I’ve Got a Garbage Brain, It’s Driving Me Insane by Jamie L. Rotante

Jamie L. Rotante illo. by Laura Collins

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism, and Other Fun Stuff

The one thing I’m constantly trying to cultivate in my life is a serene space, whether it be a working/writing space, a calm area to sit and read, or meditative zone (psh, yeah right). I’m in an ever-fluctuating state of trying to de-clutter my life in order to move forward.

Anxiety thrives in absolute fucking filth.

I share a small, one-bedroom apartment with my husband. We have no pets and no kids, but you’d be surprised at how much garbage piles up between two people—especially two people with anxiety. It’s not that we’re a bunch of pigs; we both have our flaws. He doesn’t mind clutter as much. Clutter drives me nuts, but I’m not an obsessive clean freak. I almost wish I were. Instead, I have sporadic bouts of needing everything to be absolutely spotless, usually right after I’ve let things get messy. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as just picking up a broom and sweeping away all my problems. When I’m exhausted and life just bears me down, the thought of cleaning throws itself on top of my problems, like another piece of clothing or paper that lands on top of the pile.

Which then, of course, adds to literal things being thrown on top of literal piles.

There’s a relief to having a spotless (well, near spotless) apartment. Things seem calm; it doesn’t feel as though a hurricane has ravaged my space, leaving behind a wake of devastation that surrounds me daily.

Jamie L. Rotante
Keeping it pristine is the challenge because it’s so easy to come home and toss my bag on the floor, my mail on the kitchen table, and shove plastic bags in a drawer or anywhere, really, with the thought of recycling them at a later date. The moment I start letting myself get messy is the moment I continue creating a mess. Why pick up one or two things when I can just add to it and do a full, deep clean when the time is right?

My bed won’t be made until it requires total undoing—all the sheets, blankets, and stuffed animals (of which there are many) are strewn across the bed and the floor, the pillows twisted into unnatural shapes that can’t be molded back into normal pillows. The dishes won’t be washed until they’re stacked dangerously high and there are no longer any utensils to use. Clean clothes won’t be put away until it’s time to do the laundry again.

The clutter doesn’t end in the physical world; it’s even digital clutter. I let emails pile up beyond the point of being manageable to go through and check in a quick read-through. I try to mass delete but end up keeping emails marked as unread that I think will be interesting, but will never actually read. I despise app notifications but don’t have the energy to do what I need to do to remove them. Messages come in from friends and acquaintances that I wait too long to answer and instead just let sit and fester, while my brain tells me constantly how badly I’m treating the people I’m not responding to. My phone’s photo gallery is in the thousands and I have more game apps than I know what to do with—mainly to play when I’m procrastinating cleaning or getting any of my other work done.

And, then of course, there’s the underlying cause of it all: the thoughts that clutter my brain. The constantly intruding notions that I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, and gosh darn it people might not like me. The moments where I feel as if I’ll never quite find my place, wherever that may be, and how nothing but failure and upsets are in my future. Then those thoughts are quickly covered up by thoughts about how sad it is that I so badly seek acceptance and the knowledge that people like me. Then those thoughts are covered by a general unease and distrust of many, questioning the various relationships and contacts in my life. And then those thoughts are covered with a general malaise and overall existential dread, causing me to sink further and further into my couch, while I curse myself at how uncomfortable I am because there’s just too much damn stuff on it to get comfy.

That’s the other problem. The garbage and the messes really do bother me and cause my anxiety to skyrocket. I take a look around at the mess that I’ve made and I panic—how did I let it get this bad? How can I expect to get anything done when I just want to purge everything in my sight and start from a fresh, clean slate? I try to start cleaning up little by little but I get overwhelmed. I can’t focus on cleaning one room without jumping to another, somehow creating more messes as I clean until I end up completely exhausted, surrounded by more piles of trash. I get angry at myself every time I tell people they can’t come over or crash at my place because I’m embarrassed by the state it’s in.

I should also mention that my apartment is never as messy as I make it seem. I’m not at hoarder-level status. It’s not covered in dirt and grime. There’s no rotting food left out or disgusting mold tucked away in the creases. There are no vermin or critters anywhere to be found (thankfully). There is dust and the occasional crumbs, but a quick vacuum job takes care of that. Nothing is ever as bad as it seems, but it is in my head.

As I write this, I survey the room around me (one that I cleaned very recently) and I start to twitch at every mug not placed in the sink, every piece of clothing that’s found its way onto a chair or the floor instead of in the laundry or drawers where it belongs. All it takes is getting up and putting those things in their proper places, fixing the small stuff first before getting consumed by the large. Maybe I’ll do that once I finish this. Maybe then I’ll respond to some of my messages, delete some of my emails, enjoy a few moments of calm before closing my eyes to rest. Maybe I’ll wake up not consumed by negativity, pushed further by the clutter that surrounds me.

But I might just skip right ahead to that sleep part. I’ll worry about the mess tomorrow.