You have tuned into my first “listening option” for my blog. Today I am bringing you a story inspired by cleaning. Now, most of my thoughts are inspired by cleaning because it seems like that’s all I do. This one literally has to do with cleaning–the act of cleaning.
I am in my daughter’s room. It is a Saturday afternoon. I told my children that they had to clean their rooms. Now the reason I told them that isn’t because I want them to learn how to work or how to overcome boredom or how to discipline themselves to do something they don’t want to do. It’s because I want their rooms clean.
So once they show any sort of interest or responsibility in that department, I come in, and I assist them. That usually means that I end up doing most of it. That doesn’t really bother me because I want it done right…and I want my children to live at home for the rest of their lives.
[That’s the part that I’m going to have to edit out if they ever listen to this because that “well-rested mother?” She also doesn’t want her children living at home for the rest of their lives.]
Now, the thing with cleaning is that the worse it gets, the more likely you are to not want to clean. And there’s kind of a mess “critical mass,” a critical mess, that says “Clean me up” and one that says “Just give up now. “
Hers was just teetering on the Give Up Now, and I rescued it. Now it’s back teetering again toward Give Up Now. But I think there’s still hope to bring this room back into a state of balance and peace.
What does this have to do with anything? Well, I’m avoiding other things. That’s why I’m so happy to clean my children’s rooms for them. “What is it [I’m] avoiding?” you might ask.
I’m avoiding engaging in this process called “learning how to become a learning coach.” I need to be coached on how to coach.
This is the problem. I am not motivated to try to motivate my children to do things they do not want to do. An example of how I tend to work [through kid disorganization] is a couple years ago I was caring for six children who all needed to come in the car with me in the morning so I could drop off three or four of them at school.
In order to organize these six children into a seven-passenger car, I found that most of the time when we opened up the door to let a child out, invariably someone would have already unbuckled themselves and found a way to come falling out of the car door the moment I opened it.
I’m sure this still counted as getting the kids to school, but usually massaging the pavement upon arrival is not a very productive way to start your day.
So. I took probably three months of doing this before I figured out the ideal seating situation so that we weren’t running into these kinds of speed bumps. Ha. Ha. That’s a terrible joke.
Now, this is some form of managing people. Where you motivate them and look for ways to organize them, and frankly, I would be a terrible manager because I don’t like to motivate people, and I don’t like to try to organize them.
I want them to read my mind, understand how important the goal is, and then organize themselves accordingly.
Well, it would seem that the mess in my mind surrounding distance learning has quickly turned from a place of There’s Still Hope to Just Give up Now.
So I know I’m supposed to get back on track with this distance learning. I’ve sent messages to the kids’ teachers saying, “I kinda hit a wall this past week.”
They’re probably thinking, “Isn’t that the same wall that you hit last week? Why haven’t you removed that wall from your life?”
I think, “Because it’s the only wall I’ve got, and it’s my protection from the storm surrounding me called “you are failing, Elissa.”
I know I’m not supposed to think I’m failing. I’m supposed to think I’m failing forward or falling forward or something. I’ve also been told by my therapist that I’m not supposed to imagine what other people are thinking about me because, well, I’ve also heard this–it’s none of my business, and also, it’s probably wrong.
But part of me does wonder if my kids’ teachers have concluded that I’m just lazy.
So to the person who is currently cleaning their child’s room, I have a message. You’re not lazy; you’re just pretty much on life support with this goal you’re trying to accomplish.
So here’s what I mean by that. When I was a nurse, plenty of kids I worked with were on life support. If a ventilator counts as life support, definitely there. If they were on tons of medications that kept their heart pumping, we’ll call that life support. There were kids I took care of on more that, but I don’t want to have to describe it for you.
We would do things to help these kids come across as an actual child despite all the wires and the tubes and the beeping monitors and the infusions and the swelling and whatever else—besides the fact that they could not move, they could not speak, they usually–if–they cried, you could not hear it. All those things that took away from them being a child.
So for example, we would have their parents bring in tenni-shoes for them if they were old enough that they could walk. That way it would help their feet stay in a proper position. But it was fun to see someone wearing shoes because if they could have moved, they would have been running around.
A lot of times we would have girls who had longer hair, and it would get really matted from just being on a pillow. So especially on night shift when there weren’t as many procedures going on and people interrupting to find out about the status of this or that patient, the night nurse would find some detangling spray and comb out the young lady’s hair and braid it into French braids or just regular braids so that it was neat and organized and made the young woman look more like a human being and not the victim of a whole bunch of tubes and wires attacking someone.
We also had little babies who someone would paint their finger nails* or little boys who their mom would place an outfit on top of them even if we were not able to put the outfit on them. It re-humanized that person.
If someone had walked into my patient’s’ room and concluded that because my patient did not yet have their hair or nails done that their nurse was not doing a good job, of course you would wonder what that person thought it meant to keep someone alive who was on life support.
You need to look at some numbers. You need to check their pulse. You need to check some lab values. Perhaps you’d have a better idea of how that patient was doing. It just helped everyone feel better to see that person with their hair combed and their fingernails looking bright and cheerful.
I share that because in the back of my mind, whenever I am thinking about being totally stressed out and having things [in disarray] and partly because of an experience I had when I went out to college at the age of eighteen.
