I did some whites today. It was kind of urgent; I haven't had clean underwear in a few days. Tired on top of sick on top of tired led to me having no clean underwear. As I loaded the washing machine I thought of how nice it would be to have clean underwear. And this led me to a sad memory of a dark time.
I've never been a clean freak, or a neat freak, but I always made sure people were clean and had clean clothes. For years. And then I went off the deep end.
I've mentioned it before, the year and a half I spent in bed. I haven't fully written about it for a couple of reasons. First, my memories from that time aren't really clear. And second, I'm ashamed of my life from that time.
Maybe ashamed isn't the right word. I did the best I could. But I am embarrassed about it.
I still don't really know what started it, why I could no longer function. I was eventually diagnosed with major depression and we tried some meds, but nothing really helped. I just had to wait it out and adjust my life.
The reason doing laundry today reminded me of that dark time is because of a moment. It was the moment I'd worked up the drive and determination to get out of bed long enough to do a load of laundry and my ten-year old daughter was super excited because she was going to have clean underwear. I went to my room and cried.
No child should ever go without clean underwear long enough to be grateful when they finally get some.
I knew the laundry situation was dire. I knew they were wearing the same clothes day after day, or cycling through them without them having been washed. I knew it. I was sad about it. It bothered me. But I couldn't do anything about it.
I had a child come home and tell me no one would sit by them because they said my child smelled bad. I wanted to write it off as lack of bathing because then it was only partially my fault. They could mostly all bathe themselves by then. But that wasn't what it was. It was wearing dirty clothes over and over. Including underwear.
It killed me. But I couldn't do anything about it. I don't know how to explain the paralysis. I was able to get them up and off to school (most days). I was able to feed them (most meals). I did my best to keep the kitchen clean enough that it didn't smell bad. And then I crawled back into my bed.
I was barely functional. I often went a week without bathing. Days without brushing my teeth. Unless I had to leave the house. Then I got cleaned up enough that no one would know. Because that's what we do. We kill ourselves to make sure no one knows we are having a hard time.
I missed a lot of appointments. I missed my turn helping in my children's classes. I dropped the ball and left people hanging. I cared. I was humiliated. But I couldn't do anything to change it.
I had five kids, 2 years to 10 years, and it was all I could do to keep them alive.
My husband did what he could. He was working a lot. Before that I had done everything around the house. Then I almost completely withdrew from life. So far that I couldn't even help him see what needed to be done or how to do it. I don't know how awful it was for him, how powerless he felt. He wanted to take me to a doctor long before I let him. I wouldn't let him tell family or friends. I don't know how he feels about that time because we haven't talked about it. I tried once or twice, but I don't think he wants to go back there -- even in thought.
I was with a group of women a while back who were talking about helping to clean out a house when someone in the neighborhood moved. They talked about how dirty it was and how certain areas had probably not been cleaned the whole time they'd lived there. They ridiculed and judged, asking how a person could live like that. I said there must have been more going on in their lives that led to the house being that way. I tried to get them to look at it a little differently. But I didn't want to speak up too much for fear that it would draw attention to my life and my home.
I'm not a good housekeeper. I never have been. But it's gotten so much harder and so much worse since my health fell apart. It's not that I don't see it. It's not that I like it this way. It's just that I'm doing the best I can do. I'm meeting the responsibilities that have to be met and letting the others slide. Which often means my kitchen floor doesn't get mopped and the toilets don't get scrubbed. For a very long time.
So, please, the next time you see someone whose house is a mess, whose yard is overgrown, or who might be wearing dirty clothes, don't judge. People don't choose to be dirty and messy unless something is wrong in their lives.
We're all just doing the best we can. And we're grateful when we have clean underwear.