*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events I experienced firsthand; used with permission.
There was a period of time in my life when I was addicted to cleaning the house after midnight. After working sixteen-hour days and filling up on greasy McDonald's food and caffeine-laden, sugar-laden Coca-Cola on the way home, I was too wired to sleep. So I cleaned.
I got married at the age of nineteen. In addition to the stress of being married so young, I was under a lot of stress from working two jobs to make ends meet. My husband worked the third shift, so staying awake and cleaning an empty house felt oddly natural.
Sometimes, I vacuumed. Sometimes I dusted. Other times I scrubbed the floors or polished the furniture. It didn't matter what needed to be done, as long as it involved cleaning. And I did it all with a single-minded focus and determination.
Looking back, I can see that this period of my life was a response to the stress of my job. I worked in a high-pressure/low-reward environment where there was always something that needed to be done. My bosses were demanding disciplinarians who expected perfection. And if I didn't meet their expectations, there were consequences.
So, instead of relaxing or enjoying my free time, I would find myself compulsively cleaning the house after midnight. It was like I couldn't turn off my brain. The only way to get some relief from the constant pressure was to immerse myself in physical activity—in this case, cleaning.
Cleaning the house after midnight became my addiction because it gave me a sense of control over my environment. When everything was clean and in its place, I felt like I could finally take a deep breath and relax. Even if it was just for a few moments, the act of cleaning allowed me to forget about work and the never-ending To Do list that awaited me the next day.
Here's the funny thing. Despite all my late-night cleaning, the house was never really clean. It was more like busy work than efficient and effective cleaning. In the end, it was a waste of time that could have been better utilized for sleeping or resting after such long days at work.
Eventually, even cleaning wasn't enough to help me cope with the stress of my work and marriage. The anxiety and pressure continued to build until I reached a point where I couldn't take it anymore.
If you find yourself compulsively cleaning the house after midnight, it might be a sign that you're struggling to cope with stress or anxiety in your life. In my case, it was due to work and relationship stressors that were beyond my control, but it doesn't have to be cleaning, either. If you can't turn off the television or put down your phone when you should be sleeping, you're probably experiencing the same overwhelming stress I was. You're just dealing with it in a different way.
What do you think? Would you exchange your precious hours of sleep for hours of scrubbing floors instead? Comments are welcome.
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