Health And Wellness

How Organizing My Socks Helped Me Fight Bipolar Depression

Photo: Yevhen Prozhyrko / Shutterstock

I stood in the entrance of my closet with a basket of socks and fought the tightness in my chest. Like my life, my closet was an overwhelming mess. Clean and dirty clothes were scattered everywhere, shirts dangled off hangers, and unfolded clothes were shoved into my overflowing drawers.

As I stood there, clenching the basket and fighting the urge to drop it on the ground and walk away, I realized my closet was a reflection of how I felt about my life: out of control.

A year earlier, I had discovered my husband’s long-time affair and while we had committed to fixing our marriage, bipolar depression had settled into my bones, and my body physically ached as much as my brain.

A persistent, emotionless grayness hung over me, and I struggled to feel anything — joy, sadness, hope, fear — anything emotion would have been a welcome reprieve from the emptiness that showed no sign of ending.

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My psychiatrist had asked me to focus on completing one small task a day no matter how insignificant it seemed. So here I stood, holding a basket of socks my husband, James, had washed. All I had to do was match them and put them in my drawer.

But just staying alive took all my energy, and I had none left for small tasks. I set the basket on the floor and walked away.

I tried not to think about the unfolded basket of socks, but every day as I shuffled from my bed to the bathroom, I passed my closet. It sat there, taunting me, and reminding me of the lies I believed about myself: I was lazy. I was unworthy. I deserved everything that had happened to me.

Life would be better if I wasn’t in it.

I despised how my once organized and structured life had become a spiraling mess of uncertainty, and my chaotic closet was a blaring reminder that I couldn’t manage even the most insignificant things — which worried me.

If I couldn’t handle putting away socks, how was I supposed to take care of three boys under the age of eleven?

I couldn’t, and it caused more cracks in my already fissured heart.

“Bee?" James asked from the foot of our bed a few weeks later. “Can you help with this?”

He set the basket of socks on the bed. Since I’d fallen apart, he always approached me like I was a fragile, unpredictable animal and never moved too quickly or asked too much.

“I don’t know,” I mumbled as I nuzzled deeper under the duvet.

“Can you try?” James pushed the basket closer to me. “You can do this. Just start with one pair.”

The duvet covering me slipped to my waist when I pushed myself up to sit.

The jumbled mess of socks had no beginning or end, and my depression-riddled brain could make no sense of it.

That’s the cruelty of depression when it grips me: I lose my ability to concentrate.

Writing becomes impossible as does reading or even watching TV, and I spend hours staring blankly, yelling at myself internally to JUST DO SOMETHING while crying because I don’t know how to JUST DO SOMETHING even though I very much want to.

At that moment, when my brain wasn’t firing normally, this little thing felt mountainous, and I didn’t know how to climb the mountain when depression obscured the basecamp.

I stared at the basket with anger and hopelessness, and tears formed in my eyes.

“Why am I such a loser?” I sobbed. “Why does this feel so hard?”

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James folded me into his arms and rubbed my back. “Do you want to try later?”

I wanted to try never.

I wanted the basket to vanish and for it to stop tormenting me.

However, at that moment, I understood what I needed was to find a basecamp so I could scale the mountain. That meant folding the socks instead of letting them sit in a basket or shoving them unfolded into my drawer. If I could find a starting place, I could start the climb upward.

I just needed to start.

“Do you need help?” James asked when he released me.

“No.” I dabbed my eyes and studied the basket. “I can do some.” I tentatively plunged my hand into the mess of socks, pulled out a few, and dropped them on my lap. “I can do this.”

I selected a white sock with a teal stripe around the ankle, shifted through the pile, found the match, and dropped the pair next to me on the bed. 

One pair. Then two. Then four. 

Soon, I had tamed the jumble of socks into a neat, organized pile, and while I didn’t feel cured, I had a sense of accomplishment.

Feeling more confident in my abilities, I pushed the duvet off my lap, stood, and scooped the socks into my left arm.

Before I lost my nerve, I walked to my closet and stepped over the landmines of clothes and hangers to my sock drawer. When I pulled it open, disarray of underwear and tights met me.

The familiar tightness in my chest squeezed my lungs, and the shouting voice in my head said, “You’re a failure and folding socks is stupid. Just walk away.” It screamed, “Why bother? It’ll just get messy again.”

“Maybe it will,” I said out loud. “But I folded these damn socks and I’m putting them away.”

I dumped the drawer’s contents on the ground before sliding it back into place.

Next, I neatly laid the matched socks inside. When I was done, I sat on the ground and folded my underwear and tights, and placed them inside the drawer in neat rows.

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I had found my first foothold on the mountain.

My depression didn’t instantly disappear but organizing my socks and reclaiming one drawer showed me I could fight it.

Over the next year, I did slide backward at times during my recovery. The difference this time was that I trusted I could keep climbing up the mountain and I would one day be where I am now: the sunlit summit.  

Mia’s memoir Always Yours, Bee, about her husband’s accident and her subsequent spiral into mental illness, was selected by BookBub as one of “15 Powerful Memoirs to Read in 2021.” She is also the author of the women’s fiction series, The Waterford Novels.