How to Keep The House Clean with Bipolar Disorder

Managing a mental illness, chronic illness or otherwise debilitating condition can be extremely difficult. Add to that ‘simple’ things, such as household tasks, paying bills and weeding the garden and these simple tasks turn into uncrossable mountains.

We all have to deal with housework and I can honestly say that it has never been something I enjoy. When my boys (now 20 and 18) were little, I found it even more difficult and when I was originally diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, I was put onto lithium (and other lovelies) that lowered my moods and often made me feel numb.

Getting housework done became a thing of the past and I spiralled quite a bit, cleaning up when I really had to and getting really excited when I actually enjoyed it.

It did mean that most of the time I cleaned I was probably manic, but hey, the house sparkled like Cinderella’s house. If it wasn’t for my hubby, family and friends rescuing us on a regular basis, we would have been living in serious chaos.

I realise that well-meaning folk might want to say things like, “just get it done” but (and I say this with deep respect for those in my life who are amazing at keeping house and being organised) unless you’ve experienced mental illness, or any kind of chronic illness, these phrases are just not helpful.

Living with these challenges can be extremely demoralising, overwhelming and frustrating because, on the one hand, I know that I can manage all these things, and more, but my reality doesn’t always showcase this capacity and I find myself feeling like I have to start from scratch again. And then, again.

Over the years, and probably because of my disorder, I have developed a bit of a trick to getting things done.

I still hate housework most of the time, but this little trick actually helps me make the house look tidy, at the very least, and some days, ‘tidy’ is as good as it gets.

Just so you know that I am not one of those superfreak mums who says her house is a mess when it’s really just below hospital-grade clean, here’s a before and after of my little ‘hub’ in the kitchen.

Note: the photos are in chronological order but show a common cycle that I have lived with all my life. Every six weeks or so I get a boost of mental and physical energy which can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks and so the first picture is one example of what I do in these times. Notice the H.Q. section – took about half a day – and the calendar diary – took about three days to completely organise.

This is after a hypomanic phase that lasted about four days. You should have seen the other areas I managed to hit in this same period!
This is today. As long as I am using an area, I can keep it relatively in check but as soon as that area becomes just another space it ends up like this. This is the same cycle I have lived with since childhood. Eventually, I just stop looking at it until I get sick of it again, usually when another hypomanic episode kicks in, which is around once every six weeks or so.


So what’s my trick? I thought you’d never ask 🙂

I watch TV

Okay, so I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but bear with me.

I have a thing for quirky shows – documentaries, positive reality TV and sci-fi – and often record them and watch them when I am home alone. I’m not much of a night owl so daytime is when I use my shows to help me get through.

Keep in mind, this is usually the days when I am feeling down and isolated, as I don’t really need any of these tricks when I feel well.

As all the shows (except the ones on Netflix, which I try to avoid on these days!) have add breaks. Here’s what I do:

  1. I watch a segment
  2. When the add break starts I get up and do one thing
  3. When the add break ends and the show begins again, I stop working and watch the next segment
  4. Repeat until the work is finished, or at least at the stage that I am content with

It might take me aaaaaalllllll day to clean up the kitchen. But then it’s done and it makes me feel like I have achieved something for the day.

I can’t stress enough how valuable this trick is for me.

When I crash and have a 2D day, which I did just yesterday, I tend to isolate, and not just in the physical sense. Mentally I shut down. It takes all my strength just to eat and not stay in bed. So to be able to get to the end of a 2D day (read this post on 2D, 3D and 4D days)  with a clean kitchen, for example, I feel encouraged that I can move into the next day and do more.

I’ll leave you with this: I actually asked the boys a few years ago how they felt about the mess they grew up in. They replied, “What mess?”. I was gobsmacked. They didn’t see it that way. They saw parents who cared about them and tried hard to give them the world. It was a great encouragement.

So regardless of what your house looks like today, remind yourself that every time you try, you succeed.

All it takes is a little step forward each day and before you know it, you’ll be moving forward every day and these steps, which at one time felt overwhelming, will become a natural part of your routine without a thought.

Over to you

Do you have some tricks to share? I’d love to hear them. If I get enough I will write a post sharing your tips. Ready?

Set. Go!



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