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Confessions of a Horrible Housewife, Episode 2:
Very few things as a homemaker have caused me as much shame as this word: dishes.
I was never a huge fan of doing the dishes –I am a little OCD about germs.
But, in spite of my struggles with focus due to my then-undiagnosed-ADHD, I was determined to be a good wife when I got married.
I am still determined to be a good wife, but my definition of what makes a good wife and mother has changed over the years.
You will see what I mean as I tell my story.
I was a young mom with an-almost-three-year-old and a newborn baby.
After my son was born, I started bleeding.
And it just didn’t stop.
For over 2 years, I had one straight period with no break, and no amount of medication could stop it. (For some reason the medication made it worse.)
One day, it stopped on it’s own with no explanation, but I have spent the last 12 years, trying to get my iron levels back up as I have frequent relapses into unexplained and almost-untreatable bleeding.
So, I was severely anemic, and –although the doctor didn’t tell me– I had been diagnosed with Hashimotos (I wouldn’t learn about the diagnosis until a decade later when a different doctor reviewed my chart).
I would later learn that the Hashimoto’s had sent me into hypoadrenal (not enough cortisol).
So here I am, severely anemic, low thyroid, and low adrenal.
If you have never been anemic, hypothyroid, and hypoadrenal, you don’t know the real meaning of the word tired.
Add on top of that postpartum psychosis which included severe insomnia and paranoia.
Now, back to the topic of dishes.
It was during this very difficult time in my life that I was so weak and so stressed, I would forget to do the dishes.
Or, I would be so tired and weak, I couldn’t stand over the sink to do the dishes.
This was the first time I remember seeing maggots in our dishes.
We lived in the country across from a horse barn, and it was nearly impossible to keep flies out of the house.
The gestation period of flies is only 24 hours, so it didn’t take long for my avoidance of the dishes to be a big problem.
I had apparently forgotten to put dinner away before we went away for the weekend, and when we came back, there were already maggots in the bowl on the table.
I sat over that bowl of ickiness and sobbed.
I was such a bad mom.
Such a bad wife.
I was smart and creative, and I couldn’t make this work?
I knew women who were very mentally challenged who managed to keep a clean house.
What on earth was wrong with me?
I was just a failure.
I had this image of “failure” stamped across my forehead.
That’s how I saw myself for a long time.
Plus, this dish had been a wedding gift.
I washed it and even boiled it to make it useable again.
For a long time after this, I couldn’t eat rice because it reminded me of maggots and I would get grossed out.
My first solution to avoid maggots was to haul everything outside and hose it all out in the back yard.
But I would get so tired, so weak, and so distracted that I wouldn’t finish the job.
And the dishes would sit in the back yard.
So, I just started throwing dishes away.
I have almost no dishes left from my wedding for this reason.
I probably should have asked for help at this juncture.
But I didn’t know how.
Like, how do you go to your friends and say, “For some reason I can’t explain, I can’t keep up on the dishes and need help?”
I asked for advice by hinting that I was struggling and got advice from “Just do it.” to “Don’t go to bed until the kitchen is clean.” to “Make a schedule.”
I did all that and more.
None of it worked because none of it fixed the underlying problem: my health condition.
My sweet husband tried to help, but he was working full time and dealing with his own health issues.
I even emailed the Flylady and asked her for advice because I couldn’t even follow her plan; she said that she was sure there was something wrong with my health, but I dismissed that because I had bloodwork done and they didn’t find anything (the doctor who didn’t tell me about the Hashimoto’s).
Eventually, we hired someone to come in and do the dishes each week.
She always acted like if I could just get myself motivated and do what I was supposed to do I would be able to do this myself.
I was a smart, able-bodied woman….why was I just sitting there?
That only added more shame to the fact that I already couldn’t keep it together.
I got treated for the post partum depressions, and I have only recently started talking about the psychosis portion.
Because I don’t think people should be ashamed to talk about it like I was.
There is no shame in being sick –mentally or physically.
I was told that my postpartum depression was a result of not praying and reading my bible enough.
I wonder why I didn’t want to confide in those people about how I was struggling?
In the middle of all of this, an older lady at church scolded me for not ironing my husband’s work clothes –she had seen him on the job one day– and said that I was embarrassing him by not helping him present a professional front. (In my defence, my husband works construction, and I don’t think anyone has ever cared if his clothes were ironed.)
I went home and cried.
Now, not only was I a complete failure at home, but I was making my husband a failure at work too.
