My Clutter Told Me That I Was Depressed

Content Note: Mental Health, Stigma, Cleanliness


I remember the day that I knew I needed to get help.  There were clothes, receipts, and unfiled papers covering the floor, take out containers decorating the coffee table, and me.  I was curled up on my couch in the dark.

My phone had rang several times.  I watched Mama pop up on the screen then convert into voicemails and text messages.  Did I mention that my mother lives around the corner from me?  Well, she does.  About 20 minutes after the phone stopped buzzing, bursting through my door came Mama, (not unlike that video clip of the scary Big Bird exploding through a door, solidifying a new feature in everyone’s nightmares.)  “What’s the matter with you!?” my mom said, exasperatedly, “…and what is going on with your house???” She wasn’t used to my house being a mess

“I’m depressed, Ma.”  Mental health is not commonplace in our family, so me saying my house is a mess because I’m depressed did not compute.  “Do you need to talk??” She asked, genuinely concerned, but still annoyed at what I know must have sounded like nonsense.  “No.  Wash these dishes though” I thought, but was careful not to say out loud because I’m not stupid and didn’t want those problems lol.

“No, Ma.  That’s not it.  I don’t know how else to explain it.  I know I have to clean.  I know the dishes need to be washed.  I know I know how to do them, but I can’t figure out …how to do it…how to get up and do it.”  I hadn’t cleaned my room in weeks, so sleeping on the couch was where I retreated to.  I wasn’t ok and it was becoming clear.  That’s when I decided to seek help.  But not a therapist.  Not help for the state of my mental health.  I wasn’t immune to our family disbelief in mental health issues (I know….I’m a social worker.  Let’s collectively acknowledge the ridiculousness that is me and move on.)

I scheduled an appointment with my PCP, because it had to be a thyroid issue.  Nope!  Physically, they couldn’t find anything that would be causing my depression, so my PCP gave me a referral to see a psychiatrist.  After searching for a therapist that worked for me and coordinating with him to have me evaluated by a psychiatrist, it turned out that it wasn’t my thyroid.  I was diagnosed with “unspecified bipolar disorder.” 

I’ve never been happier.

To be honest, I’ve always felt – something.  Kind of like an itch that I couldn’t scratch, except the itch was sort of a dull pain that manifested in constant anxiety and jaded thoughts.  This was the first time that I had language to put to these feelings – I had a container for it.  What I didn’t account for was the fact that my diagnosis wasn’t a magic word.

For some reason, I thought that learning what was going on with me would heal it automatically.  As if “unspecified bipolar disorder” was my Rumpelstiltskin.  It wasn’t (lol).  Instead, it was the beginning.

My therapist and I combed every behavior, feeling, thought and codified all of it.  It was time that I learned what were my behaviors when I was  depressed (or “in a valley” as I would call it) and what were my behaviors when I was manic (“peaking.”)  I didn’t even know what it meant to feel depressed.  It’s hard to isolate feelings when they’ve been experiences without names for so long.  We did it, though.  It’s a constant practice that I continue to this day.  When I started to do this, someone who has been diagnosed for some years gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten.  They said that, every now and again, they would take a look around their space.  When things were in disarray, that’s how they could tell that they weren’t ok.  

Truer words have not been spoken!  It’s like all the pieces finally fit and I had a clear enough picture of what I was going through that I could actually gain control of it!

So, boom.  I started assessing my living space.  I was able to map out a sequence of peaks and valleys (and plateaus, which is when I’m even.)  I got so good at it that I know when I’m about to valley or peak in enough time that I can prepare for it.  I got the understanding down, now I just had to figure out what does support look like for me during peaks and valleys.

Peaks were easy enough – don’t let me start new projects and remind me that I’m not invincible lol.  Valleys weren’t as easy.  I know depression is expressed in my living habits.  I needed help in my home and diet.  I considered hiring a housekeeper.  The thought of a stranger poking around in my house while I was at my most vulnerable.  I needed help.  I also needed the help to not cause me to decline mentally.

Being a social worker, finding social services is almost a second sense.  I searched everywhere, but couldn’t find exactly what I needed.  In my search, some other folks mentioned having similar needs.  Since I couldn’t find what I needed, I decided to bring it to fruition and so was born Self Care Housekeeping.

It’s been such an amazing experience growing in health, personally, while also being able to provide tangible support for other people who have similar stories.  

And let’s be real about the stigma attached to not being able to keep home.  It’s hard to even seek help because of the fear that you will be judged, privately or publicly – or worse, experience some sort of harm once people find out that you don’t have it all together.  

What I’ve learned is that keeping the home when you’re managing difficult times is not the same as doing so when everything is on the up and up.  There is nothing to be ashamed of.  Nothing at all.

That’s not all I’ve learned.  Welcome to my column!  I’ll be here discussing all things home, housekeeping, and mental health! 

I considered reinvigorating our ‘tips and tricks’ page on Self Care Housekeeping’s website.  That was prior to being approached by Pittsburgh Lesbian to do this column!  This is such an important publication to our local and national narrative of real people and society uncovered, I saw far more value in adding to the narrative web here. 

Thank you all for having me and I hope you would consider join the conversation!

— Shanon Williams, BASW

“Something small to a giant” — Unknown


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