The hoarders

I went to several hoarding houses. It was always a struggle to get to the front door. I had to touch iffy things so I wouldn’t fall as I squeezed through tight passages of old toys, garbage, and practically a timeline of their whole life. I often felt like I violated them in some way. They were showing me parts of themselves I would never want a stranger to see.

What always struck me was the smell even with my mask on of rot and decay. The yard a graveyard of old cars filled with you guessed it, more junk. One place had chicken bones in front of the door the second time I visited. It creeped me out like they were doing some sort of voodoo hex to get rid of me.

As I was leaving one of the houses a woman came home. I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed like I got caught snooping inside of her house. She told me she was remodeling her kitchen. Uh huh, yeah right.

The worst of the hoarding was located underneath a huge tree which had a bug infestation of some sort. The bugs crawled on me some odd mix of a gnat and flea. The woman said the DNR had been out because of the bugs and it was caused by something other than her remodeling.

I felt dirty there. The bugs made me feel creepy and crawly. I wanted to wash my clothes and jump in the shower but again I had more stops to make. Why would anyone want to live that way?

The hoarding caused great sadness in me. My parents are what I consider to be hoarders. They mainly collect paper item clutter such as long paid bills and receipts that they keep in stacks on the floors, counters, tables, and couches. They kept phone books from the 70’s from a different city.

My mom is a big collector of food. Although there are two people living in her house she shops for 10. She has multiple refrigerators and freezers full of rotting food. It causes my mother great emotional distress to get rid of things. It causes us distress that she keeps things.

At times I have to fight off an OCD tendency for cleanliness. For example, last week I washed my windows. While I saw all the imperfections, smudges, and dirt I left behind multiple birds kept flying into the windows. Maybe I have been filled so much with dirt that nothing will ever be clean enough for me. Maybe my perception is off too. Sometimes I have to tell myself that my best is good enough and I have to let the rest go.

My mom is embarrassed to have people over. People feel uncomfortable in a hoarding house especially if they are not used to it. My brother’s sister-in-law stayed there once and said it was so disgusting she was never going back.

My dad rarely showers. You have to be careful where you sit. You have to be careful what to eat. It’s best just not to go there. I mourn that. I want it to be warm, happy, and cozy like Christmas morning but we never celebrate there.

I remember what it was like living there. When the old power lines were taken down in our neighborhood, we went with our mom to collect probably a hundred of the insulators. We had to collect items like the tabs off of soda cans. We never got rid of broken items or outdated technology. My mom still has clothes in her closet from the 1980’s. I could keep going…

They never said no to anything. At one time my parents even accepted a huge unusable old rusty satellite dish. There are rooms in their house that are unusable too. Thankfully they were not much for outdoor displays of hoarding. If a shed is full, it’s time to build another shed.

It’s really hard to understand how hoarding can be satisfying especially for items viewed as junk. Hoarding suffocates me in feelings of despair. Going home is not pleasant. I wish it was. I could write for hours what it feels like to be a clean freak daughter of hoarders…

But as a census worker this was an uncomfortable situation I was already prepared for.

PMSing during the full moon

Yeah, if the title doesn’t say it all…it’s been a rough week.

It all started earlier this week. My daughter Arabella and our foreign exchange student Estelle got into their first huge fight. I could tell they were angry, but my daughter wouldn’t say anything and Estelle simply muttered that my daughter has issues as she stomped off to her room to go to bed.

The next morning they didn’t talk to each other, but spewed their hatred towards each other onto me. What is going on?

Later that morning Estelle texted me, we need to talk. My stomach dropped. The worst case scenarios painted their way through my head. Bang, triggered! Maybe my daughter smacked her one. My daughter just applied to be a foreign exchange student at Estelle’s house. Maybe they no longer wanted her there. Maybe Estelle no longer wanted to be with us. How was I ever going to fix this?

The negative energy was so intense like a couple warring black cats hissing and sending their razor sharp claws down the chalkboard while howling at the moon.

My anxiety went through the roof. I just wanted my depression to come back. Please stop.

The insomnia and nightmares are back. I awake at every little noise. When I do sleep, I wake up crying from the nightmares. I feel like a super caffeinated zombie. Anxiety on steroids. Tired, but on high alert. Restless. Fidgety. Exhausted.

The ringing of my phone startles me. I turn my ringer off. I’m afraid that someone is at the door, but no one is there. My skin crawls. I feel like I am being watched, but no one is there. Sometimes I turn around fast just to make sure. My back is better against the wall where I can see the whole room in case of an attack.

