I’m doing laundry in the basement when I notice that my heart is beating really fast. My former running coach flashes through my mind describing the target heart rate as fast enough to be out of breath, but not so fast that you couldn’t easily talk, and I nod along. Yes. This is exactly where I’m at coach, but there’s just one problem:
I’m not running.
I wonder if this is how a heart attack happens. One second I’m standing here folding intimates, and the next I’m lying in a pile of smelly wet towels. “At least she died doing what she loved,” my friends would say about me at my funeral, and quieter: “do you smell mildew?”
When a few minutes pass and I’m still alive, I reevaluate. In addition to my heart racing, my teeth are clenched, my breath ragged, and my palms a little sweaty. Plus I really badly want to punch something. I know this feeling, I realize. It’s adrenaline.
I am having a fight-or-flight reaction to my laundry.
It shouldn’t surprise me, really. I’m angry a lot these days. I’m angry about the laundry, sure; there’s no better symbol of the Sisyphean futility of things than the laundry, so smug that it continues to accumulate around me even as I surrender myself to doing it. I find myself wistfully nostalgic for my college years, when I could just go buy new underwear on my way out to the bars rather than waste an evening in the laundromat, when the dryer buzzes.
I put my hand on my chest and try to breathe.
How did I get here?
They say you should know your stress triggers, and I do: large social gatherings, booze, a bad diet, not enough rest, my own children. They say you should have healthy coping mechanisms, and I have those too: yoga, exercise, time with my husband, time with my tribe, time with myself; to name a few. What they don’t say is what you should do when the same things that are your triggers also are the things that make you happy, or what to do when there simply is no time for your coping mechanisms because you are always knee deep in everyone else’s dirty clothes.
I am yet to find a self-help article on how to find inner peace while detaching 14 pairs of your child’s dirty underwear from their inside-out pants. There’s no guided meditation I know of that starts “now take a deep breath in and sort the whites,” no yoga class I can find on YouTube that has made me flexible enough (yet) to reach the single socks that have fallen behind the washing machine. And try as I might, I have not been able to convince my tribe that coming over and folding my laundry with me is actually SUPER fun, no really, I SWEAR YOU GUYS PLEASE COME RESCUE ME RIGHT NOW.
And of course it’s not the laundry, not really. It’s the laundry on top of everything else. It’s the cleaning and the prepping and the wiping and the working and the brushing and the bill paying all wrapped up in this crazy cyclone that moves so fast that if you were to stand outside and try to look in you would just see a messy me-shaped blur.
It’s the running from home to school to work to school to home only to spend the whole evening prepping to do it again the next day. It’s the fighting and the tears and the constant shrieking and the fatigue that sits in my upper back between my shoulder blades pulsing at me every second of every day like a car alarm.
But it’s more than that too, because even those are still just the little things. It’s also not having enough time for my husband and worrying that we won’t make it, and not having enough time for my job and worrying that I will get fired, and not having enough time for my tribe and worrying that they are hanging out without me because they don’t love me anymore.
It’s the almost ALWAYS feeling like I am failing, and the looking like it too.
Standing in the pile, I wonder: Is this even a life?
And then of course I feel terrible, because the answer is yes, it is a life–MINE. And there are a zillion little moments that happen in it daily that are lovely and take my breath away–in a much more pleasant manner than this–but I do worry that they are balanced out by a level of stress so high that I can find myself standing over the washing machine trying to uncoil my shoulders from up around my ears.
The only thing worse than a laundry panic attack is a laundry panic attack with a heaping pile of guilt on top of it. Still breathing heavy, I make a decision. I don’t want to be angry anymore. It’s time to make some changes, even if I have no clue what those changes are. Quitting my job is probably out. Heading to the store once a week on my way to the bar to buy everyone new underwear is super tempting, but also probably out. So maybe, I say to myself, I could look at this differently.
Maybe everything has a season.
Maybe, even, I will miss this. Or maybe not, because that still feels kind of crazy, but maybe I will miss parts of this a little teeny bit. Like how these socks in my hand are so small that it’s almost comical. Or under them, the princess dresses that my girls spend hours dancing in every weekend. Or further down even, the red dust stained baseball pants that my oldest taught himself how to slide in that I will never, ever be able to get white again no matter how many times I run them through this machine. And I know I will miss the way I can hear my littlest’s feet as he runs–always runs, never walks–across the floor over my head where I stand.
It’s working, I realize, and my shoulders soften a little.
Because someday this all will change, that’s how it happens, even I know this. These kids might leave and they might stay but they are going to inevitably not be mine anymore, some sooner than others. And my husband and I will again have time to get to know each other, and I will be a good employee again, or at least get there earlier in the morning. I bet I will even have the time to actually see some of the people I love on purpose, instead of just catching glimpses of them in the grocery store of the drop-off line at school.
And then my running coach is here again, wiser than I gave her credit for back then. This time she is trying to psych us up like she used to for a tempo run, saying “it’s just for a little while. You can stand to do anything if it’s just for a little while.”
I can stand to do laundry for a little while, I decide. A little while longer, anyway.
Tis the (laundry) season, after all.
Previously published on LizPetrone.com.