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Dirty Laundry

Healthy hygiene isn't just physical, but also mental and emotional

By Cheryl LynnPublished 28 days ago 19 min read
Dirty Laundry
Photo by Sarah Brown on Unsplash

Emotional Baggage

We talk about "emotional baggage", "sweeping problems under the rug", "keeping skeletons hidden in the closet", and "cleaning up your act." Trauma and adversity are like mental clutter, making a mess of their home (your brain.) The longer you ignore the pile of dirty clothes in the corner, the dirtier and smellier it becomes. You can buy new clothes instead of washing the ones you have, but now those new threads are dirty too. On top of the pile they go!

If you're sick and tired of wearing ill-fitting, dirty old rags, you'll have to wash the clothes eventually. It's okay to ask for help. Maybe a friend will drive you to the laundromat and give you a handful of quarters, or family member can let you use their machine, or your lover helps you iron and fold the clothes. But *your* clothes are *your* responsibility. Nobody owes doing your work for you. You're not entitled to other people's labor, neither emotional nor physical.

Same with mental or emotional clutter. The longer you ignore it, the worse it gets. It's okay to ask for help. But it's also okay if the person you ask is unable or unwilling to drop their own baggage to carry yours, or to neglect their own needs to cater to your wants.

Even if someone gives you a generous gift, that item is yours now. It's up to you, not the gifter, to take care of it. When a friend gives a brand new sweater for Christmas, I don't expect her to wash it for me after I wear it. When my family gave me my first car, I didn't expect them to chauffeur me in it, to pay my mechanic bills, or to reimburse me every time I refuel. It was already an extremely generous gift, and it would be inappropriate for me to demand the gifters to go even more above and beyond than they already have. The very least I could do is take care of the gift. That, in and of itself, is an act of gratitude.

Appreciation is all about acknowledging the people who helped you. It's about recognizing the individuals and communities who were supportive. That's why people can understandably feel annoyed by well meaning but unintentionally problematic content, like #blessed hashtags and humble brags. It can come off as flaunting unearned luck and status. Yes, it's good to appreciate fun vacations, delicious food, nice clothes, healthy habits, and strong relationships. But it's even better to appreciate everyone who made it possible.

Gratitude is one of the cornerstones of human civilization, a survival mechanism that benefitted our species since prehistoric times, and throughout history, to our modern day society. By that token, ingratitude is one of the most egregious, apalling abominations, literally offensive to the human psyche. Disdain for ingrates is a primal instinct gut reaction, the same way my stomach churns at the sight of writhing maggots. On that note...

Disgust as a Defense Mechanism

We say that bratty children are "spoiled rotten", that "one bad apple spoils the bunch", and we use the word "nasty" to describe both objects of disgust and acts of cruelty, as well as "toxic" to describe dysfunctional or abusive behavior.

That's because when someone does something vindictive, their actions are just as gross and unhealthy as rancid food, and their harm can't be undone, just as moldy fruit can never become fresh again.

By the way, disgust is a natural, healthy emotion that exists to protect us from danger and toxicity, both literal and metaphorical. Disgust is the normal instinct that happens when you see something repugnant, and immediately think: "Eww, I'm going to avoid that thing, before it even gets the chance to harm me!" Whether it's rotten meat writhing with worms, an ugly patch of slime mold, a rabid possum frothing at the mouth, or a person using coercive control to get their way, disgust protects us from engaging with the dangerous substance/situation in the first place.

For a children's cartoon, the 2015 Pixar film Inside Out is surprisingly accurate, for a kid's movie. The 5 main characters - Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust - are in fact the 5 basic emotions. Just like the primary colors blend into kaleidoscopic rainbows of iridescence snd nuance, or the human palette is infinite rearrangements of 5 basic tastes - salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami - so are all of our most complex emotions just different combinations of these 5 primal instincts. And also - spoiler alert for a children's cartoon that was released several years ago - it's okay to have mixed feelings (literally!)

