Depression and Housekeeping

Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

It’s often embarrassing to have depression. And I’m not talking about the internalized stigma around mental illness. A lot of things that would be embarrassing without depression are much more likely to occur with depression. Depression affects sleep and appetite and saps your energy. As a result, it’s just harder to take care of yourself. Many depressed people have trouble with daily grooming. Many also gain or lose weight and live with bags under their eyes. These have all happened to me. But my real nemesis when depressed is housekeeping.

It’s hard to explain why housekeeping is so hard during a depressive episode. Part of it is the general lack of energy, but it goes beyond that. It’s not just not having the energy to run the vacuum. If it were, it would be relatively easy to deal with because all those cleaning hacks might actually work. There are a bunch of things at play that interfere with keeping house.

First is the feeling that you lack self-worth. Worthless people don’t deserve a clean living space. It’s not really true, of course. Depressed people aren’t worthless and even if they were, a clean, comfortable home isn’t a matter of desert. But, when depressed, it’s incredibly difficult to convince yourself of either of those things.

Another issue is the mess can be strangely comforting. It’s as if the external environment accurately reflects your internal environment. When you’re depressed but in a super neat and clean room, it’s almost like the room is mocking you. Why can’t you be like this? The clutter gives a sense of belonging.

Depression often involves a desire to be alone. It’s not a healthy desire, by any means. But depressed people do tend to isolate themselves. Failure to keep up with the housekeeping helps with that. It’s a reason to not have visitors. It would be mortifying to have a guest see your home in such a state.

Finally, the very thought of cleaning can be overwhelming. Where do I start? How do I start? I’ll never finish. It’s just going to get messy again. Those thoughts quickly turn into: No one’s going to see it anyway and I’ll do it tomorrow. Then the mess gets bigger, and those thoughts get worse.

I’ve tried different methods to keep a clean house. But, like everything else with depression, it comes down to managing your energy. Luckily, I have a kid. That’s the incentive I need to keep up with the laundry and the dishes. There’s simply a threshold below which it would be an unhealthy environment. I use what energy I have to stay above that threshold. When I’m depressed, it’s the best I can do.

All of this is hard to write about because it’s so embarrassing. I’m an actual adult, have been for decades, but when I’m depressed, I can have real problems with the basics of adulting. And that’s why I’m writing this. Housekeeping while depressed isn’t talked about. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who struggles with it, though. So, I’d like anyone who shares my struggle to know that you’re not alone.

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