During the early days of my depression, dirty dishes kept me down. It turns out, you have to eat. Like every day. And even though I wasn’t necessarily tapped into that need, my husband was, and the dishes were proof.
I was captive to my smelly kitchen sink, with dried trails of food caked on plates, salad bowls with days-old avocado permanently encrusted to the sides, and hand wash-only pots taunting me. It was enough to send me back to the couch and pretend that I hadn’t seen it. But the whispers could still be heard: “You are a failure. You can’t even load the dishwasher. Would it be so difficult to rinse? You will never catch up.”
My husband always jumped in and cleaned the kitchen, but now, instead of remembering him serving me, I remember falling short. I remember failing at something that I wanted, needed to do.
Not long after my first daughter was born, friends brought over dinner and ate with us. Sticky BBQ chicken, salad, and grilled corn, I think. After we ate, my sweet friend cleaned up my kitchen. She hand-washed a dish that I had left on the counter after coming to terms with it never being clean again. I was just waiting on the kitchen trash to find its way out to the dumpster so there would be room in the trashcan to throw the dish away, maybe next week or at least next month, surely.
I felt so loved when I saw my sparkling clean kitchen. But it was immediately followed by shame. My friend had seen my mess and gotten in it with me to clean it up, even if just for the night. I imagined what she must be thinking about me, and I felt so different from her. Her own kitchen was clean and she also had the vitality to clean my kitchen, while I couldn’t muster the energy to nibble the rest of the chicken meat from between those two wing bones.
It’s truly a despairing cycle, when a simple act of love makes you ashamed. But I think shame, womanhood, and motherhood too often go hand-in-hand.
Who else feels like you don’t measure up? Any other women out there who strive toward an image of perfection, fueled by self-hate, disappointment, or discouragement? What other mamas compare what you’re feeling inside with what others look like outside? Does anyone else think that mess = failure, instead of accepting the mess as a natural byproduct of living?
I’m learning that the messier we are, the more we’re growing, trying, learning, and living. Mess = life. It’s been a winding path that led me from the throes of depression to being able to write about it, in a sort of awe that remembers the heavy weight of those postpartum days, months, years, but also sees from the perspective of a passerby some of what was so heavy on my back, which is so much stronger than I ever gave it credit for.
Now dishes have become a ritual for me. I light a candle by my sink and chip away at my work for the day, for the moment. I’m genuinely thankful for the energy to cook and eat and wash dishes, and for children and a husband to feed. Sometimes I’m behind and my sink looks like it used to, but I’m not ashamed. Other times I feel productive and successful when I’ve stayed on top of the dishes for a few days in a row. Then I usually give myself a little break and end up behind again.
My cycle of despair has been restored to a cycle of life. Of mess. I see my journey toward healing every day when I tackle the most mundane of tasks, doing the dishes.
And today I’m especially thankful for the people who aren’t afraid of our mess, who join us in it at the risk of shame or awkwardness or a little extra work. It makes me want to be someone who sees beauty instead of a mess.