Similarly, some people are extremely sensitive to negativity and adversity, just like an immunocompromised individual is extremely vulnerable to germs and bacteria, or how my asthma makes me particularly susceptible to dust and allergens. When I say "Good vibes only", it may unintentionally come off as toxic positivity. But sometimes I physically need to shelter myself from meanness and cruelty, just like I need to distance myself from diseases and breathing hazards. Just like the so-called "common cold" can be devastating for someone with a weakened immune system, I can become totally incapacitated by one ill-timed insult or rude remark. Or if you expose a healthy person to radiation, it will probably be toxic to them, yet radiation therapy is a vital resource for certain life threatening illnesses. Similarly, the positivity that is "toxic" for some people, literally saved my life. I don't necessarily want to see the bright side of life, but I NEED to. If I took everything at face value, my depression only deepens. My life literally depends on it. "Good vibes only" is the mental and emotional equivalent of a sterilized hospital room. But real life isn't so safe and sanitary. And, sometimes you need to be exposed to pathogens in order to build up an immunity to them. (More about exposure and immersion therapy later.)

Marie Kondo Sparks Joy

Doomers love to dismiss anything and everything that could potentially mitigate their self imposed misery. Therapy, medication, exercise, and diet are all mocked as toxic positivity, despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that objectively proves their efficacy. These people are as obtuse, willfully ignorant, and counter-scientific as flat earthers and antivaxxers. Trying to explain neuroplasticity to them, is like trying to teach quantum physics to a cockroach. It's like they don't even have the cognitive skills to comprehend the basic math and science behind the subject.

So I was disappointed, but not surprised, when these contemptous individuals dismissed Marie Kondo as a symbol of privileged materialism, even though she literally embodies the polar opposite! God forbid that you should hear a female POC perspective on patriarchal American capitalism, right?! Much easier to laugh her off, marginalize her, diminish her success, than to admit that your addiction to pop culture trinkets may be part of the problem. Okay, I guess everyone else is a shallow, self righteous hypocrite except for you, and you have the $100 anarchy symbol t-shirt manufactured in a child labor sweatshop factory to prove it. Seems legit.

Marie Kondo perpetuates minimalism, not consumerism. Why clutter your house with useless junk that doesn't even serve a purpose? Why hoard objects of no sentimental or financial value? If someone else could use it, then donate it to charity, give it to a loved one, or sell it in a yard sale. Why let it collect dust in a corner, of no use to you or anyone else? Or if it's not even worth giving away, too old or broken, then throw it away and move on! Again, why collect garbage for the sake of collecting garbage?

Marie Kondo's approach is simply common sense. If you neither want nor need it, then don't keep it. It's that simple. But some people would rather lick boots than acknowledge her valid, respectful lifestyle methods. They would rather continue living in first world urban squalor, than give their old clothes to needy kids or women's shelters. They would rather indulge in hypocritical decadence, perpetuating sexist, misogynistic, racist, anti-Asian stereotypes, than get rid of the stack of moldy newspapers in your basement. At least have the guts to own it!

Gatekeeping Environmentalism?

Some people think that charity and volunteer work will be rewarding and fulfilling. But trust me. I stopped feeling fuzzy wuzzy a very long time ago. Some people will resent you despite everything you do for them, and some people don't even want help at all, and will sabotage any attempts to do so. No matter how many people you help, it's impossible to save everyone.

But, so what? How is helping "only" a few people, or even just one person, worse than helping nobody at all?! Even if they bite the hand that feeds them? If you're just in it for the warm fuzzies, then at least admit that it's more about your own ego, than genuine humanitarian concern. Real effective progress is tedious, thankless, but important work. If I seem bitter and jaded, it's because of sheer exhaustion.

On that note, don't donation shame people! "Oooh a millionaire 'only' invested a fraction of their fortune on charity. According to my calculations, it's only a small percentage of..."

Just stop right there. When some random hobo asks me for spare change, I'll give him a bill. Maybe it's a $1, $5, or $10. But it's only a fraction of the thousands of dollars of my lifetime savings. Would you rather I give him my credit card and let him rack up the charges with impunity?! Maybe open a joint account with him?! Or would you rather I give him nothing at all? People give what they can, when they can, if they can. And it's incredibly problematic to try to force people to do anything they don't want to, including coerced adherence to your arbitrary and self-serving definitions of "generosity" or "charity". If you're neither benefactor nor beneficiary, then perhaps you shouldn't be so vocally opinionated about it.

