I’d just spent the day recording my new audiobook. I’d been reading aloud for eight hours after spending literally months inside only speaking to my family. I had a headache, and my throat hurt — but the moment I came home, Mel asked me to move some window curtains because she had, once again, moved the kids’ rooms.
We got into a pretty big argument.
She said moving the curtains wasn’t that big of an ask, and yes, she was right. But this was on the tail end of what seemed like an endless assortment of rearranging the house, and all of it was making me a nervous wreck.
Like so many people, my anxiety has been at an 11 since March. I’ve been nervous about everything from losing my job to trying to figure out how to manage my obligations from home while also educating my children. I’ve been nervous about family members while also struggling with the realities of staying indoors constantly, something that I almost never do. I have worried about racial riots and inequality and unrest. It feels like the world, my life, everything is upside down and the one thing that I want to stay the same, consistent, and unchanging is the home I live in. As it turns out, this is the exact opposite of how my wife feels.
It began by moving our daughters from two different rooms to the same room. Then we moved my son into one of the other rooms. We moved the office from the large upstairs closet to my daughter’s old room. I know this sounds like we have a lot of rooms, but we don’t. We have four, and the only bedroom that hasn’t seen at least one shift is the master bedroom, and I feel confident that the only reason that didn’t change was because Mel knew I wouldn’t stand for it.
Like a lot of people, we’ve saved money because neither of us are commuting anymore, and thus, Mel decided now was a good time to finally get rid of that nasty old downstairs carpet that came with the house. I’ve been pulling out padding and tack boards.
Mel is also struggling with the same uncertainty and stressors — and as a means to feel like she has some control over the situation, she moves furniture. She tears out flooring and moves beds around. She moves pictures from one room to another. She rearranges the pantry and the cupboards and the laundry room. She moves the living room so the TV is now on the west wall instead of the east.
In the past, she’d rearrange a room or two each year, but now, it’s become a constant. I can’t find things, and it feels like I’m living in a stranger’s home. Our downstairs is stripped to floorboards. Each afternoon Mel enlists me to help her push furniture around the house, and as much as it gives her a much needed sense of calm, it drives me nuts. This is one source of tension in the middle of a pandemic that I never saw coming.
I have seen so many people post online about how the stress of 2020 has come out in strange ways. Some people are baking up a storm while others are hoarding toilet paper. Some people are going on very long drives, or taking up gardening, or training for a marathon that was already canceled but they plan to run it anyway, because they need a goal to take their mind off the madness.
But what I don’t see posted online is when one spouse’s stress releasing activity is in direct contrast with the other’s anxiety disorder, and, well… that’s the hell I’m living in right now.
I have always seen us as good communicators, but in this particular situation, our communication was really lacking. I knew moving things around was something Mel needed to feel in control, so I just went along with it, never telling her how I felt.
But during that argument over the curtains, it finally came out. We both ended up moving them, together, each of us frustrated. It was then, as she held one side and I screwed in the other, that I told her about how all this movement was making me feel. And I think communication, especially right now, is of utmost importance.
“I just can’t,” I said. “I know moving things helps you feel in control, but I need things to feel settled.”
She thought about what I said and told me she didn’t realize that I was feeling this way.
“Once the flooring is done, I’ll stop moving things for a while,” she said. I thanked her, hoping she truly meant it.
Then we kissed, and went into the other room to finish the curtain rods.