I startle as my husband placed his hand in consolation on my back. I jump not sure whether to fight or scream. Don’t touch me. Is there danger? Is there someone there who shouldn’t be? I know it is not rational, but I can’t stop feeling anxious.

I have to take my mind off of things. Is that picture crooked on the wall? No, a half an inch too high on the left. Is it centered properly? Is that a fingerprint on the glass? Is that dust? Is that dirt?

Estelle comes home and wants to spend the evening at her friend’s house on a school night. She doesn’t want to be here anymore. Maybe she will leave us? The girls still fight. They hate each other. Maybe it was a bad idea to take two extra teenagers into our house.

The next morning I miss a call from the school. Oh my, maybe the girls fought it out in their one class together. Culinary arts. Pots and pans hitting each other over the head. A knife fight, perhaps? Suspended. Expelled. Sent home. I feel like I am going to throw up.

Nope. Estelle comes home, bad cramps.

I told the girls separately they need to work through the issues they were having together. Then I left to run errands. When I came back, the girls were laughing and hugging each other. Sisters. The love and the hate. Fighting over friends. One blocking the other on their socials. No big deal but fighting like it was the end of the world.

But me, triggered, stressed out for days not even sure why. The minute my therapist saw me yesterday she knew I was not myself. She said if she didn’t think I had PTSD before she can certainly say I have it now. The conflict between the girls triggered me. In my house growing up, all of that negative intense energy meant someone was going to get hurt. It’s almost as if it triggered the fear response before the violence occurred and I got stuck there.

I felt a lot better after my appointment. I had a nice chat with the girls about PMS. Their fighting, their moodiness, their ability to fly from tears to laughter yet back again within a few seconds. Guys, sorry but hormones suck!

My mind goes haywire this time of month. I feel things more. EVERYTHING hurts. My skin itches. It is easier to be triggered. Everything comes out of my mouth in anger with what to me sounds like normal words. Anxiety. Irritation. Anger. Depression. PTSD. Oh my gosh, stay away!! Warning. I am totally crazy! This month so much worse than others.

PMS? The full moon? Fighting. Screeching. Scratching. Screaming. Howling. It’s a good thing my words don’t speak.

Hoarders and clean freaks

This past weekend my mom came over to help me weed. I didn’t ask for help, she just saw the need.

It got me to thinking about something that I couldn’t place which was bothering me. There was an in-congruence in my thought patterns. My mom is one of the hardest workers I know. Yet she has one of the messiest houses I’ve ever seen. How conflicting the thought was in my mind. I always thought that hoarders were lazy. But are they?

My parents are the biggest hoarders of magazines and papers. They still have a phone book from the 1970’s from a different city that they lived in out of state. They have stacks and stacks of papers that litter the living room floor and all available counter spaces.

My parents kept almost all of their clothing since they got married. Their closets are full of old clothes and jackets. It comes in handy for me when I am going to a costume party.

My mom hoards food. Her cupboards are stocked full of canned goods. All of her refrigerators and freezers (they have several) are full. The refrigerators always smell like rotten food. It is very important to check the dates on items before you eat them. The freshest foods are in the grocery bags that line the dining room floor.

Thankfully for me, my mom kept every school and personal journal documenting Matt’s life in great detail. It has been very helpful for me in writing my book. I don’t think that I could be writing as powerful and moving of a story without her help.

Their hoarding always suffocated me. It was hard to clean the house. The counters were so full of stuff that there was no place to move anything in order to clean it. Then you just put the items back on the cleaned areas. I always felt like I was emptying the ocean a tablespoon at a time. It stirred within me feelings of hopelessness.

My brothers and I are not hoarders. It bothers me when things are cluttered. It fills me with despair. The strange thing is that my parents feel the opposite way. It causes my mother emotional pain to get rid of things. My mom threw out my brother’s baby blanket when he was in his 30’s. She cried and lamented about it for days even though my brother didn’t want it. She tries to get rid of things but it is very upsetting to her.

Sometimes my mom will clean out the cupboards and closets. Instead of throwing things away, she gives them to me. Recently she gave me a bag of my dad’s old worn out socks. It is a little easier for her to give things away then to throw them away even though she must know that is what I will be doing with it.

It is hard for me to understand how my mom’s feeling are tied up in useless things.

It must be very hard for my mom to see her house in the shape that it’s in. She is embarrassed to have anyone over. I wish I could understand. Yet I am glad I do not.

I feel guilty for my mom’s help around my house when she needs it more than I do. It’s overwhelming to try to help her. I would just come in and start throwing things away and she couldn’t handle that. I know, I’ve tried. I feel like my hands are tied. But I know that my brothers and I are going to end up throwing most of the stuff away or getting rid of it someday.

