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Saturday, December 31, 2016

i made a list

All my life I have hated washing dishes. With a sink full of dirty dishes staring me down, I feel like Sisyphus at the bottom of the hill staring at that motherfucking boulder every morning and hating his fucked up life.

Because dishes are the never ending torment, the liver that keeps growing back so the carrion crows can feast on my entrails yet again (different myth).

All this mixed mythological hyperbole* may seem a little excessive but so is my hatred of dishwashing and its dirty little accomplice, cooking. 

Cooking, baking, frying, broiling - all those bastards turning the kitchen into a wasteland of goo and gunk and gore. Every fucking day.

I love a clean kitchen. Particularly one uncontaminated by the byproducts of the reason for its existence. When I finally wash the motherfucking dishes, you can be sure the counters and stove will end up gleaming too, or at least crumb-free and relieved of sticky stains and the threat of salmonella.

I generally draw the line at sweeping the floor because I have dogs, socks, and bi-weekly cleaners for that.

I stand there for a moment and admire the godliness of it all (it helps if you neatly stack the empty peanut jars waiting to be cleaned and recycled) and pretend I don't see that the ground beneath the boulder is looking a bit dodgy.

All this beauty and it only took me an hour and a half to get here.

If that seems like a ridiculous amount of time to spend on dishes when I have a functioning dishwasher sitting right there, it is. But the dishwasher gets pretty full pretty fast and those pots and pans don't fit in very well once the plates are in there and some don't fit at all - I'm looking at you, broiling pan covered in congealed fat and glued on meat crud.

Every night my husband comes home and cooks us a nice meal and I am supposed to clean up afterwards because that's the deal we made. I actually insist on it because he does not clean to my exacting standards (not really exacting, see above) and I will just end up redoing the bits that bug me the most.

But every night as we finish our meal I feel the weight of the boulder settling onto my shoulders and I struggle to get started up that hill.

I think the reason it is such a struggle is because I am plagued with three debilitating conditions: depression, perfectionism, and procrastinitis. Or maybe it's one condition with 3 intertwined parts. Oh, and a tendency to overthink things (see above and below) That's four. There's probably something else too. Amongst the weapons at my disposal for making my life more complicated than it needs to be are...

Fortunately I have had only one deep depression, relatively short lived (several months) but also the most interminably long and horrifying episode of my life. That was 20 years ago. I lost two babies since that time, endured terrible mourning for their loss, and I still describe my depression like that.

Even though I found my way back to life, the experience of a full blown depression made me aware of a persistent low level of energy that has always permeated my life. I am not sad all the time, far from it, but I can be thrown into the foulest of moods over my inability to do things I should be doing.

Once I got past the general fuckery of adolescence and started to care about the state of my surroundings, I discovered there were many household chores I wanted done. I just didn't want to do them.

Sadly, I often don't care enough about them until they have turned into mega projects that will take far more time and energy than I am currently blessed with, which of course means the project only increases in size while I'm waiting for that one magical day when I feel up to the challenge.

And once I start a project I need it to be done right so that cleaning out the spare room becomes tidying the hall closet to make storage space becomes sorting out piles of papers to see what needs throwing out becomes where's the fucking glue so I can fix this goddamned thing once and for all. That shit is exhausting so I usually run out of steam long before the job is done and have to find some half-assed way to finish up so that the hallway is passable again.

So instead of celebrating what I have accomplished, I'm just tired and a little depressed that I'm going to have to do this project again sometime after it has had time to restock.

Most of the time the memory of slogging through these projects discourages me from starting them at all. If I play enough Candy Crush,** it is likely I won't have time to even begin before it's time to drive my kid somewhere. If I time this all correctly I will avoid all projects and simply have to deal with the guilt of having accomplished absolutely nothing all weekend long.

Sadly this tactic also has a tendency to eat up the prime book-reading/tv-watching time that I used to use to avoid housework during my misspent youth. At least then I was improving my vocabulary.