But herein lies the problem. Who gets to decide what's fair? The person in need, or the person who helps? On one hand, the person in need, knows their own situation better than anyone else. But then again, what someone wants, what someone deserves, and what someone needs, can be three very different things! Conversely, the person who helps should also have a say. After all, it is their money, time, and physical and emotional labor, that is being invested. Nobody likes to feel exploited, taken for granted, or used.

Another problematic myth is the idea that: "Thrift stores are a scam! Nobody wants your old clothes, and most of those donations don't even make it to the salesfloor, and..."

Oi! Don't talk smack about thrifting! Just like most people, I like to unwind with a little bit of retail therapy, but thrifting is much more sustainable than buying brand new designer items every single time. Sure, some clothes at thrift stores can be a bit dated, but just like any other store, you obviously don't have to buy anything that you don't like. Just leave it on the rack and keep shopping. Duh.

Similarly, apps like Mercari and Thred Up are greener alternatives to corrupt corporations like Amazon. There are even apps that specialize in luxury items, like Poshmark and the Real Real. Glam and green are not mutually exclusive. I care about the planet, but I also want to look cute while doing so. What's wrong with that? Imagine trying to gatekeep environmentalism. How's that working out for you so far?

Honestly, it seems like some people grasp at straws to justify keeping stuff they neither want nor need. No, of course your overflowing closet full of fast fashion isn't part of the problem. Clearly, this is all Goodwill's fault. Seems legit.

Gifts as a Love Language

It's easy to attack buzzwords and catch phrases like "love languages" and "this sparks joy" because they're low-hanging fruits. Mocking a tagline takes about 2 seconds, but thinking critically about what they actually mean, can take hours. In fact, it took me a few years to write this very article, because I kept finding new inspiration for ideas and metaphors, and fascinating articles about the subject, and I rewrote entire paragraphs after finding new facts. Changing your mind for the better when presented with updated statistics and evidence? What a novel concept! I believe this is an archaic thought process known as "learning." You should try it sometime.

E=MC² is a short, simple mathematical formula. But it represents Energy equals Mass times the speed of light to the second power. This equation describes complex concepts of relativity, astrophysics, and quantum mechanics. Just because these ideas can be simplified into a short, memorable phrase - "E = MC²" - doesn't make the hard science behind it any less true. Just because you are unwilling or unable to understand the arithmetic, doesn't mean you're entitled to project your own willful ignorance on everyone else. Same with other concepts, like choosing positivity, sparking joy, or having a love language.

When I first heard about love languages, it was a eureka moment, an absolute epiphany. For years, I had grappled with different kinds of affection, and wondered about people reaping what they sow. Whether you're aloof, cruel, or magnanimous, people will probably respond in kind. But sometimes we each have different definitions of love, affection, aloofness, cruelty, or magnamity. For example, if someone spends lots of money on you, but otherwise treats you like crap, are they really generous? Or if an introvert genuinely needs alone time, but someone else perceives it as being selfish, then who is in the wrong?

And yet, I struggled to convey these complex ideas in a simple, concise manner (see flowery run on sentences in paragraphs above). But the idea of love languages distilled these abstract concepts so neatly and cleanly. It was like someone read my mind and articulated my confused thoughts for me. People give the kind of affection that they want in return (with a few exceptions, such as ungrateful hypocrites who feel entitled to unconditional love after mistreating everyone around them).

If you want someone to say "I love you", you probably say it to them too. If you want someone to cook dinner for you, you probably dropped the hint by cooking dinner for them first. Or, in my case, if you want someone to shower you with lavish gifts, you probably gave them thoughtful presents as well. Call me a polyglot, because gift giving is one of my many love languages.

But when I first heard about love languages, my boyfriend at the time - I 'll call him "H", scoffed and laughed them off. H's female roommate, "E", was the one who told me about love languages. H laughed at her and said it was pop psychology crap. I called him out for being rude to E, and also a hypocrite for being a stan for the Meyers Briggs enneagram, while assuming everything else was hippy dippy new age nonsense. He finally admitted that he was being a contrarian, just because he genuinely enjoyed arguing with people. This was one of many red flags. In fact, H eventually fled the country when I broke up with him, to evade legal repercussions after I tolerated years of his mistreatment.

