Ask UfYH

Ask UfYH: You Can Do This

Q: I’ve been in a deep, deeeeep depression for the past six months. Couple that with the severe social anxiety I’ve got that prevents me from wanting to go outside my apartment. I’m trying to take care of it/myself, but I can only do so much.

I don’t sleep, but I don’t leave my bed; I’m showering once a week, if that. I don’t clean, ever, but I’m still eating and producing trash, I have cats; basically, my apartment has never not looked lived in. Except right now, “lived in” isn’t the term I would use to describe it. It’s a disaster. It’s so gross. I clean my cats’ litter box regularly, make sure they have a clean place to eat, and I clean up after them, but that’s all I can seem to make myself do.

It’s mostly just paper and pizza boxes and soda bottles that can easily be thrown in the recycling bin, but my sink is overflowing, and (this is where it gets embarrassing) I think there’s mold or something growing under my dishes because there’s drain flies everywhere. And my bath tub is moldy. Last Friday my landlord had a fire alarm system inspection scheduled.

I was at my psych’s during that, so he apparently let himself in (which to me is kind of creepy because he never asked? But it’s also entirely legal, I checked) and he was so disturbed by it that he’s threatening to raise my rent if I don’t clean. I just. I don’t even know where to start when it comes to cleaning it. I don’t have anywhere else to go so cleaning really is my only option, but I’m still so depressed and I have no motivation to even leave my bed, never mind do something active and productive. I don’t want to be so gross/live in such a gross place, but the only thing I’m even remotely motivated to do is curl up in my bed and sob.

A: OK, we have a lot to sort through here, but: A) it’s all pretty straightforward, and B) this is something that lots of people have experienced. It’s important to me that you understand this, because I’m sure you’re feeling all sorts of things that aren’t very positive about yourself right now, so please know that this is not an uncommon situation, and it’s not one you need to be ashamed of.

On first reading, a few things jump out at me. First is that you’re keeping things clean and healthy for your cats. This is actually pretty significant because this requires a fair amount of outward effort on your part, and it indicates that you acknowledge your cats need a certain level of cleanliness in order to be healthy. I’m asking you to take that acknowledgement one step further: you need that just as much as your cats do. You are not less deserving of a healthy living environment than they are.

Next, we have the issue of your landlord. It sucks, but they do have the right to dictate a level of cleanliness for their property. So on some level, you do have to appease them so that they get off your back about it. So let’s get a game plan.

  • First, take a shower. Even if it’s the last thing you feel like doing. Not only is it the first step in taking care of yourself, but generally, things tend to look a little more doable after a shower. If your shower seems too gross to get clean in, take a sponge or rag in with you and do a little half-assed wipedown while you’re in there with whatever soap is handy.
  • Get dressed in something different from what you’ve been wearing around the house, even if it’s just a T-shirt and yoga pants. Whatever; that part isn’t that important.
  • Put on some music you like.
  • Take some before pictures if you can. You may hate to see the sight of the apartment now, but sometimes when you’re in the middle of a big clean, it’s hard to see the progress you’ve already made.
  • Next, take one sweep through your apartment with a big garbage bag and fill it up. Once it’s full, take it out to wherever the trash or recycling goes; just make sure to get it immediately out of the apartment.
  • Next, set a timer for 20 minutes and start on the dishes. Do what you can in that time.
  • Repeat the garbage/dishes cycle a few times. Don’t work for too long, just do enough that you can start to see a difference.
  • Take breaks. Take plenty of breaks. Pet the cats if they’ll let you.
  • As you have the energy, do a few 20/10s a day, focusing on the areas that bother you the most. Try to do a load of laundry each day if you have the facilities to do so. Start with your sheets.
  • Try to shower every day, or at least every other day. Keep up with taking care of you as much as you keep up with taking care of the cats.

You’re probably going to have bad days. You’re probably going to want to give up at some point. Feeling that way is totally expected, and totally fine. Even when you’re feeling shitty, though, try to do one small thing, whether it’s washing three dishes or putting away five pieces of clothing. Listen to your body, but also understand that depression makes your brain lie to you, so sometimes you need to try to tell it to hush for a minute so you can get shit done.

The hardest part is getting started. Once you’ve stood up and decided to start, you’ve gotten past the worst barrier. It’s hard, and I’m not going to pretend it’s not, but you want to do this. To an extent, you’re already doing it. And you can do it. You have a whole lot of Internet strangers cheering you on. Go throw away a pizza box and then get in the shower. You’ve got this.

[This post originally appeared at Unfuck Your Habitat.]

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4 replies on “Ask UfYH: You Can Do This”

I have totally been there–except it wasn’t my landlord, but a roommate who was threatening to charge me for a cleaning service because I’d let things get so bad. Sometimes anxiety & depression get the best of you for a while. Sometimes little steps & just trying to make things better are the best you can do. And honestly, that’s okay. Just do your best, small bits of progress will build on each other & make it even easier to move forward.

Best of luck.

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