How Do You Eat An Elephant?

Midway through last year, my mental health took a serious nosedive. I’d previously struggled with severe anxiety and depression following some big life changes that left me reeling, but fortunately, I’d found fantastic mental health professionals who were able to get me back to being a (mostly) functional human being, wife, mama, teacher, and friend.

It turns out that it’s okay if your serotonin is store-bought. But sometimes that serotonin in a bottle isn’t a foolproof genie, solving all your problems. Sometimes you have to rub a multitude of magic lamps before you find one that works for you with the least amount of side effects. After three and a half years on the medicine that very literally saved my life, I’d begun noticing some side effects that, while not severe, were concerning enough to warrant a medication change, and so I started the process of weaning myself off of my meds and slowly introducing a new medication to my body.

SPOILER ALERT: It did NOT go well.

My health care professional and I decided that it would be best for me to change my medication over summer break (you know, when I wasn’t tasked with making sure my nearly 100 students were healthy, happy, and learning). I, in no way, wanted what was happening in my chemically-unbalanced brain to have any effect on them. But you what they say about good intentions, right?

After several months of weaning myself off of one SSRI and on to another, I realized that I was NOT okay. The medication change was definitely not my friend, and then my seasonal depression set in. Let me tell you: that was a ROUGH period. I was failing at handling ordinary self-care tasks, much less mastering anything BEYOND simply functioning. Everything was messy – my bedroom, my bathroom counter, my kitchen counter, my garage, my car, my classroom, my LIFE.

Once I’d finally kissed enough medicine frogs to find my serotonin prince, I found myself completely overwhelmed by the absolutely daunting task of cleaning up all the messes I’d neglected in the interim. It felt like an impossible feat.

Let me introduce you to my archnemesis: THE PILES

A little pile of folded laundry to be picked up. A monstrous pile of mail to be sorted. A huge pile of hanging clothes to be hung. A frightening pile of kid belongings to be put away. A medium pile of this. A giant pile of that. The piles became the elephant in the room. Getting everything squared away was like being asked to eat the entire elephant.

So how do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

Sometime in my procrastination efforts and several TikTok black holes later, I miraculously discovered one creator, KC Davis (@domesticblisters), an LPC and author of How to Keep House While Drowning. Her advice spoke volumes to my overwhelmed soul, particularly her closing duties – the minimum care tasks that need to be handled so that the next day starts easier. She emphasizes the imperfect nature of humans and preaches allowing oneself the grace to reject perfection at the cost of mental health.

Before I encountered her videos, I had always let the overwhelm of too-many-things-need-to-be-fixed paralyze me. Because I couldn’t do everything, why would I bother to even start? But I felt like she gave me permission to do what I COULD even if it meant leaving some messes for later.

The piles were the BIGGEST elephant. Instead of ruminating on how many piles of clothes were sitting on that chair in my bedroom, I picked up what I felt I could. Folded laundry got put away. The next day, half of my hanging items made it to the closet. I put away a few pairs of shoes.

When I simply could not stand the laundry anymore, I moved on to a single bathroom countertop. One kid’s closet. A lone drawer of holiday decorations. Completing these small tasks made me feel successful for a moment instead of the usual dread that accompanied cleaning too-long-delayed chaos, and those little wins encouraged me to keep going, at least in little manageable spurts. The gargantuan task gets a little more manageable with every tiny bite I take out of it.

So, is your house spotless now?

Absolutely, resoundingly NOT. Is it better than it’s been in months? UNDOUBTEDLY.

A big part of working through this has been explaining to my husband that my cleaning brain is very different from his. He is an all-or-nothing type of guy, and so I’d often get worked up thinking about how he must view my lack of domestic goddess-ness. Last month while we were tackling our shit-show of a garage, I told him that I could not conceivably clean the garage in a single day, and at that moment, he was frustrated with me, but only until we were able to sit down and talk about the WHY. And once he understood, we worked together over the next several days to clean the garage in zones. Breaking that task into manageable chunks actually facilitated completing the task, one that would have otherwise been abandoned.

Once he could see that there was a new method to my madness, it became MUCH more palatable to his OCD brain (and to my overwhelmed one). The elephant is still there, but the portion is getting smaller all the time.

Julie is a mama, wife, teacher, writer, photographer, designer, and basket case—jack of all trades, master of none. She lives in Ascension Parish with her husband, her two hooligans, and her quarankitty, Stella. She’s an English teacher by day, and a lover of words by destiny. Her favorite word is schadenfreude. When she’s pretending she isn’t too busy to breathe, you can find her curled up in her hammock with a book.

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