Friday, November 9, 2012

When I Couldn't Do Laundry

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.


Rubye Jack said...

This has been really good for me to hear Robin, for a couple of reasons. One is that I'm not even a housekeeper. Forget being a lousy one. I just don't do it until one day a burst of energy comes along or someone says they're coming over and then I get it together. However, I've always done laundry and like doing laundry.
Secondly, where I work (the local food pantry) a lot of people who come in smell quite bad and I always wonder why don't they take baths and wash their clothes. Your post has made me step back from my judging and realize a lot of them just can't because most of them are depressed. And, although I may not smell, half the time I live in a filthy house where only dishes and laundry get washed. I would hate to have a bunch of women come clean out my house. They'd have ammunition for days. Ha.

I guess if someone has never been seriously depressed they can't begin to understand. Thing is, they'd understand if we had cancer and didn't clean house.

Bonnie said...

I really try not to judge, but this post hit a nerve for me. I'll admit that I'm sitting her crying and a little disgusted.

What was happening ten years ago that nobody helped you? Why did you sleep for a year and a half and nobody came in and helped you whether you wanted it or not? I've been in your shoes, putting on the good front with the last vestiges of energy, and nobody helped me either. I'm okay with that now because I didn't live in such a good place.

But this is a good place. People have been very kind to me. What was going on with them ten years ago?

I'm reminded of the story Elder Oaks told years ago of standing out at the mailbox trying to coax one of his grandsons (who insisted on playing in the snow even though his mother told him that he'd need to take his Sunday shoes and pants off) and his youngest daughter came home, looked at him like he was crazy, and swept the child up and took him in. Sometimes we trample on people's pride when we love them. Sometimes we sweep them up and take them in.

I'm going to have to go do something else right now. I can't even think straight. What was everyone thinking?

Heather said...

I have been in your shoes. Sometimes housework is so overwhelming it causes a vicious cycle because you get depressed because your house is a mess, so you can't do anything because your depressed. I'm finally pulling out of a 2 year funk. When the ambulance came to my house in August, I went outside and sat on the porch because I didn't want them to see my house in the condition it was in. Laundry is always daunting, our washer was broken for a while, and we just did the 'essentials' at the laundry matt, I still haven't gotten the mount washmore washed....and it's been months, but slowly I'm taking it one load a day to get things going again.

Dawnelle said...

Housekeeping is a very sensitive subject for me, as you know. I can't even go there in my mind right now. But when I do, it hurts. A LOT!

I was thinking about you this morning, wanting to come over for a visit to see how you're doing. I wondered if that was the Spirit whispering to me. But I know that you are usually not a morning person, so for that reason and others I didn't act upon that thought.

Thank you for having the courage to go to this time in your life and especially for sharing it with us. I've gone there many times, but I haven't had the courage to write about it so honestly.

I don't know many who can really understand. I've felt the judgement and so much pain. So I send you my love and support as you work through this as you are able.

Bravo, friend! Bravo for going there!!! ♥

Unknown said...

I am always amazed at your strength and courage in sharing these difficult moments in your life. I have learned from my work that there is so much more going on than what we see and we cannot judge what we see on the surface.

The Dose of Reality said...

So amazing and well-written. Your honesty no doubt helps others, so I hope you know that. Thank you for sharing this truth.

Anonymous said...

So sorry about your bad times but am glad that you are getting better. Some of us are just not good housekeepers. Me included. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Celebrate your strengths! said...

I have only dealt with depression once on a small scale. I do remember thinking prior to that experience that people who were depressed needed to pick themselves up and just do something. When I went through it, I learned that it wasn't that simple. My depression was the result of a conflict with another person. When I figured out what it was and that I was depressed (thanks to my awesome doctor), I was on the road to recovery.

Now, 15 years later, I have a family member who struggles with depression. I only understand a little. But I try really hard to be there for her. I live nearby so I'm able to help quite a bit and I try to. I try not to judge when things aren't done - I'm not always successful. Not having been through something like that, it's hard to understand. It seems like there are things you can do to fix it. Things you can do to help yourself. I know that's not always true but I still struggle with it. But I don't say anything and I do everything I can to help.

I'm glad you made it through your dark days. I wish you had had someone to help you. And by the way, that's not criticism of your husband. The husband can only do so much.

another jennifer said...

I think if you are doing the best you can, then that's enough. Nobody's perfect. If the floors go without mopping for a little while so you can do more important things, then so be it!

Bonnie said...

I've been thinking about this post since you published it, and I'm feeling sorry for my judgment of others. I cried off and on yesterday about it, but I think part of my feeling was that I might be missing people in my area. I thought of Christa Frahm and how much she misses the Hamakers, and Sally Roberts down the street who is deaf and whose husband died last year suddenly. I thought what a cad I am that I haven't done more, made sure they were doing okay. And even people I know who put on the good face in church - what have I offered?

