For many years, I’ve said my job is making order out of chaos. There were times I had two or four kids and a paying job, but they were short stints, and quite honestly, they overlap with the worst times in my life.
When my anxiety was at its worst, I went to therapy twice a week. Every time my therapist gave me homework, I had the same reaction: this is such a waste of time. this serves no purpose. i don’t see how this can possibly help. so stupid. i mean really, does she even know what the hell she’s doin?
Well she did. I’d do the homework and have revelations and we’d talk about it and move forward. Homework assignment became lifestyle changes. After a few homework assignments, I realized I had a pattern and that yes, the homework always seemed stupid, but it also always worked, so it would be a waste of time to complain about it, even to myself.
At one point my homework was to not work from the time the kids go to school until the time they come home.
No housework all day, she said. My husband was going away for a few months, she said. It was the perfect time to start a new pattern, she said. We’ll meet in two weeks, she said. Take lots of walks and naps, she said. Take your ativan, she said.
Well this was the stupidest possible homework assignment ever, right? Do you know what OCD, anxiety-plagued housewives do all day? Clean like fiends. Everything clean? Tackle a closet. Closets all clean? Take the picture frames apart and wash them. Picture glass shiny? A day just isn’t a day if you don’t clean! I cleaned about four hours a day, and I was certain my house, and possibly the entire universe, would simply fall apart if I didn’t.
The first day The Mister was gone, I got the kids off to school and went to put a load in the wash. Couldn’t.
When I got the kids from the bus stop, I could begin work. And so I did.
My days belonged to me again. I realized my days had not belonged to me since before Sassy. When Bubba and Sissy went to school, and there were no other babies, I cleaned here and there, but I did more leisurely things during the day. For example, I could remember morning coffee with Beauty Queen followed by long afternoons spent reading.
I had that baby and another baby and I was determined not to let my standards slip. I would still have a clean house and I would have yummy dinners cooked every night and I would be the best wife ever and I would do nifty crafty projects with the kids and I would still read lotsa books and I would virtually never sleep and I would …BREAK MY BRAIN.
By the end of my first week of owning my days, I could feel the difference. Mind you, I cheated a little bit. No one wants to clean floors when the kids are home.
If you can imagine, I felt I had become a better mother by three o’clock, all well-rested and energized, not already exhausted from cleaning and freaking out all day.
Back in therapy, I was honest about how I felt. I felt spoiled. Like I wasn’t earning my keep.
I felt like I didn’t deserve happiness and had to earn it. Where had this come from? How had I become so critical of myself?
That opened up a can of worms familiar to many housewives.
Society. Our mothers. Our mothers-in-law. Working mothers in our lives and on our televisions. Strangers on the internet.
Who could possibly live up to all those expectations?
There were too many comments I had taken personally, stored, and then amplified to the point they became screaming internal dialogue.
When I hear people say things like, “Well his mother doesn’t work, she stays home all day cooking and cleaning, you know, she doesn’t do anything…” I realize that’s probably their opinion of what I do as well, but that’s certainly not my opinion of what I do. I’m not required to take it personally, to justify it, to save it up for when I can’t sleep, or to use it to berate myself.
I still can’t abide a mess, and I still battle moments of OCD, but I’ve come a long, long way from where I was. When I catch myself maniacally cleaning I’m always disappointed to discover it really is emotionally based.
I am no more special than anyone else in any other kind of recovery. I am truly trying to create order from chaos, and the chaos is emotional turmoil. I am required to face my emotional turmoil and put it right in my mind, not take it out on my kitchen cabinets.
It took therapy homework to discover I’m entitled to enjoy my life. That’s not a small thing. That’s why I write it and say it so much. I am still reminding myself.
In what non-physical ways does your anxiety manifest? Are you in permanent recovery? Are you entitled to enjoy your life?