I went to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and our leaders at church are called a bishop and his counselors. One of the counselors was named Brother Jensen. He was a dermatologist and had a good sense of humor, and [was] well-spoken. He had, of course, gone to medical school. He had a daughter who went to medical school. This is where he drew his understanding of how people cope with stress.
We were, of course, in some stressful situations: our first time for most people living away from home. Just trying to deal with the dynamics of living with other people; trying to make sure that we get fed, that we eat, that we use our shelter instead of just living at a library, and trying to meet the academic demands that were placed on us.
He wanted to make sure we understood what to do if we were struggling with mental health concerns. This was 22 years ago, so hopefully, the information and suggestions have changed since then. In fact, I know they have.
I remember that he told this story of how his daughter was at medical school, and she had some sort of a breakdown and told her parents that she needed to just come home, that she couldn’t keep doing this. They said, “OK, we will come and see you. Just hang on.”
They get to her college apartment and they look around. They are horrified because the place is a mess, I mean, stuff everywhere. Her clothes were unfolded, you couldn’t tell if they were clean or dirty, even her clean socks weren’t matched together.
Her father just thought, “Well, no wonder you’re depressed. Like, who could be OK living in a situation like this?” So he helped fold up some clothes and match up her socks. He told her that “you gotta start with the small stuff. If you start with the small stuff, the other things won’t be as overwhelming and you’ll be able to function better.
He told that to us, and I could just imagine a life where I had my socks and underwear hanging out of my drawer. I thought, “That doesn’t sound like the kind of life I want either. I will be sure to keep everything clean so that nobody knows that I’m actually really stressed and depressed.”
What he missed in his experience, and I don’t mean to judge, because well, I’m really good at judging, and I’m completely wrong all the time…So what I think he missed in his experience with his daughter is that this messy room was not the cause of her depression, it was proof of her depression.
When you lose your motivation and when you feel hopeless, even the tiniest of actions or decisions become overwhelming. And they start confirming the beliefs you have that you aren’t’ capable, that you won’t amount to much, and that your goals are completely out of your reach, and that you might as well give up.
So as a former nurse; as a survivor of a mood disorder fueled by depression, anxiety, probably some issues from my past, and also the fun shifts in hormones that women tend to experience; and I would also add to that that being a mom and watching my children struggle with motivation, (not only because they’re children and don’t always buy into what adults are trying to teach them; but also with my older two, because they deal with ADHD and their motivation is not always as automatic as it is for those who are considered neurotypical).
When I take all of that into consideration, I look at someone who is experiencing mental health challenges, and I think, “It might be really comforting to the people around them, and it may give a boost to the person who is struggling for them to do their hair and put on makeup and paint their nails and smile more, but if their house is a mess, if their hair is a mess, if their children are a mess, and we just tell them ‘all you need to do is fix the outer appearance,’ then we’re missing the fact that mentally and emotionally, this person is on life support.”
They are not lazy. No amount of polishing the exterior is going to help them gain insight and attend to the internal struggles that are being manifested in ways that make us uncomfortable.
[Uncomfortable] because it is not in our typical toolset to know how to see the humanity in someone who doesn’t look the way we think they should look. We expect people to kind of look “together,” to look happy and cheerful and like they are succeeding.
Being asked to leave that comfort zone and still see the humanity in someone who isn’t taking care of themselves or who doesn’t appear to be caring for their children or their home in the way that we think they should–it doesn’t mean that they’re lazy.
If they were in a hospital bed connected to machines and tubes and wires and blinkie light things and fluids, we would have compassson for someone who was barely holding on. We might be very intimidated not understanding exactly what they need or what is even the problem. But even in that moment there is something that you can do.
It may not seem like a lot. It may not seem like enough, and I always try to tell myself, “I have something to give and I have something to learn, and it doesn’t matter which one is of more consequence. What matters is that I’m willing to put forward what I have to offer and I’m willing to learn what is available to me.”
In a situation where someone is looking like they’re on the precipice of death because they have so many tubes and wires connected to them and you feel intimidated, what I learned as a nurse (after of course disinfecting your hands and making sure that you are allowed to be in that room and all those other things), you just step forward and you take their pulse.
It’s funny how when you check someone for their pulse, and you recognize that they have a beating heart and that they have blood flowing through them just the way you do, that it completely changes whether you’re scared or not. And when you aren’t scared anymore, you’re not going to judge. You’re not going to say, “If only they would do this thing, then they would be free of this challenge.”
It takes a lot courage to set aside judgment and to try to not fix what’s going on, but to instead acknowledge what that person is experiencing and what it means to them.
So here I am, still in my daughter’s room, still trying to clean, trying to hide the evidence that I’m struggling. I need to wrap up this recording because my daughter has found the song that she wanted to listen to on YouTube. It occurs to me that I don’t remember the last time that she wanted to sing a song, not simply because it was stuck in her head from people listening to it all the time, such as all our Twenty One Pilots songs.
I realize how little joy we’ve been experiencing here. If I want us to have joy, I don’t think that the way to get there is to push ourselves and criticize ourselves and look at everything as a mess.
So I’m taking a moment here in my daughter’s room to stop pushing myself and to listen for a moment to what makes my daughter’s heart beat, what motivates her. In-between each of those heartbeats, there is stillness. That is where I want to start finding my joy.
* I don’t know why I talked about painting kids’ nails in the hospital. We needed to be able to see their nailbeds as part of their cardiac assessment…maybe I was remembering my job as activity coordinator in an old folks’ home? Now those were some memorable fingernails!