The Mighty Logo

What Cleaning the Toilet Means to Me in Depression Recovery

I cleaned the toilet today.

There was a time when it wasn’t a big deal. Now it is. Now it signals the state of my mental health and indicates where my energy is. Now it embodies how I’m feeling about myself on a given day.

It has been a long time since I cleaned the toilet.

In 2016. I had a nervous breakdown. Nervous breakdowns don’t happen overnight or in isolation. It is a slow deterioration of mental health. For me, a gradual increase in depression, anxiety and disordered eating, until I was barely functional.

My housekeeping ability evaporated with my mental health. I just didn’t care — about me, the house or the future. I had no energy. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t do anything. I have no idea if the toilets were cleaned at all. My husband was helplessly watching me deteriorate and gradually picking up all the pieces as I dropped them, so I imagine he did all the cleaning. 

Over the past three years my mental state has varied in health. After completely breaking apart, I have just been slowly — ever so slowly — getting better. It’s not a straight line – sometimes I go backwards – but if I look back at the overall trajectory, I can see I am a long way from where I was three years ago.

How many times have I cleaned the toilet in the past three or four years? I confess, not many. I go through small periods of cleaning for a day or two, but cleaning requires energy and a sense of purpose. So with the scarcity of housework in recent years, the habit of cleaning was lost. My energy is still frequently low, and when I was working last year, I had nothing left to give outside of work (even though I was working only 20 hours per week). 

Today however, I am excited. I still don’t have a lot of energy — it waxes and wanes on a regular basis — but I feel purposeful. More hopeful. My stay in the eating disorder clinic earlier this year changed me. A lot. Even when I completely screw up my eating, I don’t return to compensatory behaviors. I have ideas for the future. I can picture a future.

I still experience high levels of anxiety, unintentionally numbing it away with one thing or another. My mood is for the most part extremely good — I’ve found a really good dose of medication for now.

Yesterday I had a long chat with my psychologist about my procrastination issues and realized how significant cleaning the toilet is. I detest mess. I hate dirt. It makes me feel uncomfortable in my own home. I feel uneasy when I know things need to be done. But somehow I couldn’t bring myself to do anything. Everything else made me feel guilty because the housework wasn’t done. Housework was something I’d stare at and put off — endlessly. Housework represents normality. Functionality. Purpose. A sharing of the load with my husband. A sense of being independent again in a way I haven’t felt for a long time. Housework represents recovery.

So today, after a long lie in, I got up, made the bed, cleaned the kitchen, then scrubbed not one, but two toilets and the bathroom sinks. It didn’t take long — toilets never do — but I felt successful. I felt a lessening of the endless guilt weighing me down. I felt a move towards a future I can still barely glimpse (I mean really – how many of us can actually glimpse the future anyway?). I felt another small rip as the eating disorder is torn further away. My mood is lighter. It is such a small thing — basic, simple tasks I taught my young boys when they were 10 years old. It is normality returning to my life. I look at my clean toilets and think, “I’m in recovery.”

Getty Images photo via Rasulovs

Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home