I need to be careful in my own life so I don’t end up on the opposite spectrum. I have a tendency to be a clean freak. Dirt and clutter stresses me out. I want everything to be clean, neat, and organized. But I try not to let it control me.

I also have relatives that are clean freaks. We once went camping with my Aunt Jan. It stormed out and we ended up huddling in my aunt’s garage freezing because we were too dirty to be allowed into her house. I also have an uncle that would host parties and follow his guests around with a vacuum cleaner. I’ve also witnessed him on his hands and knees scrubbing the bathroom floor while guests were over.

I don’t think people at either extreme seem happy. I tolerate uncleanliness when guests are over. But it’s also kind of funny that I picked this topic to write about as I am freaking out about cleaning my house and weeding everything this week to have a perfect house for my son’s graduation party.

But since I grew up in a house of clutter and hoarding, I realize if people really care about me then they are willing to overlook some slight imperfections.

Journal 5, part 2

5/2/1991

I’m only going to eat one meal a day or else I will be sick. When I was younger this worked all of the time until I felt better..

It is true that sometimes the needs of the ‘normal’ kids get swept under the rug when there is a special needs child in the house.

I know now that I have been a lifelong sufferer of GERD. I didn’t know this as a child. All I knew was that I had stomachaches all of the time. When it was really bad sometimes eating made me feel sick. I felt like I had a fire in my chest. Eventually the acid crept into my throat, gave me frequent canker sores in my mouth, and wore down the enamel on my teeth as a child. My parents threatened to take me to the doctor if I didn’t eat, but they never did.

My brother Matt also has GERD which was made worse by his gagging from Tourette’s. He frequently threw up his breakfasts. There was a time that the valve completely closed between his stomach and intestines. He couldn’t keep down any food and had to have the valve surgically opened again. In the meantime, he dipped below 90 lbs and he almost died.

Whose needs were more important??

Not only did Matt suffer from GERD, he also has autism. He engaged in a lot of self-stimulating repetitive behaviors such as rocking and flapping his hands together. At one time he had to wear a helmet on his head because when he became agitated he would hit his head with his fist. He was hypersensitive to touch. He would scream when he had to have his teeth brushed. He had to be sedated to go to the dentist for cleanings. He would only tolerate having 1/4 of his teeth cleaned at a time and eventually his teeth rotted. He has difficulty communicating and understanding emotions.

He suffers from Tourette’s. He would gag when eating and constantly make sticky saliva sounds with his mouth. His body would twitch and he repeatedly blinked his eyes.

He suffers from schizophrenia. He hears voices that tell him to hurt little girls. Sometimes the voices terrified him. He had nightmares. He would talk to the voices and laugh at the evil things they would tell him to do.

He is intellectually impaired. He cannot read, write, or do simple math.

He has issues with anxiety.

Matt made anything that my brothers and I struggled with minor in comparison.

There was a 3 year period when Matt was not allowed to go to school because of his violence. After that time period, he had very limited exposure to the outside world up until he was placed on an anti-psychotic medicine that eliminated the voices and the violence towards self and others.

My mother did not want my brother institutionalized in a place for the violently mentally ill so she pulled him out of most situations where he could hurt others. That did not stop him from being violent towards me at home. He grabbed a knife and threatened to cut my eyes out. He punched, scratched, kicked, bit, and pulled my hair on a regular basis. Who protected me?? Who reported his violence against me? No one.

I want to say that I handled it like a trooper, but I did not.

I withdrew into myself. I became very depressed. Although childhood goes by fast, it seems to take forever when you are being abused. I wanted out. I cried myself to sleep at night. I woke up crying in the morning after being awoken by nightmares.

I held my body tight like I was always bracing for impact. I cowered like a dog that was beat too much. My shoulders were held tightly up to my ears. I suffered from insomnia. I fell asleep easily but was typically awake from 2 to 4 AM. In the middle of the night, I suffered from muscle pains. I had to wrap pillows and blankets around my legs. I think my muscles were finally trying to relax in the middle of the night and it hurt.

I suffered from anxiety and worry. I was angry. I developed structure, rituals, and routines to feel like I had some control over my environment. For awhile, I was a compulsive hand washer. I washed my hands so often that they cracked and bled.

With everything going on at home, I couldn’t concentrate at school. My grades were horrible. I was put on a high dose of ADD medicine. It helped me focus, but made my skin crawl. I scratched my skin until it bled, especially on my scalp. I scratched until I pulled out scabs with big clumps of hair.

