Photo credit: Good Housekeeping
A small disagreement recently stirred the placid tides of The Postrider HQ.
Believe it or not, it wasn’t about the site. Nor was it about a dispute over photo captioning conventions or who ate whose lunch out of the staff kitchen (we all know to stay away from Lars’ hard-boiled eggs). No, out of all the things we could disagree about, we chose to disagree about laundry. Specifically, the timeline of which one should put away their laundry.
Lars, you see, is of the belief that laundry should be put away immediately after it is no longer of use, whether you have just taken it off your body or out of the dryer. His argument is one of practicality and expediency, which is… fair. If you have the ball rolling on a job then you might as well keep the ball rolling until the job is done. Otherwise, it’s going to take more time, effort, and energy to push it into action again if you let it stop.
Michael and I, on the other hand, are more of the mindset that the laundry gets put away when the laundry gets put away. Sometimes that’s right after you take the shirt off your back and sometimes that’s a month after the shirt’s been lying on your floor. So what if we have to kick the ball to get it moving again? We can just as easily kick away the laundry blocking the path to our beds.
Now, I can’t speak for why Michael doesn’t mind letting chores linger, but I realized that I, personally, felt a little more passionate about this conversation than was probably called for. Not the yelling, screaming, kicking variety of passionate, mind you. I just felt I needed to honestly explain my position because, for me, and for many other people suffering from mental health conditions, slacking on chores isn’t a lazy out, it’s a self-preservation technique.
Mental health conditions make nearly everything a struggle. I don’t say that to be dramatic, just to reiterate the truth. They come with low moods that make your veins feel as if they’re filled with concrete, chronic fatigue that has you taping your eyelids open, self-doubt that cripples your ability to stand upright, and festering thoughts that spin so fast inside your head they make you sick, along with other symptoms that make you want to obscure your existence beneath your bedsheets. And that’s all before you even do something.
“Getting the ball rolling” with a mental health condition can feel like a Sisyphean task. Driving to work, cooking dinner, answering a text message– things people do every single day– can feel as intimidating and impossible as damming up Niagara Falls with a single can of Flex Seal. Still, those with mental health conditions, especially those with high-functioning conditions, know they have to participate in the world outside their bedroom in order to get by. It’s just all about being selective with your participation.
There’s an insightful metaphor known as The Spoon Theory that helps explain what this looks like. The Spoon Theory was originally used to depict the reduced energy available to those living with chronic physical conditions, such as Lupus and fibromyalgia. Spoons are used visually represented one’s energy reserves, and every task– even those of everyday living– “costs” a certain amount of spoons. Once all the spoons are spent, the person has to rest in order to replenish their supply, as opposed to those without chronic health conditions who have a seemingly endless reserve of energy. The so-called “Spoonies” (those with chronic physical conditions) have to be mindful of how they spend their spoons in order to ensure they complete the tasks they need to in order to get by while also not exhausting themselves before the day is over.
Well, a similar– if not identical– theory can apply to those with mental health conditions. Between convincing yourself you’re worthy of getting out of bed and fighting off obsessive thoughts, there’s only so much energy that can be devoted to the herculean tasks of everyday life. So, based on the requirements of the day, you have to decide what you need to spend your energy on and what can be pushed aside for a day when you have a little extra fuel in the energy reserves.
I tend to add an additional factor to this equation: which tasks will yield the most reward. What constitutes as “rewarding” will change person to person, of course. Perhaps you’re someone who feels more at ease in a tidy house. Then putting away your laundry would most likely be worth the energy spent on it. Someone who enjoys their work, on the other hand, would be more inclined to put in extra time on a project or schedule another meeting with a client. My poison has always been keeping up a good face through my appearance, actions, and reputation. I know that may sound a bit superficial, but it’s encouraging to me. I feel that if I look like I can take on anything and if others believe that I can take on anything, then I might really be capable of taking on anything– even a handful of mental illnesses.
What that means for me is that I don’t really care about putting my laundry away the second it comes out of the dryer, washing my dishes as soon as I finish dinner, or wiping down the sink right after I spot a rogue glob of toothpaste. Well, not until I’m hosting company because then I’d like them to believe I’m capable of keeping up my own living quarters.
Instead, I spend my time on assembling stylish outfits and applying makeup so I don’t look like the zombie I feel like. When I was in school, my energy was spent on getting straight A’s. Now that I work full time, it’s about accomplishing everything on my to-do list in one fell swoop so I come off as a reliable employee. I also try to keep my commitments to friends and put on my best smile when we’re together, so they know I value my time with them.
After I do all of that, I don’t have much strength left for things that don’t provide the same gratification, such as household chores, cooking full meals, answering messages in a timely manner or, like, other mundane things that might be associated with being a functioning adult. I know moving a shirt from the pile of laundry next to my closet into my closet doesn’t seem like a big task to just do, but trust me when I say that handful of linen can feel like a lead brick. And my sliding closet door? Well, it might as well be an air-tight vault.
This is all to say, don’t jump to the conclusion of “lazy” if your friend has a dozen used water glasses around their living room or an overflowing recycling bin. Similarly, don’t judge those who need to leave work right at 5 pm or who don’t go out for happy hour. We all– mental health patient or not– have our own unique ways of divvying up energy and, as long as there are not huge red flags1If you are concerned about a friend or family member’s behavior, it’s always worth checking in on them. There are plenty of online resources, including NAMI, that can help you support your loved ones.X, everyone should be allowed to live in a way that’s sustainable for them.