Mental health is an issue in my family. I used to go about my life thinking I was lucky, or to make it sound better #blessed. I believed I somehow escaped from my family without suffering from mental health problems.
People around me helped prop up this idea to me. My ability to sleep well, my ability to make friends, my ability to be competent and consistent in my work – they all have been things that I’ve used to create a narrative that I escaped without any issues.
But in the last couple weeks I’ve started to question that narrative about myself. I think I am someone who lives with an elevated amount of anxiety. I’ve just learned to live with it. But it’s not healthy.
By their very definition, you can’t see your own blind spots. But if you pay attention to the situations and people around you, you might be able to see their shadows from time to time. At first you might just ignore it, but if you see them enough you start to recognize that there’s something you’re not seeing.
That’s how it’s been for me. I’ve noticed enough comments from my wife, from a couple of my friends, from various relational situations that have caused me frustration and unease, from observing similarities to some of the mental health issues of my own family that have caused me to finally admit to something I think.
I live with an unhealthy amount of anxiety.
The house I grew up in on the south side of Indianapolis was a large 3000+ square foot home. I lived there from age 5-18, as well as the summers in between college semesters. My entire childhood was practically in that home, so the two are inseparable.
I do not have good feelings about that home.
Before my mom moved out to Iowa, across the river from Omaha, Nebraska, she had to sell the house we grew up in. But after 20 years of not being maintained nor renovated that house was practically falling apart. Combine that with my mom being a hoarder of things, well, it was in sad shape.
A couple weeks before my mom moved, I drove down from Chicago and spent an entire weekend getting rid of all sorts of things by either throwing stuff away or donating it to Goodwill. Dozens and dozens of trips to Goodwill with carloads of stuff. And we only scratched the surface of all that my mom had and didn’t need. She still needed an entire semi to move her stuff to Iowa.
The house was purchased by someone that had the vision and the means of bringing it back its potential beauty. It was sold for probably half its potential value, but it sold. And that at the time was all that mattered. My mom was able to move out of the house with my brother.
A week and a half ago the house went up for sale again. My mom alerted me and I got immediately on Realtor.com to look it up, and…wow. It’s amazing. The owners completely redid like 90% of the house. It’s wonderful. Hardwood floors. New appliances. New siding, roof, tiles, everything.
As I kept scrolling through the slides of the house I was so happy to see the house being brought into this wonderful condition. At the same time, something really wrestled deep within me. A deep-seated anger, a bitterness, that has clearly just been sitting there.
Looking at those pictures, though, I felt vindicated by my feelings. This is what the house could have been like! We never did any sort of renovations or maintenance. Things just kind of fell apart over time. And as a kid, well, you’re a fish in water. You don’t know anything else. But knowing what I know now I see just how much I was kept from a childhood that I thought could have been possible. Instead of being able to use all the amazing space throughout the house, my mom piled up boxes and boxes of stuff. Papers. Mementos. Lots of things that were deemed to have sentimental value.
These things kept me from ever having very many friends over. We never had any guests over to our house. Never did we have anyone over for dinner. It would have been too embarrassing, and there would be nowhere to gather.
We did carve out a spot in the basement for my drums and piano and my computer and recording equipment. And for that, I am tremendously grateful. It is the brightest spot of my childhood in that home. But I always dreamed of more. And I never got to experience that dream.
Seeing the photos on realtor.com confirmed how nice it could have been. And it did something to me. I had dreams for the next couple days related to that house. And I felt validated in my bitterness and anger. But at the same time, I feel like I am finally able to let it go. Someone else can enjoy that house now. All is not lost for that being a wonderful home.
That environment gave me a level of anxiety that I’ve been walking around with ever since. I learned things explicitly and implicitly from my parents from living in that house. Some of which I am just now uncovering.
I’ve never had orderliness modeled for me. We didn’t have chores growing up. I didn’t keep a clean room when I was a kid, and I don’t really now. And it drives me freaking bonkers. It drives me nuts. My anxiety levels when I feel my home is disorganized and there’s stuff everywhere go through the roof compared when I feel like my home is organized, clean, and put together.
It’s ironic in many ways because I live with eight teenage girls who have weekly assigned chores that they have to upkeep every day, which get checked three times a day. The part of the house that gets utilized by 13 people on a regular basis is the cleanest and most organized part of my home. The part where just me and my two boys live, is not. It gets trashed by my sons on a regular basis. And laundry, oh the freaking amount of laundry! I just, I don’t know. It seems like an unwinnable battle.
But that has been an excuse. Or in reality, my wife and I have refused to figure out a way to maintain an organized home when it comes to our own personal living space.
I’ve not ever liked to recognize it or acknowledge it because it reminds me of my own home growing up. But I’ve had three friends visit recently, and it’s been a struggle to keep up with making an attempt to get organized for them. I have no routines. No examples, and honestly, very little help in upkeeping a level of organization that keeps our place from looking like a bomb exploded in it.
So I’m trying to strategize how to overcome this, because I can’t keep living this way. I just can’t. My stress levels are through the roof because of it, and it seeps into every aspect of my life – my relationships, my mental and emotional health. Even my physical health. I find that when my environment is organized and clean, I feel like taking better care of myself.
I used to think that organization was a strength of mine. But, it’s clearly not. Why did I think it was? Just because I like things to be organized doesn’t make me someone who is organized. I used to think that I was nothing like my mom when it came to stuff that I kept around for no good reason other than it had some sort of sentimental value, but I was wrong. I’m just not AS bad.
So here I am. I’m thirty-two years old and I’m finally taking ownership of my shortcomings and characteristics that I’ve inherited from my mom, and well, from both of my parents.
But before this looks like a dump fest on my mom, I will say that just the other day I recognized a wonderful trait in myself that I inherited from my mom. Sarah and the girls were gone at a concert. They had to leave quickly after dinner and so there were lots of dishes left in the sink and on the counter. I knew they were coming home late, and so while they were gone I took some time to do all the dishes and clean up the kitchen. I knew that when they got home our girl who was on dishes chore would be pleasantly surprised that they were already done. I didn’t need to see her reaction when she came home, just knowing that she would be happy not to have to do them was satisfaction enough for me. And that is totally something that I have gotten from my mom. My mom always did things like that for me. When I came back from camp or from a long day I’d find my bed made with a corner folded open with fresh sheets on it, and a clean and organized room.
It was something that she did regularly to show me she cared and loved me. And I find myself doing that for Sarah, the girls, and even the boys.
So this week I’m starting operation purge and organize.
I’ve told Sarah I can’t do this by myself. I need a partner to commit to this as well. So I will go through all our things and decide what we will keep and what we will trash or donate. Her role will be to actually trash and to donate. Put things in the dumpster. Take things to goodwill or those big donate bins out in various parking lots.
It has come to the point where I need this. And so it begins this week.
We go on vacation back to Indiana on Friday, and so I want to have a clean and organized place that I’m coming back to.
Then the challenge will be to come up with real manageable routines that we can keep up with to keep this place organized.
I say all this to basically say out loud that I think I struggle with anxiety, and it’s because I haven’t acknowledged aspects about my lifestyle that is keeping that anxiety from going away. I am shining a light on the darker places in my life that I try to hide from others because it exposes the facade I’ve put up.
But I’m attempting to get away from that.
And so…yeah, this long rambling post. Almost 1800 words about cleaning my room.
Wow. Life is weird.