“Home is, I suppose, just a child’s idea. A house at night, and a lamp in the house. A place to feel safe.” — V.S. Naipaul
“How do you stay sane, Leslie?” My aunt had called to check on me, as she often does, on what would have been my mother’s June birthday, and I was regaling her with tales from the tightrope I’d been walking between both my water-damaged homes.
The answer was simple: “I don’t have a choice,” I told her, chatting in my parents’ family room, which I was finally able to use again, nearly five months after coming home from New Orleans, on what would have been my father’s January birthday, to find the pipes had burst. Looking up at the cathedral ceiling I’d had raised, starkly white against the dark green paint I’d chosen for the walls, I was glad the remodelling was almost over.
Five months is a long time to have strangers in your home. It’s a long time to live with construction noises and without your regular routine. It’s a long time to be unable to walk barefoot or eat at a table in your own house. It’s a long time for you home to be the center of your stress instead of your retreat from it.
But you don’t have a choice. Your routine, your life, has to change. You have to adapt. And you have to find ways to stay sane. Because losing your mind isn’t going to get the house remodelled.
Here’s how I did it:
Exercise. I need to work out; I skip two days, and I feel my mind’s agitation nibbling on my skin. So every morning when the New England weather cooperated, I’d jog a quick three miles in the restorative fresh air of our well-maintained neighborhood. When the weather didn’t cooperate, I used my favorite work-out DVDs, in whichever room happened to have clear space at the moment. Then I’d shower and dress before the work crew arrived.
Eat right. Once dressed, I’d poach two or three eggs, plate them atop half a piece of naan, and drizzle it with my go-to olive oil to eat a hearty breakfast at the white kitchen peninsula before the guys came. While they were working, I’d keep to a light lunch like a piece of fruit. After they left, I’d make dinner, usually chicken or fish. For fun and variety and a feeling of creative satisfaction, I’d try out new vegetable recipes.
Work. I’m lucky that I can work at home. I’d spend most days upstairs in the office, available to answer questions, fetch supplies, and make decisions, handling the household tasks and squeezing in as much writing as I could.
Take care of your skin. Stress is the enemy. My skin still hasn’t returned to its quality from before the flood. It’s painful to look in the mirror and see a familiar stranger with hollowed-out eyes set back in pasty skin. So I’ve re-established the zero-tolerance policy I didn’t follow during the crisis: No collapsing into bed without eye cream and moisturizer; no saving seconds by going outside without eye gel and sunscreen. I’m still experimenting to find the best products, but one must-have is Clarins eye contour gel. And it is encouraging to see my own face slowly coming back.
Take time alone. I savored my free and quiet evenings. After dinner at the peninsula, I’d typically read for a while, then watch an episode of Downton Abbey, escaping for an hour into a whole home. Saturdays I’d take care of errands. Sundays I’d read the day away; I felt like my parched soul was being watered.
Enjoy the progress, if not the process. It was a happy day when the hardwood was finished and I could walk barefoot again. It was even happier when the tan tile was in the kitchen and mud room. I have always loved the cold sturdy feel of stone tile under my feet. It felt like both my house and I were getting stronger. And it felt like my soul was awakening when I could play the piano again. I enjoyed seeing all the new paint colors coat the new walls. Even hanging the new white pendant light in the eating area made the kitchen feel more vibrant. At the same time, I loved watching the trees fill in, the flowers bloom, and the bunnies hop across the lawn, as winter gave way to spring.
Get away. I took a few weekend stay-cations within driving distance. Not only was it a relief to get away from the construction zone that was my house, but it was also my way of saying good-bye to New England, as my home since high school goes on the market.
How do you stay sane? You create a balanced routine that provides structure but allows flexibility. You take care of your own needs. And you suck out every lurking taste of pleasure.