Sunday, May 26, 2013

So when does a hoard 'tip over' from a dry hoard to a wet hoard?

Dry hoards... 
Wet hoards... 
Clean hoards... 
Dirty hoards...  

No matter what stage the hoard is on the clutter scale, most COHs refer to the type of hoard.  Many of the hoards you see on the reality television shows are wet/dirty hoards.  There is significant vermin and garbage in the hoard, and often animal or human waste in very severe hoards.  My mother's hoard historically has been a dry/clean hoard.  Do not get me wrong.  Her house STINKS.  It is dangerous to anyone going in from a respiratory/health standpoint.

A quick rewind, if you will, to when I was at her house the last time, which was July 2011.  This was the first time in over 10 years,  and it was hugely hoarded to levels often towering over my head with goat paths, but for the most part it was a dry hoard.  I gagged going in, and the refrigerator was full of nastiness, etc... and I got deathly sick.  Fast forward to last month, and I was in the hoard-mobile and got sick again.  Now, if you have read this blog and saw the mid-March entry, she found a turd downstairs.  And it was not from her cats...  She first decided that it was snake poo and then decided here in the last couple of weeks that it is skunk poo.  And she believes her hated neighbor broke into her house and left it there.

Fast forward to this week.  Her paranoia continues to feed on her narcissism, her negativity and her abject and self inflicted misery.  As many folks who hoard do, she has long monologues about minutia of normal living.  Long side expiditions into the world of 'no-one-gives-a-royal-#$&%'.  This time she took over 10 minutes to describe her extreme caution in bringing produce into her house.  She will tell you will a straight face that there is not one insect in her house.  If you believe that, I have a lovely used car with 165K that I will sell you that is LIKE NEW for what I paid for it 5 years ago!  <Oh... I digress...>  Anyway, as I was about terminate the call, she finally gets to the issue.  She found a roach in her kitchen.  She just KNOWS that it came in on the two bananas she bought a few days prior and went through her 'process'.  

Now... I realize it is possible that happened, but very unlikely.  I would be more likely to believe that the roach come from one of the following:

  • How any roach and his or her friends enter any home since it is in essence Roach Nirvana
  • That some of the paper bags, cardboard boxes, or umpteen year old dry goods hatched roach eggs finally
  • The same route or reason the poo was in her basement ... (wait... is that technically the same as the first point?)
  • It caught a ride in on any of the other 5 million items she carries into the house weekly from warehouse retailers, big box retailers, the pet store, etc.
With that being said...  What concerns me the most is the first and third points (and they technically are the same I think) so... to me this means that the infiltration of garbage is getting to be more substantial than it was nearly two years ago.  There was some, and a whole lot of reusing things that should never be kept, but 2 major things have changed for her.
  1. She now wears continence pants after a couple of incidents of soiling herself without knowing it (????) in public.  Apparently pissing herself repeatedly did not prompt Depends usage.  But a series of sharts or worse did.  Ugh.
  2. She has walked very laboriously and with a cane since last July.  This has resulted in her being even more sedentary and immobile than she was. For example, she is now feeding the 6 cats their canned food in a communal bowl making them 'take turns'... whatever that means.
I strongly suspect that she is continuing the steep slide from dry to wet hoarding.  Her house is already toxic beyond description... Most of her animals who have passed in the last 20 years have succumbed to liver failure, which there has been some discussion on hoarding task forces that animals (especially cats) forced to live in the hoard have a disproportionally high incidence of this.  (I would like to see some evidence/citation of research in relation to this... Not that I doubt it, but I prefer scientific method and SCIENCE, not just anecdotal information.)  She always, always, ALWAYS has some sort of respiratory ailment that is antibiotic resistant and hell to treat, then there is the fact that I ended up with a systemic infection/endocarditis from being in her house less than 10 minutes.  She had the library staff print off documents on the weird and rare form of bacteria that nearly cost her her hand and her life from a cat bite.  And she was shocked to find that it is unlikely that it came from the cat... Denial immediately set in and the information was discarded as relevant.  

I have only talked to her once or twice since this disclosure, and she was going to buy roach traps, etc.  I am sure her delusion/denial has set back in, and if I have to guess, she will at some point start blaming hated neighbor for this too.  And how would she ever have someone come in and treat?  She would not.  The horror!  Having a pest control truck there!  Acknowledging the problem!  And letting someone in her house?  Not happening.

If I do outlive her, and she has not succeeded in estranging me completely, it is going to be quite the legacy/inheritance she leaves me.  That is enough to keep me up at night...  Simply horrible.  And there is nothing that I can do to get her help, willingly or not.

One humorous note, she was referred to a therapeutic  massage therapist by her chiropractor.  (Another person that I should add to the 'send flowers for dealing with her' list).  She has another Wonderful Stranger and something else to talk about, interspersed with the crazy... but hey, you take the positive where you ca find it.  Her 934,768 questions before the appointment were funny, such as:

"Do you wear clothes?  I am not getting naked for this!"

"Do they pound on you like they do on TV?"

"Will the place be clean?"

You get the idea.  And I have real empathy for the massage therapist.  

Have a lovely Memorial Day Holiday if you are from the US and commemorate this holiday.  I will be spending it with my cats, my friends, some awesome food (corn on the cob, grilled portabella mushrooms with a mix of shrimp and scallops and white wine stuffed in them) and more wine.  

Goodnight all.  

Memes folks have sent me in response to this blog. Thank you! Sharing:-)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Dropped off the edge of the earth for a bit, so much for Lisabeth's 'keep life and work in proper balance' resolution.  Epic fail...  the good news is the last grant is written and submitted for a bit!  Yay me!

