Why Doing 20 Loads of Laundry on my Birthday is not Depressing and other tales of Clinical Depression

A couple weeks ago I turned 48, which, as they say, is better than the alternative. Unless the alternative is turning 28, or 38, or turning 48 and not being at all depressed.

I awoke that day to the usual Mount Washmore, as I affectionately refer to the permanent laundry art installation in our basement. It’s like an ode to the strife of the common housewife, or something like that. I’m thinking of inviting a doctoral candidate to come and write his/her dissertation on it, so rich is it in meaning and symbolism. I estimated that I was about 10 loads behind. Not the same ten loads as last week, but still a consistent ten loads. Every time I suddenly burst into action and do a few, three times that many come back into the pile, wet bedding and sweaty TaeKwonDo uniforms and mud-caked snow pants and millions of single, but bi-curious, socks.

Anyway, I was suddenly galvanized into action by turning 48 and profoundly needing and wanting to not be defined by my abject failures on all measures of modern wifehood as exemplified by Mount Washmore, I decided as a present to myself to spend the entire day at the laundromat and wash the entire. Motherfucking. Thing.

“This laundry problem does not define me!” I told myself. “This is not who I am– a laundry failure! I am adult with money and a car, I can handle this!” I even called this annoying person named Nicole, of Nicole’s Laundry Connection, and tried to get a read on how much it would cost to have her wash it all instead. She wouldn’t give me any such estimate, but I sensed that it was a lot. (I cannot recommend Nicole whatsoever. She was just horrible on the phone.)

Heaped into the van it looked like this:


I drove over to the huge mega laundromat in the valley and still held out a shred of hope that I could pay someone else to do it. However, once there I spoke with this kindly huge squishy woman with orange foundation, who said that it was $13 each (!!!) for a twin mattress pad (I think I had four) and a standard load of ordinary laundry was, by the pound, around $10. I got the sense that it was looking at like $500 or something and decided not to veer from my quest.

It filled I believe eight jumbo washers at the laundromat, which I think hold 2-3 normal loads each. Math not being my strong suit, I can only say that my estimates of “ten loads behind” were well shy of the mark. Indeed the orange-jowled laundromat lady began to express concern, trepidation, and outright fear that I would bring in another load. Out of shame I actually left the last one unwashed in the car, because I just couldn’t face her with it. Amazingly, getting as far as all the loads in situ and washing took pretty much all day, and I had to rush off and get the kids from school, barely making it in time.

Then I had to deal with the children’s shrill whines and complaints about the project, and ply them with candy, and remind them sternly that it was my birthday, in order to get some semblance of cooperation. Elias agreed to return to ground zero with me and possibly even help. I got another $20 in quarters and let him gorge at the vending machine, which was good because once the folding began it really turned into hell on wheels. I thought the work of getting it there would be the lion’s share of the project, but in fact the two hours of solid, unrelenting folding was really where it began to suck.

Even stoked with sugar, his resolve began to fade steeply around mile twelve of the marathon.


You see that folded stuff all along length of the counter. Yeah, that’s all ours.

I loaded everything up in reverse, calling Ben on his way home for back up for the last bit. And got it all home. Two days later I put it all away.

…. And it’s now beginning to reconvene on the basement floor, like a gathering hostile army.

Also we had an amazing series of mishaps– a tree branch fell on our car, although did not crush it, then a similar tree branch fell on our patio furniture, crushing some of it; the dog ate two pairs of prescription glasses; my front tooth broke; and the bathroom tiles fell in.

In a totally unrelated bit of news, I’ve been told now by three mental health professionals that I am suffering from Big-D Clinical Depression. Somehow I think that if I had a Hungarian laundress named Anna, who would beribbon my princess slips and also make strudel in her free time (see the old Joy of Cooking strudel recipe, this Anna is something of a family joke), and also maybe a gardener named Sergei with a white mustache who would keep the flower beds tidy all the time as well as telling the children charming stories from the old country and teaching them to whittle, as well as a maid named Polly who would be sort of grandmotherly and make me chicken soup and keep the floors scrubbed and lay out my casual attire for the day, or barring all that, if I were to spend a week or two in a hammock in the Bahamas, I think my depression would probably be cured.

But then again, maybe not. Blood tests reveal that my thyroid is essentially eating itself, and try as we do to prop it up with drugs, it is not really working. Also, I have no career, my kids are growing up, and I have failed my talent, totally not lived up to my potential such as it was. Also the other day Ben brought up this old box from the closet and one look at it just turned my stomach: I’ve been trying to write the same fucking book for 25 years.

In a wild gesture of optimism I applied to the Millay Colony, hoping that there I would get a month of sleep and — key– writing time and get some traction on a project (any project!) and feel sort of like myself again. I guess that at some point POTS pinned me to the bed one day too long and I lost track of the line between chronic fatigue and true depression. I calculate my chances of getting in at 6-7%, but I am somewhat proud of myself for pulling myself together enough to find 20 somewhat decent pages and write an artist’s statement and get the fucking thing sent off by the deadline.

I had to do that too, in the midst of a family crisis because Isaac was in the hospital at that key moment with a heart ailment. This began at the end of September, the day after our puppy was in the emergency room with aspiration pneumonia. She’s the new addition to our family, Painted Trails Lady Violet Rose, named after the Dowager Countess of Grantham, and after the fact that the day she was born, April 26, our yard was purple with violets, and so it will be each year on her birthday.