But when I was still with him, I would still fold his laundry for him and make his bed. Small tokens of care, even if he was literally incapable of reciprocating. I couldn't afford fancy gifts, especially because he made more money than I did, a fact that he often lorded over me to exert control. But I still did small chores here and there to show I cared. And I did this all the way until the bitter end, when I finally stopped caring about him at all anymore.

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

When I wash my clothes and hang them up to dry, I'm not putting on a show for the neighbors. It's not entertainment. If others want to stare at me doing routine maintenance, that's on them, not me. I just mind my own business, whether or not the neighbors return the favor. You should worry about your own responsibilities more than you worry about mine.

No, of course I'm not cleaning my clothes to entertain the voyeuristic passersby. I wash my laundry because I have decent clothes, and I owe it to myself to take care of what's mine. They belong to me, and they were well earned. I worked hard for years to be able to afford new clothes, let alone name brand and designer items. Of course I want them to be nice and clean. I deserve to feel and look good for once, after decades of poverty, dysfunction, and toxicity. Even the hand-me-downs didn't come easy. Hardly a freebie, they represent years of tension and reconciliation with my family, very few of whom are am still on speaking terms with me, fewer still who are close enough for us to share our own personal belongings together.

Similarly, when people say I'm "airing dirty laundry", they insinuate that I'm trying to cause a scene, even though I'm not. I'm just taking care of business. The dirty clothes needed to be cleaned, so I washed them; and these stories needed to be told, so I wrote them. If others want to rudely point, gawk, stare, or laugh, then that's neither my fault nor my problem.

People often use the "dirty laundry" cliche to silence opinions and facts that could potentially be unpleasant or uncomfortable. In other words, "How dare you accurately describe the things that I actually did and said!" Again, if the greatest threats to your reputation, are truth and honesty, then what does that say about you?

So asking me not to publish anything negative about my life in the real world, is like forbidding me from washing bloodstained clothes, because you think it will make you look bad for making me bleed in the first place. Just admit that you care about your reputation more than my wellbeing.

Life is a Chore

I've always hated doing dishes ever since the day that H grabbed me by the shoulders and violently shook me around, screaming at me to clean his dirty plates, while he lazily sat on my couch, and watched my tv, and made me feel like an unwanted guest in my own home. Eventually, after months of enduring his abuse and infidelity, I finally had enough. The situation got so bad that I had no choice but to call the cops on him, stay at an Aunt's house out of town where he couldn't find me, and break up with him once and for all. Ever since that incident (only one of his many outbursts of vitriolic rage), I had a pathological aversion to washing the dishes. For years, I had a bad habit of avoidance, letting plates and silverware pile up in the sink, unable to even turn the faucet on unless I was stoned, drunk, or both. Even when I started dating other people, sometimes I would be embarrassed by the messy kitchen, especially if they would gently suggest cleaning up. I would freak out, tell them to stop nagging me, run away, and lock myself in my room, screaming and crying. By avoiding my messy habits, they just got worse and worse until it was out of control.

I gave myself an ultimatum: What would I rather have? A sink full of dirty dishes, or a happy, stable love life? When I put it that way, the choice was obvious. I think of all the hundreds of times that I did the dishes without anything traumatic happening. In fact, I used to love washing dishes as a little kid! The neon green apple blossom scented dish soap is still a nostalgic core memory, the bubbles were silly and fun, as was the splashing water, and the window view from the kitchen... And of course, my parents didn't seem to mind if I wanted to wash the dishes for them.

I had to override the traumatic memory, by remembering all the times I washed the dishes before and after that horrible day, when nothing bad happened to me. I had to desensitize myself with immersion therapy. I can't lie to you and tell you that it's simple, easy, or fun. Immersion therapy, in and of itself, is a chore. But I need it in order to function in everyday life, along with other coping mechanisms such as EMDR therapy for trauma and DBT therapy for my Borderline Personality Disorder. Basic things that are so innocuous or even positive to normal people, can send me into an emotional spiral and mental tailspin. Not just washing dishes, but also brushing my teeth, or walking past grassy green parks full of trees, or certain days of the year, or even certain times of day. Ironically, in trying to ignore these intrusive thoughts, I just obsessed over them even more, by trying in vain not to think about it.

