must feel2 the myriad worst case scenarios in my brain before even moving forward. I must obsess over them. And this is a terrible place to be in my brain, it creates a fog of anxiety. However, a solution to all of this is rules.

We’ve presumably all agreed to rules amongst ourselves, even if not spoken or written down. It is part of the human condition. The rules change between groups of people, but believe me my brain takes copious notes of the rules for each group or one-to-one relationship I am in. And falling back on following those rules mitigates the stress of feeling every outcome to confrontation. I’ve done right by the rules, I should feel safe. And safe is always where my mental state is obsessed with getting to.

Secondly, there is the dislike of mess. Physical and tactile mess is obvious: don’t friggin’ leave your clothes all over! But mess between minds is a much more difficult thing to grasp. But I abhor it all the same. I want all minds in the proverbial room—mine included—to be pulsating at the same wavelengths, in rhythm with each other3. Rules of order are in place for this, and if they are not—I’ve made them up in my head, so they are. No, seriously, my OCD has a subroutine in any interaction with people that sets rules of order. Sometimes I refer to them out loud (this never goes over well,) sometimes I keep them to myself (this never goes well for my sanity,) and sometimes I hint at them by taking actions to get people in line with them (this really never goes over well.)

Going over well or not, it is not something I can control anyway. But it is rules that the mess affronts. Rules I believe in with an iron fist (though with my demeanor, I do not ever show an iron fist at all. I think it though.) If everyone just followed the rules, if everyone just knew the rules and followed them, we’d all be happier. This is an irrational, not to mention unrealistic thought. But it is there. And the lack of rule following—with my obsessive brain—makes me rather angry or depressed, depending on state of mind.

Finally, we get to what I call wildcards. These are people who, for seemingly no reason, break the rules we all—in some fashion, as mentioned above—agree to (even if not out loud.) Don’t get me wrong, I run a business for a living. I understand how disrupting and “breaking the rules” in this case can sometimes (but absolutely not always) be a very successful thing. However, that is a totally different universe, and in fact “breaking the rules” is one of the rules in business. One I follow! But again, different article

Wildcards are people you cannot predict. And my scale from love of a person to dislike of a person tracks very closely with how predictable they are (love and predictability being on the same side of the scale, and moving toward the opposite of those down the scale.)

You see, my brain is already filled with every possible outcome to every action I could take (at least, I should mention, every possible outcome it can handle—there is a limit. But it gets to that limit, thus my OCD is an mental health issue.) So I am already full with every outcome from my own actions, you can imagine the sheer amount of outcomes that are then multiplied the more unpredictable someone I am interacting with is. We’re nearing relatively infinite here! That’s, well, quite a bit to think about, huh?

Some people see wildcards—rule breakers for rule breaking’s sake—as funny, attractive in their rebelliousness. That is all well and good, I can be for that if I am not interacting with the person. Say someone famous. But I’ve only interacted with so many famous people, the rest are characters playing rule breakers for the camera. But, let’s move back to real life. I follow rules here for the benefit (I think I give, but most likely people don’t care) of others. I am predictable. Yeah, that’s not sexy. But I am and I insist on being so.

I insist on following the rules at all times for my own sanity4. I am trying to not be anxious, as that has been my downfall for years. And breaking rules brings about exponentially—in its truest mathematical definition—more outcomes that I have to consider and feel before taking action. And as someone with anxiety issues that arise from OCD, you can assume breaking the rules brings about many more “worst case scenarios” when all I want (rational or not) is ‘best case scenarios.”

I did mention god in this article. I’ll just touch on it here, and let’s not let this get off track into that space at all. I don’t know if I believe in a god, because I don’t know if it is possible for a human to know anything about a god. I believe this is impossible, and believing in a god’s will is a fruitless exercise, even if there is a god. BUT! I do believe in a set of rules for society. And by society, I actually mean different collectives of people, each with their own ruleset5.

I don’t just follow rules, I love rules. And to that point, I truly believe part of loving people is following the rules set between them. Quite a romantic I am6, eh?


1 My relationship the concept of “god” or “God” is a complicated one  [BACK]

2 The term “feel” is very intentional here. I go beyond mere thinking of possibilities and actually feel them as if they were happening.  [BACK]

3 Wait, what are we here, a band?  [BACK]

4 What possible modicum of sanity I can grasp at this point in my life of decades of OCD and anxiety issues.  [BACK]

5 Computing term without the space, I’m leaving it.  [BACK]

6 I am, thank you.  [BACK]