Monday, October 27, 2008

I have cleaned: how amazing!

As I recently wrote here about my trouble with school, I wanted to also write about something that is going well, even though college is not. Yesterday, I went back on Wellbutrin. I took Wellbutrin for some 8 or 9 years before, but last year, when it did not seem to be helping me, I told my doctor it didn't do anything anymore, and I was taken off of it. Well, recently my newer doctor (the old one quit) decided she wanted me to take Wellbutrin again. I said that it did not seem like a good idea, because it had not been working for me when I stopped using it last year. But she said, if you take a "drug holiday" from a medication, sometimes it will start to work again (referring, of course, just to psychotropic medications). I did not go for the idea for a couple of weeks, and then I finally got the prescription filled. I mention this because I credit it a small portion of what I am about to discuss to the fact that Wellbutrin seems to give me more energy. However, since I only started taking it again (and a small dose, too), yesterday, I do not give it a whole lot of credit for what I am about to tell you, just a little credit.

I started cleaning last week and I thought, "I'll tackle the living room". I thought that this was a good idea, because, well, the pressure of my need to clean my disgusting apartment has been mounting for the past year or so. Jim the Plumber - my ex - moved out in January. I have not thoroughly cleaned my apartment at all since that time, until now. I know you may think, "this person doesn't seem so disgusting", from reading some of my posts that sound like I have a working brain, or that I at least function okay some of the time (or perhaps you will not be surprised by this, I don't know), but my stressing over cleaning knows no bounds. I cannot mentally face certain obstacles in life, it seems. Cleaning is one of them. Before you judge me, let me explain.

My mom is a slob. It's not that she is lazy; she's not. It's that she doesn't do organization well, or routine matters of things like cleaning. It's also that she never had the money needed to get things fixed when they broke, and if she did have the money, she usually spent it at Disneyworld and left the plumbing broken. I'm not saying this to judge my mom at all, but this is how she is. This is also, unfortunately, how I am sometimes. I've never been a neat freak. Clutter doesn't really bother me much, as long as I have a general idea of where things are. It bothers me for others to see it, however, and it bothers me when it gets extreme. Top that with Schizoaffective Disorder, and you get a person who has trouble organizing things, trouble seeing the value of organizing things, and difficulty with maintaining routine structure on her own. I credit the illness with giving me this problem.

I also become overwhelmed by tasks that seem to much for me to handle, and I might do this more than the average person. I end up avoiding the tasks that overwhelm me, because I don't know how to manage them (ie, college), in a way that works for me. After Jim moved out, and I had no one around to help me maintain a sense of structure in my daily living at the apartment, I stopped functioning well. I stopped cooking (I have issues with food so it's easier to not deal with it at home; cooking is something I only did when I lived with Jim), and started just eating things that did not require preparation. I stopped doing the laundry on Sundays like I did with Jim, and stopped grocery shopping every weekend like I did when I lived with Jim. Eventually, after I went for months being unemployed, things deteriorated more. I stopped straightening up. I didn't take out the garbage. I stopped doing dishes and started using paper plates like my mom does much of the time.

This all culminated in a horrible disaster area residing in the spot where my apartment used to be. I could not let anyone over, so I no longer invited my friend Kathy to visit me and watch movies like we did a few times before - when Jim lived there. I stopped letting the pest control guy in, if he came when I was home. I would say I was sick, every time he came. I stopped throwing stuff out, eventually. So trash just piled up, on tables, dressers, floors, chairs, everywhere. Trash. I got bugs. I sprayed pesticides. And then, my cat, Spooky, developed a major flea problem for reasons I do not understand, which was odd since she never goes outside. And then, on top of the major flea problem, I started hallucinating that people were in my house and had come to evict me about a week ago. And then, after that, and after I started cleaning the living room, I discovered a mouse in my living room, which scared the beejeezus out of me, as I am not fond of rodents particularly not in my living room.

Plus, the bathroom sink has been stopped up for a few months, so I just stopped using it and used the bathtub to wash my hands and brush my teeth, the way we did at my mom's house when the bathrooms' plumbing broke and there was no money to get it fixed. In my case, I live in an apartment, and the only problem with getting it fixed was that the mess was so bad, I couldn't let maintenance workers come in there, or I might be evicted. My case manager has been the only person, besides my mom, who has seen the mess. My case manager has to come in every couple months, as it's part of her job at the community mental health center. She is always kind and helps me take out some garbage when she comes over. She tells me that she has seen places far worse than mine, and that I do not need to be ashamed to let her inside. This has helped me, at times, to feel hopeful that I would somehow tackle the mess, eventually.

So finally, this weekend, I tackled the mess. I entered the kitchen - something I never did for months except to feed the cat or pull a bottle of Diet Coke out of the fridge. I did the kitchen last, however. First, I started this past week with decorating the bathroom, to liven it up a bit. I used buttefly decor that I found on sale at some discount shops, and I got it looking really cute. Then I hung some pictures in the living room. And then I really cleaned. I cleaned the bathroom, my bedroom, and the kitchen, and some of the living room, yesterday. I bleached things, scrubbed floors, vaccuumed, and took out (in the past week) no less than 25 bags of garbage from my little, one-bedroom apartment. I kept working even though I was tired, mentally overwhelmed, panicky, and in some pretty serious physical pain from my Fibromyalgia and Osteoporosis. Plus, having allergy attacks. But, it could always be worse (I could have an apartment full of mice!), I told myself.

And eventually, I got done. It is not the cleanest, neatest apartment anyone has ever seen. But it is a zillion times better than it was a week ago, and that is progress for me. I think since I stopped doing my classes, I had more time and energy to focus on the apartment, and the pressure to get rid of the horrid mess finally got me to start. Once I got past the initial anxiety, I wanted to get the whole place done. My main goal was to get it looking okay enough for the maintenance guy to come in and help me with my pest problem and my broken sink. And I managed to get it done. It was hard, and probably more mentally taxing than physically, but I feel quite relieved now about having a decent place to live. I am not sure this success was worth the trade-off of giving up on my classes, or if it means that I am doing any better than I was a week ago, but I feel that it is real progress for me, and I am happy about it. So I just wanted to share this news with you all.

And, for anyone who lives in a messy home and has difficulties dealing with the tasks of cleaning and housework, please know that you are not alone. I have met a number of people - in NAMI support groups, online, etc. - who have mental illnesses and problems with hoarding junk and keeping messy homes, and there seems to be a real connection between this supposed behavioral issue and biochemical psychiatric disorders. I am interested in learning more about this connection, if anyone has information on it. For now, I think, there is hope for us. It helped me to take things one small step at a time. I also had to do things a bit backwards - creative decorating versus actual cleaning came first - and I had to have a number of circumstances add up to me not really having a choice about the matter anymore, and forcing me to face it. So I faced it, and I survived. What a relief!

1 comment:

Wanderer62 said...

Congratulations Jen! That's great news. People who live "normal" lives and clean regularly have no idea what an incredible relief and accomplishment it is for someone with mental illness to clean up. If I lived near you, I would have helped. In fact I wish there were cleaning parties amongst the mentally ill because I might just let others in my house who knew where I was coming from. I think hiding it causes us to get sicker. Except for writing to you about it, I'm still hiding it. I really want to follow your lead and get to work cleaning. Thanks for writing this post. I'm happy for you and hope this is the start of good things for you.

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