When an Illness Makes Cleaning the House a Thing of the Past


I’ve never been a fan of house cleaning, but at least I was adept at it.

I could clean, scrub, mop, Hoover and dust two bedrooms, a large living room, a sizable kitchen and the bathroom in an hour and still have breath to wash my neighbors cars, do the window cleaner’s round, shop for the old lady across the road and mow the whole neighborhood’s lawns… OK, that may be a little bit of an exaggeration.

I was, I admit, a little particular when it came to hygiene and would whizz around the house like a speed loaded Superwoman. Of course, being a virtuoso of germ busting, I could catch a speck of dust before it had time to land on a newly polished surface and if there was a water mark on the table, I would throw a rage so scary and of such apocalyptic proportions that even Satan himself would be so terrified as to renounce the heathen life and turn to God. And maybe, just maybe, I did get a little carried away, especially when I used to wake my child up at 3 in the morning so that I could change his bed sheet and duvet cover. But fear not, for this was done with such skill and precision that come the morning, he would have no recollection of being hoisted out of his bed and thrown upon a chair. Instead, he would awaken surrounded by the scent of lavender blossoms and pine needle forests, instead of dead man’s feet and Gorgonzola.

Back then, my little man was a great co-conspirator in my need to purge the dirt and when it came to “tidy up time,” like Snow White and her men of short stature, we would whistle while we worked. Nowadays, I have to make an offering to the Norse Gods in the hope that they will grant him the ability to pick his underpants of the floor, least they walk to the washing machine themselves. Today, my need for a clean house is still there, but my ability remains hopelessly lost.

Thirty minutes ago, I hobbled downstairs to get the clothes from the washing machine. That was it. The result from such a simple activity left me out of breath, in pain and perspiring.

Housework consists of wiping a surface, then resting. Washing up, then resting. Plugging in the Hoover, then resting. Hoovering then…well, you get the picture. I can no longer speed around the house. I can maybe clean one room and that’s it for the day because the resulting activity will bring on a flare and have me bed bound for a week and that is no exaggeration.

Last week I went food shopping, came home, dumped the bags in the hallway and literally crawled up the stairs to my bedroom. I was only suppose to rest for five minutes but passed out for four hours. And that’s where I stayed, in bed and weeping piteously.

A triumphant day for me means changing a duvet cover (although once I’m finished, I have to crawl right into bed afterwards) or cooking a meal. I can’t attempt to even begin to clean the boy-pit that is my son’s bedroom. That requires at least two days, a JCB digger and Herculean strength.

I remember the time I attended a pain management group and how the therapist asked what would happen of we didn’t tidy the house. What was the worst that could happen? You could actually see the look of fear in her eyes as the group, which was comprised solely of women, snarled at her like rabid Rottweilers. Because it isn’t just about cleaning, it’s about loss. Not being able to tidy is a daily reminder of yet one more thing that’s been taken away. It’s about not being able to do even the most menial of tasks, which in turn, can make us feel inadequate about ourselves.

It’s about feeling “useless” and like I no longer having a defining role in my own household. It’s about feeling like a failure to be the glue that hold the pieces together. But more than that, it’s about the fact that my many illnesses feel like they’ve beaten me yet again.

I never thought that there would come a day when I would miss doing housework or think about how much we take being able to do such a simple task for granted. But I can honestly say, that I do. I really do.

This blog was originally published on More Sleep Please.

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