I have REALLY struggled with whether or not I wanted to share this piece of my mental health journey with the world. It is a very painful and embarrassing part of my story that, until now, very few people know about. It is something I have kept hidden from virtually everyone, and I guess that is changing now despite how terrified I am.
So, let’s start at the beginning. Growing up, I was not a tidy person; ask my mom. I tidied my room growing up because it was a requirement of my parents, and I did my best. I was “forced” to pick things up so the housekeeper, who came once a week, could do her job without having to work around all of my stuff. Having a housekeeper change sheets, vacuum, clean bathrooms, and more was a wonderful gift, but I didn’t learn how to clean properly. Cleaning and organizing are things I have a hard time with. Maybe because I didn’t do it growing up, I don’t enjoy it; I get overwhelmed when I think of starting, or maybe because of my ADHD. I don’t know, and the reality is that it doesn’t matter.
I have never been able to keep a clean and tidy home. I never let people into my home. When it was clean and organized, it was because someone else did most, if not all, of the work. I can’t count the times I would look around and wish so much that I could have a house I wasn’t embarrassed by. As my mental health worsened, my home did as well, specifically my bedroom. It was a space that was hard to live in and also hard to leave. My bedroom was filthy to the point that virtually no one was allowed into the area. There was trash on the floor, random things that had never found their way to their home, clothes that had been dropped in the pile and forgotten, and so much more. Things had been spilled on the carpet and never cleaned. At my worst, I struggled to let the dogs out, so they would do their business in the bedroom or my closet, and I just ignored it.
I tried over and over to clean it and create a livable space, yet I struggled to make any real progress over the years. I would have bursts of cleaning, and then I would begin to feel like the task was insurmountable, so I would give up and walk away. I had money set aside to install new floors and paint my room, but I had to clean the space out. For two years, that money sat there. I think the thought of cleaning was so overwhelming, and I didn’t know where to begin; I ignored it for a long time.
My room was a place I didn’t want anyone to see; in many ways, it was a barrier I put up to keep people out. Most of my friends have not been inside my home in the last decade. I dated someone for over two years, and he came into my house two or three times during our relationship and never once into my bedroom. I avoided having people over, even after I had the rest of the house mostly under control, out of fear someone might see my room and judge me: judge that I was dirty, gross, unwell, lazy, and more. I would talk about how I didn’t have people over because I was anxious about people in my space, but the reality was that I was embarrassed and didn’t want to feel judged.
It had been over six years since I began treatment, I felt healthy and happy, and despite that, I couldn’t make any real progress in this one area that was holding me back. I felt like I was never going to be able to get my space to a place that I loved. I felt that dirty and cluttered space impacted my mental health. I was incapable of making any progress; if I did, it wouldn’t last.
I knew the dirty and cluttered space impacted my mental health. Our mental health is affected by so many factors, and our mental health impacts our physical space. My mental illness helped create the disaster I felt my bedroom was. I avoided the tasks necessary to create a healthy environment for me because of the absolute overwhelm I felt. The messy space created a feeling that I was somehow failing in my recovery, and thinking about it negatively impacted my mood. This space was created in many ways by my mental illness; despite treatment, I was unable to clean the room and my mental health was suffering because of it.
A study by Princeton showed that clutter could make focusing on any task difficult because our brains are overwhelmed by things unrelated to the task. Clutter and mess can cause stress and anxiety, while a clean space creates a sense of calm and an increased ability to focus. A messy room impacts more than our mental health; it can also affect our physical health. There are more places for mold, bacteria, and other gross stuff to hide when a mess is covering it all up. A clean bedroom also improves your quality of sleep, and for me, lack of quality sleep is one of the most significant factors in a relapse of my mental illness. Cleaning can decrease stress, help reduce fatigue, create more focus, and generally positively impact our mental health.
I find it interesting that people who struggle with their mental health may have difficulty cleaning and organizing, and the act of cleaning and organizing will positively influence their mental health. It feels like a vicious cycle. You feel crappy, so you don’t clean; your space isn’t clean, so you feel even crappier, which makes it even harder to clean. This was where I was. I wanted to have a beautiful clean space, yet I couldn’t do it.
Over the years, I have done various things to help keep my home clean and organized. Things like focusing on a tiny space at a time, setting a timer for 15 minutes so I knew it was limited and I wouldn’t get overwhelmed, and at one point, I hired a professional organizer to help. Despite all of these “tricks” I had found online, I could not make any real progress, and the progress I made was not sustained.
Ten months ago, in January, I reached out to a woman who cleans houses to ask for help. I let her know that the space was terrible and that I wanted to work with her since I wanted, perhaps needed, to be a part of the process to feel any sense of control. I wanted to feel like I could conquer this space, even if I had help. I did my best to explain the situation and tell her what I needed; she asked for pictures, and after sending them, I did not hear from her again. It added to the shame that I felt about my space.
I was also diagnosed with ADHD in January and started medication. This had a significant impact on my productivity and focus. Finally, I was beginning to feel like I could get things done. I could finish the things I started in a way I hadn’t been able to. So I started chipping away at the mess. Eventually, I asked one of my closest friends to help, and she graciously agreed.
What was interesting is that once I asked for help and knew I was going to open my hidden space to someone, I was able to make more progress. There is another piece to making this progress and asking for help. I had met someone amazing whom I wanted to let in and develop the relationship how I wanted; I couldn’t keep hiding my home and keeping those walls up. Sarah came over, and together we cleared out and deep-cleaned what I hadn’t finished yet. The next step was to have someone replace the floors and paint the walls.
I almost immediately reached out to several people for estimates, and when they came out, I explained what was happening in my space the best I could and why it was so important that I finally had a home that felt like mine. A place that would be safe and comfortable. A space I could be proud of showing people. I picked a company I felt safe being so vulnerable with, signed a contract, and made all the decisions about floors, paint, fixtures, and décor.
It took them just over a week to finish everything. The team was gracious, understood my anxiety, and they were incredibly kind throughout this stage of my journey. By the time they were finished, I felt much lighter. I was excited to share pictures with everyone who would look. I was truly in love with my bedroom and felt that I had created a space that was perfectly me. Finally, I had a space I was proud of and wanted to share.
Then, I did it. I invited someone new into my home for the first time in a decade. I was terrified, yet I knew it was the next step in my mental health journey. So there I was on a Sunday afternoon, opening my front door to someone who mattered to me and whose opinion of me mattered. I was so anxious, and yet I let him in. And I didn’t die; the anxiety went away within a few minutes. It was the perfect combination of the right person at the right time. I had spent literal years feeling trapped in a space that didn’t feel good, and finally, I had a space I wanted to share with people.
Here are the pictures…
I am feeling anxious about making these pictures public. I know this is not how most people live, but I know others struggle like I do (did?), and this is just another piece of my recovering mental health. I want others to see this, not feel so alone and know there is so much potential, and for the people this doesn’t resonate with; I hope you see, without judgment, a small piece of what is hidden when someone is struggling with a mental illness.
Ok, really, here are the pictures…
Pictures that were taken this week showing how hard I am working to keep things clean and tidy.
I have asked some friends to randomly ask me to take pictures of my home someday in the next month. When they do, I will share those pictures and continue to share them. I want to both have some accountability and want people to see if/how things change.