I started trying to focus on the things I could do right and ignore everything else, but that came with it’s own set of problems.
The housekeeper, around this time, suggested that we eat off paper plates to make kitchen clean up easier.
We have been eating off paper plates for over 10 years now.
This is one decision I do not regret.
I have a friend with a ton of kids and she did the math: it is cheaper to eat off paper plates than to run the dishwasher.
Eventually, I was diagnosed with ADHD which I am sure I have had since I was a child —I am anything but type-A and have always struggled with attention, focus, and emotional regulation (which may explain the amount of crying described in this post).
For the year that I was on ADHD medication before we learned about the hashimotos and hypoadrenal, I actually kept my house clean.
Then, the ADHD medication crashed my adrenals even further, and our house completely fell apart.
I didn’t know what was wrong, but I knew I needed help.
I made the mistake of telling one of my doctors about the condition of my house when inquiring about possible health problems that could be causing my low energy.
I didn’t know that doctors are mandatory reporters or that the condition of my house constituted child abuse.
That was a whole ‘nother debacle that I will not describe in full here.
But needless to say, it brought shame.
A lot of shame.
And, it brought the condition of my house and my poor homemaking skills to the forefront as our friends and family tried to help us get the house clean to avoid having our children taken away.
I remember being barely able to walk, holding onto walls to walk through the house, on my hands and knees scrubbing floors, and sobbing.
I would spend days just crying and asking God for help.
What on earth was wrong with me?
Why did everyone else have it all together?
That was 2010.
It was a life-changing year.
After that, I got really sick.
All the stuff before was just a prelude.
Until this last year, I have consistently had to have someone come and do the dishes for me.
It got the point that I was too dizzy, too weak, and in too much pain to lean over the sink, pick up dishes, and put them into the dishwasher.
I have some pretty awesome friends and family who have chipped in to help with housekeeping.
Sometimes, I paid someone; other times friends volunteered.
And, I significantly lowered my standard.
I want my house to function.
If it doesn’t look really clean, that’s okay.
It doesn’t need to be magazine-worthy.
I don’t have the energy to be OCD anymore.
(I don’t actually have clinical OCD, but because of the ADHD, I would use OCD behavior as a coping mechanism to try to counter my distractibility.)
Within the last year, my children have gotten old enough that they now clean the house without me.
It is not perfect, but I am not completely mortified if someone comes to the front door anymore.
They do the dishes daily, and I only occasionally have to help with a special dish or a pan that is very difficult to clean.
I still deal with a certain amount of shame that I cannot clean my own house.
Shame that I cannot do and be all the things that I should do and be.
But I am learning to ignore that voice that tells me what I should be able to do.
I once told a counselor that I was a horrible wife and mother.
She looked at me and said that she did not see that.
“Really?” I asked, again through tears.
She said that if I divided up all the tasks I had as a wife and mother and looked at them individually I would be able to see what kind of homemaker I really was –that I was not a failure.
I am a homeschool teacher, a disciplinarian, an at home nurse, a conflict resolver, an affection giver, a cook, a housekeeper, a lover, ect.
I was good at every single job she talked about except I am not a good housekeeper.
Housekeeping is not the totality of who I am, but that was the gauge that I was using to measure my worthiness.
“Can I clean and do the dishes?” was the measure that I used to decide if I was a fit mom and wife.
But that was an unfair evaluation because I am so much more than my ability to cook and clean.
I am a good mom to these boys and a good wife to my husband: I love them fiercely and with my whole heart, and I give them as much of myself as I can everyday.
I can pay someone to do to cook and clean, but I cannot pay someone to love my kids and teach them about faith in a trial or grace under pressure.
I cannot pay someone to love them like a mother, to train them in God’s ways, and to point them back to Jesus every day of their lives.
No one else can do the job that I can do.
And this job has nothing to do with if the dishes are done.
My job is affecting the eternal in ways that doing the dishes never could.
I know women who have focused on the housekeeping and neglected the rest, and they have lived to regret that choice.
So, if you are reading this and you feel like you are an abject failure because you can’t keep up with the dishes, the laundry, the housekeeping: you are more than that and don’t you ever forget it or let anyone tell you anything differently.
And by the way, I no longer see myself with “failure” written across my forehead.
I understand that this is where God put me and that my job as His child is to be content with where He put me and find a way to make it work.
If I am not a failure in God’s eyes, how can I let any person here on earth make me feel like a failure?
Their opinions do not matter.