Never let it be said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. For lockdown has provided me with an unexpected opportunity to expand my household repertoire under the careful, often bewildered, supervision of Fionnuala. She’s had me painting fences, assisting with wallpapering, baking flapjacks. But more than all that, she’s taught me the difference between tidying up and cleaning. This has been a quantum leap for yours truly. Mind well and truly blown.
I’ve always thought myself a tidy enough person. If a sweet wrapper is lying on the ground I’ll pick it up and put it in the bin; I’ll wipe a table if I see crumbs on it and shout at the kids for leaving their stuff lying around the house. I did my bit to keep the house in some semblance of order. Or so I thought. Since lockdown I’ve had to learn the difference between superficial tidying and proper cleaning. As in killing germs as opposed to just repositioning them around the kitchen.
Fionnuala has introduced me to the wonderful world of bleach and disinfectant. I’m lifting ornaments and cleaning under, as opposed to around, them. I’ve polished furniture, swept floors and even started making the bed. With all the pillows and cushions in exactly the position they’re meant to be in. You name it, I’ve attacked it with vigour and vim – wood, metal, glass, it’s all felt the wrath of my cleaning fury. I’m a man possessed.
My default setting is with my nose stuck in a book or dreaming up ideas for the next Kirkwood Scott adventure, but I’m keen to pull my weight around the place and not get under Fionnuala’s feet too much. I always recognised the amount of work she does, but the enforced time at home has taken this to a whole new level. It’s a full time job keeping on top of the endless chores with a husband and three teenagers under the same roof.
For years I treated my mental health in the same manner. I would pick at it, fuss around the edges and do the bare minimum, thinking this was enough to keep my head in order and prevent the messy monsters within from running rampant. It was only when the rubbish was piled waist high that I recognised skimming the surface and refusing to get my hands dirty was slowly but steadily dragging me under, never to return.
It was only when I started to methodically and regularly confront my issues that the mental makeover started to show progress; serious DIY work as opposed to papering over the cracks, removing the layers of dirt and grime in order to reveal the true person underneath. No more skirting around the elephant in the room, sticking my head in the sand like an obstinate ostrich. Grabbing the thistle and taking the pain, for after the pain comes healing and growth.
Therapy. Medication. Counselling. These are the cleaning products of the mind, they polish the process of recovery and rehabilitation. Don’t lie in the debris, pick yourself up, dust yourself down and climb from the pit. The abyss piled high on all sides with the detritus of wasted lives and shattered hopes. The rut can be all consuming, it dulls the senses and rusts our resolve to realise dreams and aspirations. Don’t let its noxious lies overwhelm you.
So as I scrub the toilet bowl or sweep the floor, I’m glad this silver lining has been revealed to me at a time when the planet seems to be falling apart. Mental order removes the dirt of despair and allows us to glue the pieces of self back together. We are whole once more, different but whole. Our cracks are scars and through them we rise from the ashes to face the world again. A new way of living, a fresh chance to live, laugh and love.