To make matters worse, when I finally broke up with H and called the cops on him while I stayed at a relative's house on the outskirts of the city, some of my so-called "friends" showed their true colors. My boss at the time harangued me for taking antidepressants at 2 pm every day, because apparently she had never ever heard of a health regimen before. She also started cutting my hours and making passive aggressive comments about me for breaking up with a jerk, because her shallow mind could not possibly comprehend the simple fact that just because someone is attractive, charming, and charismatic, doesn't mean that they're a good person. (As a divorcee herself, you think she'd be a little bit more knowledgable, but whatever.) The workplace was so hostile that I finally quit.

Worse yet, a long time friend... We'll call her "T"... Threw a verified conniption fit that I couldn't drop everything just to "hang out" or whatever. She didn't know or care that I had just survived one of the most traumatic nights of my life. She didn't know or care that I had to walk barefoot in the desert to get help when H literally threw me out of his house, keeping my phone, car keys, and even my shoes hostage inside. She didn't know or care that I was sleep deprived, exhausted, emotionally devastated, mentally delirious, and physically scarred. She didn't know or care that I wasn't even in the city limits because I didn't feel safe there. She didn't know or care that I was physically incapable of entertaining her, even if I wanted to. After I declined her invitation to hang out, and she replied "no problem, I understand", she immediately posted an emotionally manipulative and passive aggressive social media rant about how she doesn't have any true friends and nobody understands her and she's just a helpless victim of circumstance while everyone else is apparently a wicked witch. Accompanying this hateful, hurtful vitriol, was the profoundly mediocre Slipknot song, "People = Shit". Ironically, if T wanted a prime example of a person acting shitty, all she had to do was look in a mirror.

This was not the first time that she tried to guilt trip me into babysitting her when I was unwilling and unable. In the years past, she had posted similar tirades when I couldn't spend time with her because I was... Get this... Working at my job! As T was unemployed, she couldn't understand the fact that some people have to earn an honest living and don't have infinite free time. And even if I did have time to spare, I don't owe it to her, or anyone in particular. Like wow, I'm so sorry that my stresssful menial minimum wage career and financial instability is such an inconvenience... For YOU.

To top this all off, T was at least ten years older than me - I was in my early twenties at the time and she was in her thirties or forties - But I was the more mature one in that interpersonal dynamic. For example, when she would rant and rave about how nobody cares about her, she conveniently forgot about all the times I had donated to her GoFundMe, even when I was struggling myself. And I wouldn't even be able to afford such charity, if I had ditched my job to spend the day with her like she wanted! The "People = Shit" incident was the last straw in an entire bale of problematic hay. Again, the feeling of disgust and disdain I felt toward T was a primal survival instinct. I have rarely been so repulsed by another human being before or since. Needless to say, she and I had fallen out, drifted apart, and haven't spoken to each other in years.

Unfortunately, sometimes people kick you when you're down, rub salt in open wounds, and bite the hand that feeds them. No good deed goes unpunished, and the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Just like "airing dirty laundry", or any of the other colloquialisms I've explored here today, these idioms may sound cliche, but they still ring true for my personal life experiences.

Again, these dark feelings can't just can't be "brushed under the rug". There's only so much dust you can hide under a carpet, before clouds begin to puff up with every foot step, and the whole thing is lumpy with obvious dirt clumps underneath. When I talk about these personal things openly and earnestly, yeah, it's a little embarrassing, but it's also a relief, just like finally lifting up the rug and vacuuming the mess beneath. Trust me, I don't need anyone's attention. Sympathy doesn't pay my bills. I'm not telling these stories for you, I'm telling them for myself.


About the Creator

Cheryl Lynn

I am a blogger and freelance journalist, specializing in music reviews, band interviews, and other entertainment related articles. I have also published poetry, fiction, and creative writing.

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    Cheryl LynnWritten by Cheryl Lynn

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