Monday, January 13, 2014

This is what anxiety looks like

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The Christmas tree branches drooped sadly, with the ornaments hanging on to dear life, in the corner of our living room, begging to be put out of its misery. It’s been well after the 12 Days of Christmas, but there it stood, once glowing with the warmth and celebration of the holidays, now a reminder of tundra-like snow days, canceled parties that altered our plans, and a steadily avalanching workload that had us neglecting our house since the last hurrah with our friends one Sunday evening, amid a snowstorm.

I think it’s exhaustion, not just from the day, but from all the events leading up to the holiday. There was daily magic to create for the girls – Advent Calendar, Elf on the Shelf –, and there were holiday activities and parties a-plenty, not to mention playing host to out-of-town family for a week. All wonderful, but also terribly depleting. By the time 2014 arrived and the last of the guests departed from our home, we were mush.

Hence the sad, crispy Christmas tree.

Once the girls were back in preschool on the first week of 2014, I had to get back to my freelance tasks that had sat waiting since before the festivities. I indulged in a two-week holiday, allowing myself to shift my priorities to focus entirely on my family for the last two weeks of the year.

But getting back to work after the prolonged break was a struggle. At first, I thought the inertia was from losing momentum and a regular routine, but when I looked around and saw a house still shrouded in the silver, red, and gold of holiday paraphernalia, I knew it was the impending task of un-holidaying the house that zapped my energy. Just the anticipation alone weighed me down, because no matter how wonderful Christmas was, and how satisfying, taking the decorations down is an arduous, dreadful process.

Storage bins waiting to be filled; Yes, my cat’s in one of them.

It’s interesting how things that gave me so much joy and energy for a month are now the source of my anxiety. I think Gretchen Rubin nailed it on the head in her her book, Happier at Home, when she said, “When I felt engaged with my possessions, I felt enlivened by them, and when I felt disengaged from them, I felt burdened.”

Exactly. Disengaged. Burdened. And that burden has poisoned the well of productivity, dulling motivation and prohibiting us from accomplishing anything around the house. Making the bed, something I did every day, became an unbearable task. Dishes? Forget about it.


For the record, I can’t believe I’m posting these pictures in public!

Yet, we couldn’t live this way for long. At least I couldn’t.

And that’s how the weekend was consumed by Operation Take Back Our House. It started on Friday, when the girls were in preschool and My Guy at work. I turned on Home and Garden Television as background noise, and also for inspiration, as I slowly stripped the tree and the rest of the house of the reminders of our December days.

That was just Phase One. With the decorations put away, we found our energy again and decided to spruce up and organize different parts of our house to repurpose certain spots. With Pickle fully potty trained meant losing the changing table in our room and acquiring prime real estate back. Because I’ve always dreamt of a view while writing, we turned that spot into my writing space with a new desk (of my choosing) but a chair and lamp that My Guy knew I would love because of their color scheme (grey and yellow happen to be my thing these days).

We purchased the items together on Sunday morning, but when I came home from my run in the afternoon, it was all set up, waiting for me. My Guy even included a simple decorative item – a miniature replica of Serenity, the spacecraft from “Firefly”, a show that’s not only a favorite because of its own merit, but because it is linked to the beginning of our relationship.

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I am a lucky, lucky woman.

However, at the back of my mind, I knew luck had little to do with this. It took, and still takes, a lot of hard work to be this happy together.

It’s Monday now, and our Weekend Warrior mode is still on, which is a good thing, since we’re not done with the last phase of our project. Things are slowly falling into place, and the house is coming back together to what it was, and what we hoped it would be. I am fully aware of how my ability to feel joy – not happiness itself – is inextricably linked to the state of my home.

Which leads me to the topic of happiness. It’s the new year, a time of resetting goals and resolutions that are essentially our way of finding happiness, and while I’ve shied away from writing about it, the superstitious Chinese in me fraught with the fear of losing it the moment I admit to it, I think it’s high time that I dedicated some words to happiness.

Because it’s elusive, because it’s fragile, and perhaps even fleeting, I want to capture and bottle this time of our lives, which I feel is the happiest we’ve ever been, but this post is already longer than I intended. The sun is rising, and the girls are waking.

Today, however, in my own space, my room with a view, so to speak, and with the dissipating clutter that prevented me from looking further than my own stress, I now see the sky transforming from a soft black to what is now, a grey, smoky blue. The sun will soon shine through these windows that surround me, and while my view of courtyard greenery and the rest of our building isn’t the stuff of dreams, I do get to look up and see the sky.

And soon, it will be a brilliant, spectacular blue.