I cleaned the toilet today.
There was a time when it wasn’t a big deal. Now it is. Now it signals the state of my mental health and indicates where my energy is at. Now it embodies how I’m feeling about myself on a given day.
It has been a long time since I cleaned the toilet.
When I first moved into a house with my (future) husband, we were a bit feral. Not much housework was done at all – primarily because of a silent argument about whose responsibility everything was. We both felt the other wasn’t doing their share, so in mutual passive-aggressive agreement, neither of us did anything.
Once we had kids and I worked a lot less outside the home, I happily took on the role of traditional housewife – looking after the house and kids. So I cleaned the toilets. Regularly. When you have three small children learning the basics of what goes where and how you do it, toilets need a lot of cleaning. As does the floor. Once the kids were old enough (as soon as they hit double digits was a good benchmark) they started doing chores – and cleaning a toilet is a pretty basic and easy chore. Albeit not a pleasant one. By the time they were all teenagers, they were adept at cleaning. Not willing… But competent. So rosters were drawn up and the house cleaned regularly. A lot of arguments accompanied the cleaning but it was done.
Fast forward a few more years, and I had a nervous breakdown. Nervous breakdowns don’t happen overnight or in isolation. It is a slow deterioration of mental health. For me, a gradual increase in depression, anxiety and disordered eating, until I was barely functional.
My housekeeping ability evaporated with my mental health.
I just didn’t care – about me, the house, or the future. I had no energy. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t do anything. I have no idea if the toilets were cleaned at all. My husband was helplessly watching me deteriorate and gradually picking up all the pieces as I dropped them, so I imagine he did all the cleaning.
Over the past three years my mental state has varied in its’ health. After completely breaking apart, I have just been slowly – ever so slowly – getting better. It’s not a straight line – sometimes I went backwards – but if I look back at the overall trajectory, I can see I am a long way from where I was three years ago.
How many times have I cleaned the toilet in the past three or four years? I confess, not many. I went through small periods of cleaning for a day or two, but cleaning requires energy and a sense of purpose. So with the scarcity of housework I’ve done in recent years, the habit of cleaning was lost. My energy is still frequently low, and when I was working last year, I had nothing left to give outside of work (even the measly 20 hours per week I was doing).
Today however, I am excited. I still don’t have a lot of energy – it waxes and wanes on a regular basis – but I feel purposeful. More hopeful. My stay in the clinic earlier this year changed me. A lot. Even when I completely fuck up my eating, I don’t return to compensatory behaviours. I have ideas for the future. I can picture a future.
I still experience high levels of anxiety, unintentionally numbing it away with one thing or another. My mood is for the most part extremely good – I’ve found a really good dose of medication for now.
Yesterday I saw my psychologist and discussed my procrastination issues. I don’t have a huge amount of things to do to be brutally honest. I go to gym, have appointments with my support team, write, and visit people. I don’t work. I don’t do anything useful. I have time to clean – and yet my husband has been doing it all (resentfully) while also preparing all the meals (so I will eat).
After my long chat yesterday I realise how significant cleaning the toilet is. I detest mess. I hate dirt. It makes me feel uncomfortable in my own home. I feel uneasy when I know things need to be done. But somehow I couldn’t bring myself to do anything. Writing made me feel guilty (including blog writing) because the housework wasn’t done. Housework was something I’d stare at and put off – endlessly. Housework represents normality. Functionality. Purpose. A sharing of the load with my husband. A sense of being independent again in a way I haven’t felt for a long time.
Housework represents recovery.
So today, after a long lie in, I got up, made my bed, cleaned the kitchen, then scrubbed not one, but two toilets, and the bathroom sinks. It didn’t take long – toilets never do – but I felt successful. I felt a lessening of the endless guilt weighing me down. I felt a move towards a future I can still barely glimpse (I mean really – how many of us can actually glimpse the future anyway?) I felt another small rip as the eating disorder is torn further away. My mood is lighter. It is such a small thing – basic, simple tasks I taught my young boys when they were ten years old. It is normality returning to my life. I look at my clean toilets and think, “I’m in recovery.”