She looked like this after her first grooming.


Seriously, this is the cutest puppy ever.

She’s a pure breed standard poodle with a lovely pedigree. Also she has a tuxedo marking on her chest, a little white soul patch, and may eventually fade to blue.

She looked like this en route from her night in the ER to her day in the care of the normal vet.


She has her IV port and nasal oxygen tube still in place.

Anyway, I had just transported her home from the vet with a sheaf of discharge instructions when Ben called me to say that there had been a serious incident and Isaac was in the ER. I took the Lord’s name in vain, which Elias apparently heard over the phone, because when I came into the ER room and saw Isaac there, I said, “Jesus Christ!” And both the kids laughed and said, “She did it AGAIN!!!”

This is how Isaac looked at the time.

IV and oxygen!

IV and oxygen!


He had been swimming and, long story short, his heart went up to 230 bpm, and ultimately they had to give him an IV drug to stop it– meaning, stop his heart. It was SVT– supraventricular tachycardia. This went into what turned out to be a full month of in and out of the hospital. Lots of painful pokes and IVs and scary alien-abduction experiences for him and ulcer-inducing stress for Ben and me and Elias. We all bore up fairly well during the ordeal, and Isaac had a procedure to repair the malfunctioning doo-dad in his heart. But the aftermath included some emotional breakdowns for each of us in turn, as might be expected. This process sucked up the whole month of October.

Isaac is well now, but I think I’m still in the midst of my emotional breakdown, a slow unrelenting descent. It doesn’t feel much like sadness, as you might expect. It feels more like tar, quick sand, wet cement, or something like that. I have People tending to it, on the case, trying to get me out of it. I have a therapist, who referred me to another therapist, and to a psychiatrist who is trying to figure out my meds. I’m supposed to go get a blood draw even as we speak.

I would eat kale, but eating has lost its luster. I go to the grocery store and stand there, unsure of my next move. I used to be all about cooking and now I have little idea what, how or why one would do that. At times I feel that without chocolate I would definitely not live to see another day. Other times, everything tastes like cardboard and the growling in my stomach is truly a burden. Some days it feels like a huge accomplishment that I managed to get the kids to school and also (!!) put clothes on myself!!! Can the bar really go any lower?

Puppy fetch sometimes cheers me up a bit. She’s very fuzzy and her ears fly in the breeze and her exuberance is infectious. We got a kitten too. He’s Pouncer, and he belongs to Elias, although we all love him. (Except Ben, who’s not keen on our furry friends.)

In closing, a cute picture we can all enjoy, a boy and his birthday kitten.



Also, we can remember that one day, probably thirty years ago, I looked and felt like this:

Maybe I can be like that again, at least emotionally.

Maybe I can be like that again, at least emotionally.



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9 Responses to Why Doing 20 Loads of Laundry on my Birthday is not Depressing and other tales of Clinical Depression

  1. Joanna Oltman Smith says:

    Dear Catherine,
    You are doing everything right. Taking care of what you can, being kind to yourself about what you can’t. You will get into Millay, and you will once again enjoy eating kale.
    Thinking of you,

  2. Sarah Paulett says:

    Catherine, I can relate to almost all of this. I am told that there will come a day when we will miss even the hardest of times. I hope that these are the hardest of times because sometimes life is incredibly difficult. The picture at the bottom made me cry because as much as she still resembles you, she is young, naive, and excited for life. I, too, was like that. I, too, squandered any talent that I had. But if you can see the same zeal for life in the faces of your children, with sparkling eyes and bountiful imaginations, then I would say you are very successful. Also, I love how you named your dog – beautiful!

  3. Holly Jensen says:

    Hi sweetheart. Although you may not feel it right now, your talent with the written word is still there. I laughed out loud at your imaginary staff, and wished I had even one iota of your skill at conveying what it’s like to feel the way you do. This too shall pass. Hang tough!


  4. Uncle John says:

    Catherine, as you say, you have drifted across the line between exhaustion and depression. But I believe you can and will drift back the other way. Congratulations on getting the Millay application in. You deserve that and more. E-mail to follow. Love, John

  5. Sarah Paulett-Samadi says:

    And I agree that your talent is very alive in this blog. I think you have plenty of material.

  6. Kitty says:

    Catherine – you’ve got me crying with this one. I feel such empathy right now, as I too often feel overwhelmed by the most mundane of tasks and have no real attachment to what used to seem like my “career.” So, all I have is a heartfelt resonance crossing the Great Lakes to you. I eat raw kale almost every day right now. And I look forward to spring and violets and more sunshine. Love, love, love xo.

  7. Betty Ponder says:

    Oh my god. I remember well. I don’t think I would have survived if I hadn’t been lucking enough to have an interesting job. A perfect escape and to hell with the housework. I know its hard to imagine but there are a lot of years yet to go (think twenty or thirty) and its obvious that your talent hasn’t deserted you. Write ,write and more writing.Your potential is still alive and thriving. Go for it.

  8. Carol says:

    So glad to see you’re writing again. You’re a wonderful writer! Hope your audience grows and grows.

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