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To the Woman Who Said My Illness Is No Excuse for a Messy House

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To the woman who told me my chronic illness is no excuse for having a messy house, there are so many things you just plain don’t seem to understand. And how could you? You may never have had a sick day in your life or an illness that wasn’t resolved with a few days in bed.

But I have had many sick days. More sick days than well days. I was a teenager when I was given my first diagnosis, and 21 years old when I received my second diagnosis. This gives me 22 years of experience living with chronic pain and illness. Every. Single. Day. So please, let me explain to you why my house was so messy that day.

It’s because some days I just can’t.

I just can’t.

Some days the pain is so bad that I can’t manage to do the dishes, even if I do it in three-minute lots and sit down in between each lot. My back is aching, my legs are screaming, my hips are on fire. Some days I just can’t – and you only have to drop and break your favorite coffee cup a few dozen times and you’ll know when it isn’t a good day for your hands or your crockery. Often it’s the same days I can’t grip a full coffee cup without using both hands to hold it or else risking accidentally dropping a cup full of boiling water in my lap. It has happened before.

There’s no point doing your dishes if they are so heavy you can barely lift them and then so soapy you feel like each one is a bucking bronco determined to slip through your fingers. Breakages are inevitable and a constant part of my life. On days like this you’d soon learn that you’re going to make a bigger mess trying to do something than if you just left it alone until tomorrow. So, I abandon the dishes halfway through. There’s our first item for the “To Do Later” list I keep in my head.

Have you ever swayed on your feet, really fatigued and with leg muscles so full of lactic acid that you feel like the air has been turned to custard and you’re trying to swim through it? It’s like a nightmare where you’re trying to run and get nowhere. Except I’m not dreaming. At the same time, hot pins and needles accost your hands and feet. Also, it feels like someone has hit you upside the head with a baseball bat. Today’s daily headache is a real humdinger. It throbs. It pounds. It squeezes your head in a vice and even your eyeballs hurt. Ordinary people would have trouble just standing when they feel like this, but I do my best and struggle to get the steam mop out. It feels like it weighs a million tons and I lean against it while it warms up, hoping the mop and I don’t go down together. Then I doggedly put my head down and start to mop the floors.

I’m swaying, the mop is swaying and it feels like the room is swaying, too. But I push on for as long as I can, and then I sit down for a rest. The floor is not mopped, not completely. I’ve got about half of it done. I rest and then I try again. I get a little further; then the world starts to recede and turn grey around the edges. I’m going to pass out. I sit on the wet floor and put my head down, waiting for things to come back into focus. It takes a while. Once it comes back into focus and I no longer fear fainting, I haul myself up again and I turn the steam mop off, knowing that’s it for today.

Because some days I just can’t.

I just can’t.

So I add it to the “To Do Later” list in my head and collapse for a little while. Now I start to look for jobs I can do sitting down. I clear up the clutter on the coffee table while I recover and have a cup of tea and take debate taking some pain medications. I make piles at various ends of the table. This stuff needs to go to the kitchen. This pile to the bedroom. These three things belong in the bathroom. They stay as piles, because after the mopping, I just can’t trust my legs to hold me. I’d like to put this stuff where it belongs.

But right now I can’t.

I just can’t.

So it’s added to the “To Do Later” list in my head. The list is growing. So is my frustration. Now I’m at the pointy end of the day, it’s decision making time. My body is telling me I am fatigued beyond all measure. I know I need a rest. Ideally, I need a two-to-four-hour nap if I am to have any hope of being able to function when my partner gets home in a few hours’ time. Enough rest to not have brain fog so I can ask about his day and be able to follow his answer.

Instead of doing what’s right for my body, I have you in my mind, upset and screaming: “A chronic illness is no excuse for a messy household! I have three kids, a full time job and a husband and my house never looks likes this.” Close to tears, I reach into my arsenal and take some pretty heavy duty prescription pain killers. I wait half an hour for them to kick in.

And then moving like a very, very old woman, not someone in my mid-30s, I slowly put away the piles I made on the coffee table and then head into the kitchen, where very slowly and very carefully, I finish doing the dirty dishes. I do only what I can, and leave the saucepans for my partner to do. I don’t even attempt to dry the load and put them away. Why?

Because some days I just can’t.

I just can’t.

And it’s time to stop apologizing for it. So, yes, to an outsider, you might look at my house and feel disdain. The breakfast dishes are most likely in an untidy heap next to the sink. The back floors have a distinct line where I stopped just four feet from the end. The coffee table is a little cluttered.

However you’re not looking at last nights dinner dishes. Because I struggled through those. And you’re not looking at the muddy footprints all over the back of the house, because I mopped those before I nearly passed out on the floor. And there is only a little clutter on the coffee table; because I managed to put away 90 percent of it today. The meds that are left scattered on that table I will need again all too soon.

And I don’t have the energy to go get them from where they belong.

Because some days I just can’t.

I just can’t.

And that’s OK.

It’s OK that I am not perfect. It’s OK that I won’t win housekeeper of the year — ever. So to you, the lady who haunts my dreams with the judgment I always feared the most, I forgive you. I forgive you the ignorance of bliss that you live in.

I hope you never, ever have to find out what it is like to have to ask your children to have to mop the rest of floor because you can’t stand. I hope you never have to leave the saucepans and the drying dishes for your lovely husband to do, because you couldn’t. I hope you never find out what it is to miss out on your daily shower just because you walked to the letterbox this morning. I used to care a lot about what people thought about things like this.

But some days, you just can’t.

You just can’t.

You can’t let other people’s judgments tear you down.

And I am becoming OK with that.

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Thinkstock photo by PRImageFactory

Originally published: May 2, 2017
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