We are running late, as usual, but I can't make myself stop.
I am flying around the house, putting on kids' shoes, hollering at them to get in the car, finding hats and mittens, checking my phone when it goes off every 10 seconds all while frantically trying to clean the house.
I know that if I come back to a messy house, it will immediately ruin the rest of the day. So it's worth it right now, I tell myself, to run around like a crazy person, be a little late and literally sweat buckets trying to get everything done because I just CAN'T LEAVE THE HOUSE MESSY.
And there my friends, is the problem: I can't leave the house messy. Like, ever. And it's not exactly something to be proud of.
It has taken me 30 years to get here, but I've finally realized, after coming across a trending article on The Mighty by Sarah Schuster, that my pretty obsessive need to keep a clean and orderly house at all times and, more importantly, how much it very physically and emotionally upsets me when it's not clean and orderly, is actually a sign of anxiety.
Reading these words made me gasp out loud because I can relate to every.single.word:
"Because how 'OK' are you when a day without a plan is enough to make you crumble? When empty spaces make you spiral at the very anticipation of being alone with your thoughts? When you need to make a list to get through a Sunday: watch a show, clean your kitchen, exercise, answer five emails, read 10 pages, watch a show… ?"
The truth is my 'clean' house is a crutch. ... Deep down, those successful, productive things have been built on the back of insecurity and anxiety.
The truth is being a stay-at-home mom is so hard for me. I actually feel more depressed without a job. I get this feeling of dread when I wake up on the days that it's just me and the little kids, the hours stretching before us in emptiness.
The truth is I have this compelling need to keep my house so clean at all times, clutter makes me feel like I can't breathe, and the after-school madness of papers flying at my head, kids clamoring for my attention while dinner is boiling over has made me lose my temper on more than one occasion.
The truth is my "clean" house is a crutch. I am not the successful, productive person I have always prided myself on because deep down, those successful, productive things have been built on the back of insecurity and anxiety.
My entire life, I have prided myself on being this highly motivated, self-starting, ambitious person. I have sat back at the end of the day and counted up everything I have accomplished solely in order to feel good about myself: academic awards in high school, trips abroad in college, clubs and career achievements and retirement accounts and etc., etc. I have stood upon those things as proof that I am a good person, that I am someone who gets shit done.
Until about a year ago, when I realized that I was freaking exhausted. A lot of things happened in my life, but it's like I just ran out of steam one day and realized that deep down, under all that relentless chasing of "achievement," I was a pretty unhappy person. Reading that article changed my life because I realized it was me to a T.
I've never thought of myself as a person with anxiety or any type of mental disorder. Sure, I knew I was prone to depressive moments and sure, I knew that I had postpartum depression once, and sure, I seem to alternate between either accomplishing 10 million things at once or not wanting to get out of bed, but I honestly thought those things were normal.
My constant need for control and cleaning and doing more and more is pretty destructive.
It wasn't until I read that article, looked around, and realized that holy crap, everything I thought I knew about myself was a lie.
My resume? A sham.
My "accomplishments" as a measure of success? As a certain president-elect might say, WRONG.
My always clean house? Actually kind of a cry for help.
It's downright sad, actually, when I realize that my constant need for control and cleaning and doing more and more is pretty destructive.
And as hard as it has been to realize these things about myself and as hard as it is to try to change anything about myself (tried today, in fact, to let some of the chores go so I could make a Christmas craft with my kid and it's killing me to know the floor is unswept and the dishwasher needs to be unloaded, ugh, I am pathetic), I'm guessing I'm not alone.
I'm just going to go out on a limb and guess that there are moms out there like me, moms who may not even realize that the strange compulsion we have to constantly clean the house is actually really not something we are proud of, nor necessarily something we want to dictate our lives. We want to be able to strike a balance between having a healthy home for our families and enjoying life, even when it's messy.
I think the first step comes from realizing that maybe not all moms are the way we are and that our deep cleans could be a sign of something deeper within ourselves. And after that? Well, we all have to find our journeys. That might mean seeking professional help if we think we may have some underlying anxiety or unresolved mental health challenges, or it may mean taking it day-by-day and every now and then, we fight back our impulses to do the dishes and instead help our sons glue some fuzzy balls on his favorite Christmas ornament.