I struggle with bad anxiety.
I don’t talk about it a lot, partially because I’m a deeply private person, and partially because there’s something in my brain that says talking about the barriers we face is whiny. Everyone has obstacles, and the job still has to be done. But it isn’t a secret, and sometimes I’ll off-handedly mention I’m having a high-anxiety day, usually in the same breath as saying what I’m doing to try to manage it in that moment. And what I’ve found interesting is how often someone responds along the lines of, “You don’t look like you have anxiety.” Because what does that even mean? What does anxiety, or someone who struggles with it, even look like?
I spend a lot of time in my professional life trying to get people to understand that there is often a very subjective difference between the indicators for “gifted and talented” or high-achieving in grade school and ADHD, and both are associated with anxiety, which often shows up as being “Type-A” or a “control freak.” I am all of the above.
It took me years to overcome the shame of wanting to hire a housekeeper. My grandmother, who was my maternal figure growing up, is the consummate homemaker. She used to come over to my house and make snide comments about me being “too smart” to be also good at cleaning—apparently one cannot be brilliant and also do domestic work—or being “very busy,” and that being why my baseboards hadn’t been scrubbed.
And I was busy.
I have two children, who at the time were swimming competitively (seriously, do you have any idea how much time swimming requires as a sport??). I had a full-time job, was running my consulting business, was knee-deep in research for my first book and was president of the PTO at my kids’ school, in addition to the number of civic advisory boards I sat on and just trying to be a decent human/mother/daughter/sister/friend. To this day, I prioritize cooking every night and sitting down for dinner with my family (grandma, for her immaculate housekeeping, has never been much of a cook, and meals at her house were eaten at each individual’s leisure, but never all together at the table). It has always been really important to me to be really present for my children in all of the ways my own mother was not for me as a child, even to the point of exhaustion. And with a finite amount of time together, that has always looked like prioritizing taking my children to STEM fairs, museums or the zoo. My baseboards have always been an unfortunate casualty.
My house was never dirty. But it was also never “grandma clean.”
Finally, I got past the side eyes and brow raises from my grandmother and just hired a housekeeper. She comes once a week. She deep cleans the kitchen and bathrooms and scrubs the baseboards, and floors throughout the house. She also washes and folds laundry (I hate laundry. My ex-husband always did the laundry when we were married, and I taught the children to do their own at early ages; it’s the only chore they’re consistently responsible for). She spends about five hours a week, and it is really the best money I have ever spent. My grandma even came to visit recently and commented on being impressed that my house was “so clean!”
Struggling with delegation
Early in the pandemic, the guilt resurfaced. It was clear that I would be home all day for the foreseeable future. Even when I deemed it safe to let our housekeeper in—we chatted about how many other families she was cleaning for, what their attitudes about COVID were and, later, vaccination status, I still struggled with the idea.
How could I justify having someone else clean my house if I was home? I was saving on commute times. I’d even decided to fully homeschool my children (lots of anxiety about masks and COVID protocol and teacher job dissatisfaction and burnout and how that would impact learning for my children), so I didn’t even have to do drop-off/pick-ups anymore. Surely, we could, as a family, pitch in to keep the house clean?
How many of you, dear readers, know that’s not how it works? First of all, the pandemic meant there was no end time for work for at least the first year, as is the case with many of us. And homeschooling meant I was also writing their curriculum and gathering their materials—if I was going to take the time to home school, I might as well fill in the gaps, as it related to cultural responsiveness and critical thinking and other skills I thought school missed anyway. And children being home didn’t mean they had more time to clean, silly Autumn. It meant they had more time and opportunity to make a mess! Still had a business. Year two brought vaccines and a safe return to youth sports and extracurriculars for my kids. And I’d launched a nonprofit, and that brought increased research demands as well as programmatic responsibility for a group of teenage girls.
And my anxiety was sky-high.
Last summer, I brought my housekeeper back. It’s still the best investment I continue to make, every week. Recently, I’ve been having another flare-up of my anxiety. Lots to think about with my oldest going to high school this coming school year, both in considering the best school fit for her and in just figuring out how to navigate the normal teenage girl and pre-teen hormonal changes and making sure both of my children are fully equipped to be the best versions of themselves. I don’t doubt myself in many areas of life, but I’m constantly worried about whether I’m doing this parenting thing right. It’s stumbly and awkward some days, but I look at them and mostly feel validated that I’m at least not doing it wrong.
But still, with all of the things swirling in my head, and so many unknowns I can’t control or predict at the moment, I’d been struggling.
My housekeeper came today. And it was a day particularly packed with meetings, the first day of spring break for my favorite humans, who are home and hungry and already looking to the resident court jester, aka mom, to be entertained. But when she left and I finally had a second to look up and just exhale because my house was clean and smelled like roses, suddenly so much of the weight I’d been carrying melted away.
My brain has been cloudy for three weeks, but I was finally able to sit down and make a grocery list, divided by stores and aisles, like I usually do on “normal” weeks, but haven’t been able to do for three weeks now. I was able to send off some emails I’d been dreading, and not because I dreaded a negative response, but because that’s how my anxiety often shows up: a mess of dread and struggles to focus and execute tasks, often coupled with nausea and an unsettled stomach.
I am thankful for the luxury to be able to hire someone to help me around the house, and I know that’s not a luxury everyone enjoys. But I often tell people, where you can get help, get help. Delegate tasks. Hire someone to fill in gaps if you can afford it. Schedule time to rest. Particularly in the times we are living in, where nothing is “normal,” and we are all scrambling to be the best versions of ourselves, we should accept help where we can.
Even us Type-A, control freak, high-achieving, formerly “gifted and talented” folks. Being smart isn’t about proving you can do it all. It’s about knowing when you can’t.