There’s a room in my house that used to be my sanctuary. A quiet place with a comfy couch for losing myself in a book, with room for my craft supplies, a computer, my shelves of fabrics and sewing ephemera. Most importantly, it was the one place in our house I had no obligation of sharing with anyone else — not my kids, not my husband. The only other time it was used was as a guest room when family visited from out of town. Looking into this room was like glimpsing inside my head.
Everything had a place. Special mementos — too personal or precious for the public areas of the house — hung on the walls. This was a sanctuary to which I’d retreat when I needed a 1/2 hour to recharge. This room was my safe place, my hiding place, and as I fell further into depression after the birth of my 2nd child, I hid there more frequently.
As I stopped caring about myself, I also stopped caring about this room. Things were shoved into corners to be dealt with at some unknown future date. Piles of paper layered the surfaces. Letters and cards provoking feelings I couldn’t face were hidden in drawers until, at last, the drawers were full and they started being stuffed into boxes instead. Clutter I couldn’t summon the urge to be bothered by in the rest of the house was ferreted away to be hidden in this room, behind a closed door, where I pretended it didn’t exist. For 8 years, it grew worse and worse — layers of me upon layers of me. If someone took a core sample of my soul, those years would be darkness sandwiched between light.
Looking into this room was like looking inside my head — a very painful and visible reflection of how I felt inside and how little I cared about myself. There were so many things inside of that room that brought me so much joy buried under piles of junk and unfinished or never-to-be-finished projects, old bills, craft supplies, outgrown clothing, and garbage.
I have wanted, no, needed that room to cleared out for my own peace of mind, but until last week I just couldn’t face it. It made me too sad — sad for me and all those moments in my older boys’ baby and toddlerhood that I’d missed out on because I’d mentally checked out, sad for my family for having to deal with my depression and mood swings, sad for missed opportunities. Sad for so many moments I can never get back.
Life doesn’t have a redo button.
I merely dipped my toes into the disaster during the week, but Saturday I immersed myself in the room for hours. I fired up the laptop so I could watch a television show while working — I get more done on automatic pilot — and got to work. Several boxes full of paper recycling, a big garbage bag full of trash, and about 7 hours later, I was done for the day. I could open the door and walk in and out of the room without climbing over boxes. I could walk from the doorway to the end of the room. I’d emptied a filing cabinet. I sorted boxes of craft supplies, of cards and gift wrap, of extra school supplies, of photos.
I was done. I was emotionally drained. And I was so, so sad.
That first day was incredibly hard. I tried to express how it made me feel, but spoken words don’t come easily to me. I’m used to bottling these feelings up inside and going forth with a “fake it till I make it” attitude. I was shattered.
Day 2 went better, though progress was much less dramatic. Another garbage bag, another box of paper recycling. I cleared out the storage nook and replaced a collection of empty, “parcel friendly” cardboard boxes with sorted storage boxes, and pulled all the mismatched, mixed up detritus into the main part of the room. I found a small boxful of various craft items to give to a friend’s children. I put a very special picture in a very special frame — one of my projects finally finished. I disposed of old bills dating back to 2004. I found a letter from my grandmother I could never read because it made me feel like a failure. I found a picture of myself at 25 — I looked so young, so happy.
The process of touching, deciding, and saving or purging still left me sad, but it was sadness coloured with hope, and not the intense sorrow I felt the day before. I’m not done working in that room. I’ve many hours of effort ahead of me, but I’m making progress. It’s getting better. I’m getting better.
I’ve hidden a lot of things behind a smile over the years. I can’t hide how facing this dragon makes me feel. I need reassurance that it is okay to be sad for what I’ve missed — for those moments where my body was there but my heart wasn’t present. I need to remind myself that it is okay to be scared that I might find myself in that dark place again, but that I will recognize it this time, that I am in control, that my support system understands and will be there if I ask for help. I have to remember that even if I feel alone, I am not. I have a lot of people around me who care about me very much, even in moments when I can’t feel that.
Looking into this room is like looking inside my head — it’s not perfect, it’s cluttered and pretty fucked up, but it’s mine and I’m working on it.