Rooming with Friends is Anxiety-Inducing

Photo by Allen Taylor on Unsplash

I don’t live with friends well. If it’s a significant other, it’s fine. But living with friends in a purely roommate situation has never gone well for me.

When my husband left me, I was terrified of living on my own. I’d lived in a two-income household for decades and knew I couldn’t afford to support myself on my own. A good friend offered for me and the kids to move in with her. I thought it was the perfect situation – she had two spare rooms, the house was close to my parents, and she and I had always gotten along famously. She was also going through a split-up, so we could support one another during this time. Best of all, my portion of rent and utilities was very affordable.

It started off great – she let me pick the paint color for my bedroom. She helped me move in. I wasn’t allowed to bring my cat because she already had two cats and didn’t want to cause problems with them, and I conceded to this. I didn’t like it, but I understood.

The weeks I didn’t have my kids, it was great.

The weeks I did have my kids, it was considerably less great.

She didn’t have kids and is notorious for being near-obsessive when it comes to cleanliness. I made a point to keep the kids’ messes contained to their bedroom. I’ve never stayed so on top of dishes as I did when I lived with her. I made sure to clean up after me and the kids when we ate and I frequently reminded the kids to pick up their messes. I became pretty obsessive about it because I was so worried about keeping my roommate happy. I knew I was in her space and she was doing me a tremendous favor by letting us stay there.

One day the kids had Pop Tarts in the morning before we left for school. I received a text from my roommate containing a picture of crumbs they’d left on and around the kitchen table.

Instant anxiety.

I immediately felt horrible that in my hurry to get the kids to school on time, I’d forgotten to check for crumbs. I felt shame that I’d left a mess, when she’d taken us into her home. Then I felt anger that rather than just cleaning up the crumbs and maybe commenting on it later, she felt the need to send a picture. Who does that?! I felt like a dog getting my nose rubbed in pee.

Then there were times the kids were playing – nothing crazy, they’re typically pretty well behaved kids, but their volume had gotten up a bit. My roommate would get quite snippy about it. I’d end up having to take the kids outside so as to try not to disturb her.

It got to where I was afraid to have people over because I didn’t want to bother her. When the kids where there I was constantly staying on them to clean up after themselves and to be quiet. I felt like I was walking on egg shells at all times.

This situation was not doing good things for my anxiety.

Then came the fleas.

Remember, I did not have a pet there. But, her cats got fleas. There has since been debate on where the fleas came from. I was under the assumption that my ex’s dogs had fleas and the kids brought them to my roommate’s house on their clothes. My ex says that’s not the case, he got the fleas from us, but we didn’t have animals that went outside. Regardless, there were fleas. My obsessively clean roommate did not handle this well.

For the few months I was there while we had fleas, we treated the floors, cats, and furniture constantly. Floors were to be vacuumed daily and sprinkled with Borax often. The cats were frequently bathed with Dawn dish soap. She shaved the long-haired cat. I offered to hire an exterminator, but she refused my offer multiple times.

My depression had been at an all-time high since my husband left me. My anxiety had been at an all-time high since moving in with her. I had zero spoons most days, and all I wanted to do every day was lie on my bed and sleep. I did not have the energy for all this cleaning. But I did what I could. I consistently got the impression from my roommate that this was not enough.

I ended up staying at my parents’ house on the weeks I had the kids so we wouldn’t risk bringing in more fleas from my ex’s house, just to be safe. (Bear in mind, my mother’s house never got fleas, and the kids and I were there often.) Staying at my mother’s house the weeks I had the kids turned into staying at my mother’s house those weeks and staying at my boyfriend’s house the other weeks, because I couldn’t stand being at my roommate’s house anymore. When my roommate was home, she was cleaning and treating fleas, and I was expected to do the same, and I just didn’t have the mental capacity to deal with that level of cleaning at that time.

This made her angry. When I was there, she would barely look at me. She would text me letting me know when she expected me to be there to help her clean. I got to where I was afraid of going to her house. I couldn’t bear the thought of her looking at me like I was the reason for all of this trouble. And you know, maybe she wasn’t actually looking at me that way, but Anxiety is really good at convincing you of stuff like that, and I knew she wasn’t happy with me.

In the end, I decided to find my own place and get out of her hair. I found the cheapest place I could, and finances are incredibly tight in spite of that, but at least I’m no longer tip-toeing around the place I live, afraid of offending someone with my children and our messes. I let her know I found a place and apologized for being a bad roommate.

I haven’t heard from her since.

Looking back, I know I should have sat her down and talked to her about my anxieties around living with her. I’m sure she would have been understanding. But, part of my anxiety is convincing myself that I’m too much trouble and everyone is better off without me. I was afraid if I talked to her, she would confirm that I am, in fact, a bad roommate, and she did want me to go. So rather than facing that possibility, I left.

It’s been seven months, and I love living on my own. Financially, it’s been really hard, but I love that it’s my space. Sometimes I slack off on the cleaning when my spoons are low, and that’s okay. I get it done when I can, and I’m responsible enough to never let it get too bad. Messes wreak havoc with my anxiety as well, just not obsessively so – just enough to never let it get out of control.

This isn’t the first time my anxiety has caused me to let a friendship slip away. It probably won’t be the last. I live with it, and I hope for the best.


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