Getting back to the dishes (I can't avoid those mother-effing dishes), I see the same scenario play out on a daily basis. Sometimes I just wash them right after dinner, give myself a gold star, and go merrily on with my life. Other times, I have to rush out somewhere (see driving kid, op. cit.) or dinner was delayed or somebody pooped in the laundry room (just the dogs, not the kid) any of which conspire against the washing up. Sometimes I just can't stop playing Candy Crush.***

Once the dishes from tonight start piling up on top of the dishes of the previous night (and the night before that) it gets harder and harder to face them, and easier and easier to play another game.****

Before I know it, it's time to walk the dogs or even time to sit down and watch our shows (9:30 pm, aka home free) and I can pretend there aren't dishes taking up every surface in my kitchen just waiting to bitch slap me the next time I walk in.

This would all be a lot funnier if the spectre of my failure to suck it up like a big girl and just do it already wasn't filling me with a tiny bit of self-disgust (or a lot).

When I finally start the plate scraping and the sink filling and the food storing and the counter cleaning and the soaking of old pots and the disposition of fat (congealed or unconcealed) and the scrubbing of stove stains and the tossing of packaging that should have been dealt with by the chef, it still kind of sucks but at least I've got some music playing, I'm singing, and my dog is lying there giving me emotional support. The singing and my iPod are essential coping tools. The dog isn't doing much but it makes me smile when I see him there.

I wash and I wash and the drain is getting full and my back and/or knees are starting to ache and the worst pots are still waiting and they'll need a fresh sink full of water. Doing the task becomes just as depressing as avoiding it.

But I press on like a martyr until finally it is done.

This hateful task seems to me a microcosm of all the frustrating, boring, never-ending day-to-day tasks that seem impossible to attempt let alone complete when you are in a depressed state. When you feel like your world is a mess and it's your fault because you can't even do the most basic things, it's easy to fall into a pattern of self pity and self blame - the kind of thinking you need to avoid if you don't want to go down that path to self-immolation.  I'm always afraid that when I start thinking like this I may already be on that path and I never want to go down there again.

I don't like that I am like this. Twenty years ago I hated myself for being like this.

Lately I have been trying out a new coping tool that I kept meaning to get to but kept putting off. For 20 years.

I made a list.

Every time I think of some task I would like to do I put it on a list on my iPad - this has the advantage of helping me remember what I want done and keeps it handier than a paper list since my iPad seems to be permanently attached to my hand. The list will never be empty because I keep adding new things but after a task is done I check it off and it will disappear until I feel the need to admire all my accomplishments by viewing completed tasks.

Instead of big, overwhelming projects, I put on smaller tasks that will take varying amounts of time. I don't list "clean the spare room" but the components of that job. I reorganized the gift wrapping stuff this Christmas, for example. The under-the-bed storage container that used to store all that crap needs a little more cleaning so I can repurpose it but that's a task for another day.

When I have a little time I do one thing. I do others if I have the time and the energy but I don't kick myself if one is all I can do. Or even part of one.

As for the fucking dishes, I have tried to let myself give up partway if there is just too much for one session, I'm feeling pain, or there's no more room in the drain. Then I finished the job the next night. It seemed to help.

So at the tender age of 54, I am finally taking some simple advice I heard many years ago and it really seems to be making a difference. I truly am getting more done bit by tiny bit and my energy for all the mundane tasks of life seems to be increasing as long as I know when it's time to stop.

And to my frustrated husband who just needs a little room to cook in every night for lord's sake (he would never use that expression), I hope this long meandering tale will explain why I can't always make that space as big as he deserves.

Because doing dishes really does suck.

*The Ancient Greeks really understood the existential horror of a sink full of dirty dishes.
**I'm using Candy Crush metaphorically here because that effing app hasn't worked in weeks. I'm actually playing Minion Rush, Best Fiends, and Cookie Jam in an endless loop but you've probably never even heard of them.
***Seriously, that stupid game boots me out before I even get to spin the bonus wheel.
****I deleted it from my iPad today because the shagging thing was just taking up space. See ** above.

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