I was exhausted most of the time.

I was a mess.

That was a long time ago.

I survived.

I am strong now.

I am healing.

I feel ready to fight my demons.

 

The incident at the public library

Once, for a very short time in my life, I was a compulsive hand washer. It started after a frightening incident in the library parking lot that happened when I was 13 with my grade school best friend, Jody.

I met Jody in kindergarten. When I was really young my parents had me stay with Jody for a week when they took my brother Matt to the hospital. At the time, Jody’s parents were going through a divorce. I remember sitting on the steps with Jody at age 6 listening to her parents fight. Things may have been thrown, I don’t recall for sure. Just a lot of noise, a lot of yelling. I had my grandparents pick me up before the week was through.

I don’t know why Jody’s mom didn’t like her dad anymore. He was a fun guy. He loved to laugh and would buy us soda at the bar. One night the roads were way too icy to take Jody and I to dance class, so we went to the bar instead. He told me not to tell my mom as she would probably worry. I also went up north with Jody, her dad, and his girlfriend for the weekend. He had to stop halfway there because he was tired and needed a drink at the bar. Lots of quarters for soda that night. I think we may have even put some songs in the jukebox. When Jody turned 10 she had her birthday party at you guessed it, the bar! Jody was a lot of fun too.

When my mom told me that I could bring a friend with me to the library that night, I chose Jody. Once a month, my mom attended a support group for mothers of the disabled at the library. Most of the time the meetings ended after the library closed which is what happened that night. It was a warm summer night, so we waited for my mom in the car. We were talking when 3 older boys showed up at the car on bikes. They saw us and tried to get in the car. We locked the doors, but it was hot. We had to roll the windows down a little as the heat was stifling. The boys tried to pry their fingers in through the crack in the windows. They banged on the glass. That kept trying the car handles over and over, rattling on them, trying to get in. They taunted us, put their penises against the glass, and held condoms against the windows. I found the incident very frightening. 

It was after this happened that I washed my hands over and over. I washed them until they were cracked and bleeding. For months I refused to touch the car handles that those boys touched to try to attack us. Everything they touched felt unclean to me. I wouldn’t touch those handles even if it meant that I had to sit in the middle of the back seat. So I washed and washed until the memory and terror of that night faded. At least I had control over something. 

 

 

The 1st (planned) overnight sail

Last year for my husband’s birthday, we planned our first overnight sail on our sailboat. Technically, it wasn’t our first overnight sail. But we won’t talk about that. If you want to read about everything that could go wrong without sinking the boat, feel free to read the accidental overnight sail post. It was pretty funny, but not at the time. 

As I mentioned briefly previously, I got my first ear cartilage piercing for my 40th birthday. I am a very ritualistic and rule oriented person, at times borderline OCD. My world consists of order, rules, rules, rituals, and more rules. My rules. My structure. I am an extreme person. That is just the way I am. So, I got my ear pierced for my birthday. It required cleaning 3 times a day for 12 weeks. Ok, I got that, no problem. My husband’s birthday was exactly 12 weeks to the day after I got the cartilage piercing. It would be perfect to change the earring right before we left for the overnight sail, or so I thought. I had a hoop earring that I wanted to try. 

Removing the back of the earring stud required a lot of yanking. My ear was “ear itated” before I got the earring out. Then it started to swell and bleed. I tried to get the hoop in which was impossible. I could barely get it into my regular ear piercings. Hmmmm, now this is where I really went wrong. I put a nickel earring stud into the ear cartilage piercing and left for the overnight sail. 

It was a perfect early fall day for a sail. It was warm and windy, but not too windy. We sailed several hours to get to the resort. Once we got there, it was during the week and the pool was closed for the season. There was not much to do. By the time we got there, my ear doubled in size. I thought that maybe my piercing was infected. I was so stressed that I couldn’t eat. Worried. This is the point when my acid reflux acted up again as an adult but I didn’t know at the time what it was. 

The next day we headed back home. I called the ear piercing place and they said I was probably allergic to the nickel earring. I found that strange because I didn’t have problems with nickel in my regular ear piercings. They suggested putting the piercing stud back in. This was problematic because I was on open water and didn’t have any other earrings with me. The minute I got home, hours later, I put my piercing stud back in and haven’t taken it out since. I am almost afraid to. I felt bad that my seemingly great idea turned my husband’s birthday into a big mess of anxiety. I have only stayed overnight on the sailboat once since then. It was for our anniversary when the big unexpected storm hit. 

Why does everything have to be so eventful in my life?? Well, it sure gives me things to write about and at times things to laugh about.