Living with chronic illness; be it physical or mental takes a ridiculously gross toll on everything in your life. There’s no “quick fix,” to being empty of even the energy to wash your own face in the morning, let alone clean your home like “normal” people do. (Please imagine my hugely sarcastic, eye rolling finger quotes being made in the air as I say normal. ) Cleaning during depression can be like climbing a mountain naked armed with a pencil and a pack of stickers. Medication is great, but it’s never an end all, be all, cure all. There will be days where your shit will simply not get together, personal hygiene becomes an afterthought, dishes pile in the sink, never or barely rinsed, and you’re pretty sure the clothes on the floor in your room have become sentient. It’s overwhelming to look around you and see your home reflect the state of your mental, emotional and physical shambles—and knowing you should care, and you should do something; but you just can’t drum up enough feeling to do anything than feel miserable and not caring. And then that sends you on a lovely guilt spiral that makes you want to do anything even less. And the cleaning never happens.
So how do you even start cleaning during depression?
Hello. I’m Pinkatron2000, I have Bi-Polar II and depression, all being treated with medication and officially diagnosed by an official doctor. All—uh—official like. Here in lies a collection of non judgmental, what-works-for-me-might-not-work-for-you but maybe could inspire and motivate you just a little bit and if not we can commiserate and bitch about off kilter brains together: list. (Say that all in one breath. If you can, you win the internet!) This advice comes with an important note: if you don’t have chronic illness, depression, bi-polar, or a mental or physical disease or disorder of any sort this post may not make a lick of sense to you. And/or may offend. To that I say too fucking bad. I love you, but I am not writing this for you lucky folks with fully firing, perfectly firing serotonin specimens, right? Right! Let’s crawl right into it!
What do you think you can handle right now, this moment?
How much do you think you can handle right now, this minute? Take a moment or as many moments as you feel necessary to listen to your body, your mind and yourself. If you absolutely cannot see yourself even being able roll over in bed, or you know intimately that you only have so many points in your energy stat pool for a certain action, and—
Start with one thing. ONE.
When you pick that ONE thing, make sure it is right in front of you & easy as hell to do.
Do not look at the entire room/situation all at once, don’t start making a huge mental list.
Start with what you can see within easy reach first.
There is just no reason to push yourself to do everything all at once. Perfection is the enemy, here. We’re not looking for perfect. Most of the time, we can’t anyway. So let’s go with what we know. Little steps. Baby steps. Itty bitty teeny steps. There’s no one around currently to judge you right now in this moment so if the best thing you can reach is your tiny end table by your bed? Then go for it. I don’t care if you’re in the same sweatpants from last week and your pajama top is covered in coffee, pasta sauce, food stains etc. We’re going for a little thing right now. Pick the thing near you.
Round up your cleaning supplies and put them right where you need them.
Since I am using the example of a night table, I can think from the top of my head we’ll need these things: garbage bag for garbage, a cloth or paper towel, cleaning solution or furniture polish or if neither is handy, vinegar and water and even plain ol’ water will do. Damp cloth will do ya for most dirt, unless you need to sanitize. But that’s neither here nor there. If you’re out of garbage bags, I keep plastic grocery bags at hand for just this sorta cleaning too. (Unless you live in a state/province/place that has banned them.)
Start by clearing off and out the garbage.
You know what’s garbage and what isn’t. Crumpled paper, crumbled tissue, crumbs, empty containers, boxes, etc. Pluck it all up and toss it in your garbage bag. There. Look at that. That’s a step right there.
What can you put away?
What’s on the surface that you can easily pick up and stow away? Maybe you left your favorite body lotion on the night table, for example. So that means it (probably) can go into the bathroom, or at the very least, if you have a vanity or some place else you do your personal pampering, it can go there. Pick up the things on your night stand, or area you are cleaning off, back to where they should be. You know your cheezits don’t belong in the bathroom, or by the bed, for long anyway. Do you want ants? Because that’s how you get ants. So let’s not get ants.
HOORAY! You have done a Thing. Check in with your body. Again.
All right, you cleaned something! This is great! But how do you feel? Pushing yourself too much can spiral you into mental or physical exhaustion that could take anywhere from hours, to days, to weeks to recover from. And once you are in that exhausted place once again and unable to do anything, yep. You guessed it. Things will (probably) start getting overwhelming once again, often making you feel like you won’t ever be able to catch up again and that there’s too much to do and then what’s the point?
Don’t over do it. And do not feel guilty for only doing one thing. Listen to me now: One thing is better than no-thing. %15 of something is more than 0%.
Break the cleaning session into small chunks.
Have a cell phone? Egg timer? Microwave timer? Try setting a timer to do simply 20 minutes of cleaning or organizing or putting The Stuff Away. Just that. Then take a 10-20 minute break to check in with your mind and your body. Are you good? Great! Try one more 20 minute session! Are you done? That’s fine, too! Remember: you DID SOMETHING today. That counts!
Many days I am completely guilty of looking at the entire mess. All of it. And it bunches up in my head as a growing mass of activities that I know if I even remotely tried doing it, it would wear me out to the bone. This is a way of thinking that, like depression or mental illness is invasive and persistent and I wrestle with nearly every day.
I out weigh it by keeping track of everything or anything I do, no matter how small. Because it counts. It really, really does. Comparing yourself with the accomplishments people without illness will sabotage your own achievements. Many people who are perfectly healthy take for granted how much energy washing the dishes or showering can take. So take every small victory and be proud as you can with it. It is progress. It is a step. And every little step counts!
I know not everyone will be like me. I know this list and these steps might not work either. But I hope it encourages someone, somewhere, to try. Trying and failing means you are doing .
Look at you go!