When I was in graduate school completing my coursework in social work, I had to make some adjustments in my life to accomadate my relentless schedule. If you’ve been following my previous posts, you’ll know that I refer to myself as a recovering perfectionist. Well, when you’re a full time employee, mommy to 2 children, wife, and graduate student (no particular order), you learn to reprioritize the priorities. One thing that I decided to let go was my perfectionistic, and borderline obsessive compulsive process of cleaning. It was obsessive compulsive because if I saw even the slightest spec of dirt or crumb, uninvited visions of that spec or crumb would play in my mind over and over again until I did something about it that day…and sometimes in that moment. That level of detail can be too much when your plate is full. I developed a strategy that so impressed my therapist (I did 6 months of counseling to help me cope with life in my last semester of graduate school) that she asked if she could borrow it. I tend to be gracious at times, so of course, I said it was okay. In fact, I was flattered.
My main trigger is to “see” the madness. Once I see, I can’t “unsee” it. Therefore, in attempt to control my cleaning tirades, I avoided the trigger spaces (i.e., my kids’ bathroom) or if I had to go in that said bathroom, I would go in with the lights off and turn my head, blindly grasping for whatever item I needed. That strategy didn’t work for every space. My husband often says thay I come home looking for stuff out of place. I maintain that is not the case. Just the other day, I walked in from work greeted by shoes facing every which way in the walkway…one of my all time pet peeve’s considering that we have shoe cubbies. I can’t “unsee” that. Let’s just say for 2.5 years, the house was dimly lit & my husband was tasked with the chore of cleaning their bathroom. I think that was a successful compromise for all parties.
It’s been over 5 years since graduate school and I realized recently that some areas of the house are still dimly lit. I use the excuse that my optic neuritis makes my eyes sensitive and that is true to a point. There’s this one blinding, halogen, overhead light in the kitchen that when turned on, allows you to see every spec of unidentifiable thingamajig in any crevice. I hate that light. I cringe when it’s on and stop whatever I’m doing at the moment to admonish the poor soul that flipped the switch. The light bulb went out in the other, less intrusive light, so we had to use the blaring one until we bought another light bulb. I was struck by how dirty the sink was and the obsessive compulsive thoughts crept right back in. So what did I do? I turned off the light and instantly felt better. In that moment, I had an epiphany. We really do see what we want to see. If we can control it, we will…at least I will. Even my daughter pointed out that I have been keeping the lights dim so that I wouldn’t see the dirt. If she knew better, she would keep her mouth shut because this has implications for how busy she’ll be for the remainder of winter break. We still have this weekend and I’m in organization mode.
I will regroup right now to determine the appropriate takeaways from this epiphany. No, I’m not “saying” (I am aware that I’m writing not talking, but you know what I mean) that our home is dirty (definitely don’t want to send that message to my audience) because we clean weekly and the kids have their chores. I will say that the level of cleaning that I used to do has waned over the years. Sure, there are some spring cleaning type “projects” that need to be done. I’m also not saying that I have a clinical diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder, although, I’ve worked with clients who’ve had this condition. I’m also not saying that I blatantly avoid areas of my life that I don’t want to deal with. What I am saying is that I decided a few years ago that the world I wanted to create for myself included spending more time doing things that I enjoyed and being with the people that matter rather than the contrary. I want to enjoy my family most of the time, not spend most of the time yelling or picking at them for not doing things to my level of satisfaction.
By dimming the lights, I made a compromise, and I created a world where I saw what I wanted to see so that I could cross some things off my list and to simply feel better. I’m willing to bet that others dim the lights in ways whether it concerns relationships, politics, unsatisfactory jobs, goals, world events, etc. We create the world we need to so that we can survive. However, I do think it’s time to turn the lights back on full blast because I’m not in survival mode anymore…I’m in “thrive-al” mode (YES, I just created a word!) I’ve gotten a little comfortable with overlooking other things like finances and long term goals that involve money and spreading my wings. This blog is about self-care and wellness and there are many aspects to self-care. It’s okay to create a world you can manage, but it’s also beneficial to reevaluate those parameters. The only constant in life is change and what served you in one season of life may lose its efficacy and/or revelance in another. And this is a poignant time to reevaluate as we embark on a new year. Happy New Year to you!