Like most judgment, there was an underlying judgment about myself that I was hiding from, and when I faced it and made a decision to do something about it, I felt better.

So, sorry for the judgment.

Kim@Co-Pilot Mom said...

You are so right - often we just don't know what is happening in someone else's life. We are all just doing the best that we can; definitely something we should always keep in mind.

Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing, I'm sorry you had to go through that and you were alone. the tough times makes us appreciate the simple things in life all the better.

Nellie @ Brooklyn Active Mama said...

I totally agree with this, nothing throws me into cleaning gear faster than hearing that I have unexpected guests. I am literally running like a crazy person because I am worried that I will judged on my homes appearance. nevermind that I have 2 small children, I know people are still going to judge. great post!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Thank you.

Leigh Powell Hines said...


This is a very powerful post. I am so glad that you are now reaching out to help others who may be in the same shoes of your past.

Christine said...

You are so right - we don't know what's going on in someone else's life and it's not fair to judge. This is an incredibly powerful and beautifully written post Robin. I'm so sorry that you went through that but I'm grateful to you for sharing your story, for talking about depression and your experience.

Suz said...

You are stronger than you know. To be able to share yourself and your trials in a positive so that it helps others is amazing.

Katy said...

After reading this heartbreaking post, I felt sad, but also grateful for the insight to be more understanding of all people. But after I read Bonnie's comment, it really put me in a quandary. I did know you then. Although, if Jess was 10 then I had only been in the neighborhood about a year and didn't know you as well as I do now. Still, even if it was now, I wouldn't know what to do that would help. So . . . teach me more Robin . . . and Bonnie. What would have helped? Where should we respect walls of privacy and independence and when should we disregard them? Or should we?

Pride In Photos Beauty said...

We all should learn not to judge period...because none of us can really know what is going on behind those walls.
Stay blessed.
Laurie @ Pride in Photos

Dona said...

Hmmm.(Thinking) Wow. There is a lot in your posts, and those comments, and in the experiences you posted about. Hmmm. (More thinking with more thinking to come.)

AiringMyLaundry said...

Great post. I try to never judge because one never knows what is going on with another's life. The only time I'm really grossed out is if the toilet is disgusting.

The Dose of Reality said...

You are really brave to write about that time in your life. I know it's not easy, but you will probably never know how many people you have helped by telling your story. People who now know they are not alone. Well done.

You described what it feels like to have depression so well. SO WELL. thank you for this and for reminding us that there are always stories and real people behind the things we see. We just don't always know what the situations are.

Anonymous said...

Miss Robin - I don't think you realise the strength it takes to write this. It is impossible to be judgmental or even sympathetic. All I feel is empathy because I think most of us (me included) have been here in some small (or large) way. As always thanks for sharing.

Savvyworkinggal said...

I work full time and most nights don’t get home ‘til after 7:00 pm. I have two dogs. Is my house clean? No. Do I spend time working on my blog when I should be cleaning? Yes. I do clean almost every weekend and in a day or two you can’t tell anyway. Yes. Though there are a couple of rooms upstairs that haven’t been cleaned in a long time – like not for a year or two. We don’t use them and are mostly used as storage. Since I am hosting my family holiday meal this year, cleaning those rooms is on my to-do list. Most women in my same situation hire people to clean their homes.

So everyone should just stop judging everyone and instead ask if they could use a helping hand.

Melinda said...

{Melinda} I agree with Bonnie. Where was everyone? Why didn't someone help? Breaks my heart. I'm sure there are many others out there like you ... isolation is a major tool of the enemy. Thank you for sharing your story.

This is Melinda from Mothering From Scratch. The Name/URL option is no longer enabled, so I'm commenting through my Google Account (which is my old blog)

Christina Morley said...

I read your post and then got caught up in the mini posts written by your loving readers and eventually had to tear my eyes away.

Thanks for visiting my blog, Amanda's Books and More. I just wanted to pop in and return the favor.

I'm sorry for the lost time with your kids and husband. I hope it's going better with him. (I'm thinking of a previous post where you mentioned his acerbic tongue.) Maybe the two of you will one day run a retreat to help hurting people find healing and closer so that they can regain their footing in life.

Tina - American mom raising 4 kids in South Africa

Anonymous said...

Answer to the question where was everyone? Nobody knew and that was done on purpose. She was a good actress in public and I wasn't much help either. I had a lot of growing to do myself so I made mistakes a lot. One of them was keeping the secret. It was the first time for me dealing with someone who was depressed and I was still dealing with anger issues.

I just wanted everyone in the hood to know, you really wouldn't have known.

Mr Robin.