Several friends are having issues that come with aging parents.  One friend has a father that has Alzheimer's in its earliest stages, and due to a fall he ended up with a serious brain bleed that required surgery, and prognosis is not good.  Another friend, who has a hoarding mother that most likely gave my hoarding mother mean/crazy lessons... Her father had a stroke and requires intensive nursing care.   The situations are similar with both of their fathers being beyond home care.  That is where all similarities end... and one woman's family has banded together to care for her medically vulnerable mother and father, and all choices are made out of love.  The other, the family is split.  In the other family, the hoarding mother has achieved her goal, and two children are supporting the hoarder in keeping the father in a substandard nursing facility where they only intermittently visit him, but when hoarding mother does, she intentionally and successfully antagonizes him.  They are blocking the two siblings from moving him to a specialized care facility near my friend where she could be with him daily...

Anyway, you get the picture.  I was struck by the dichotomy... and thought about how hellish it would be to have my mother as a caretaker or a medical power of attorney.  A fate worse than death....  In a hellish bit of serendipity my mother started rehashing my father's last days.  We are almost halfway between the anniversary of his passing 24 years ago and Memorial Day, so she has been EXCEPTIONALLY cheery.  She started talking about her plans for Dad if he would have been able to return home after he was placed on the heart transplant list.  As always, reinventing history is her speciality, since she has blanked out me visiting a local college and applying to transfer so I could be with Dad if that did happen.  No way was I leaving him with her.  

"So... I am thinking about getting a hospital bed for myself.  I think I will get it and put it in the living room and just get a recliner so I am ready for anything and it is already here.  I do not have anyone here and I DO NOT CARE.  You know, when things... when things happened with your father, when the end was happening, I was going to do that, so he would be in the front room and he could watch TV, see out, and if anyone came over since he had to have people running in and out of his mother's or the garage, they would not have to be anywhere in the house but the living room, and if he had to have nursing help .... [blah, blah, blah]..."

Seriously?  Before the clot that took his life at the end- which was the last 12 hours of his life- he was weak but he was able to move around, walk, etc.  He would not have been bedridden.  It was the clot that paralyzed one side, and if he had not thrown another clot there is a strong likelihood he would have recovered from that, to what degree we do not know....  He lived life fully, and he would have died a horrendous death many times over before he succumbed to be warehoused in the living room.

"[Weakly]... Oh..."

I absolutely got the chills- not figuratively, LITERALLY.  One, she is on her normal trajectory of narcissism and martyring herself.  I had such a hellish picture of the horror that my father would have experienced that it took my breath away.  For the first time I realized that potentially how things played out 24 years ago released my father from what would have happened.  I know what would have happened.  I watched her 'nurse' her mother.  The flesh can heal while the spirit dies.  She was emotionally abusive and the epitome of the abuse of power and control.  Two, I would have given almost ANYTHING to have my father in my life because he was able to have some quality of life... He would not have wanted to have laid bedridden anywhere.  I think the third thing, and maybe this is my selfishness, is it just hit me how narrowly I escaped the hoard, (as much as any COH/survivor escapes) and how different my life is now because I escaped.  At barely 19, if I would have returned home, I feel I would not have survived long term to escape again.  The simultaneous revelation was my mother's sickness is so complete, she would do anything necessary to pull me back in.  My life as an individual and my health does not matter, I only exist as an extension of her... 

This weekend is Memorial Day... and I took off so I have a 5 day weekend.  I have the time, the money, and the ability to go home.  I cannot.  I choose not to.  I will not.  I stay away for my sanity, for my health, and to live.  

And live I will.  My way, my terms, working hard to step past the shadow of the hoard.  And although my relationship with my hoarding mother causes me much pain and stress... I am succeeding.  She is not me, and I am not her.  

I hope to have more 'from the mouth of a hoarder' quotes soon.  She has said many, many things of late that warrant inclusion, but honestly, I am just so saddened by them that I am not finding them amusing in any way.  I am also becoming strangely numb to them.  I am sure my dark, sarcastic sense of humor will kick back in soon.  

I am flying south in 3 weeks to see some of my COH friends.  I am counting down the days, because I think we all need to spend some time with others who understand the 'shorthand' of COH speak.  

We are also discussing how to advance the understanding and knowledge of hoarding and the huge impact on the children and families.  

To be continued...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day 2013

[Photo from a friend's Facebook page... From the 1981 Paramount Pictures Film starring Faye Dunaway].

Mother's Day... I know what our media and our culture expects, but for me, and many other folks... This day is a tough one.

I have many wonderful memories of my paternal grandmother, who did her absolute best to step into the hole left by mother, raising me when I was in essence turned out after 4th grade.

My father, although enabling my mother in many ways, also worked double time to do the best he could, and tried to be both mother and father to me.

Lost both of them over 24 years ago.

There were others, friends' parents, teachers... Who tried to give me the extra attention, mentoring, and support I needed.

To all, I am forever thankful. I survived, and I escaped. I left the hoard/hell house and have never looked back- returning is simply not an option. That house was not home.

I remember when the book 'Mommie Dearest' (William Morrow and Co.) was published in later 1978. I got the book at the library, and kept it hidden from my mother's evangelical and Pentecostal aunt who was staying at the house while my parents were away during one of my mother's 'vascular surgery' hospitalizations that lasted months. At 9 I was in junior high english classes, and read voraciously.

Folks have often asked when I realized it was not me- that the problem was my family. Seeing the meme today, thinking about its relevance to my experience just awakened a memory... THIS. This is when it happened. Reading Christina Crawford's words under my blanket at night with a tiny flashlight, reading her book all in one night. Realizing that someone else had lived with the rages, the punishments, the focus on appearances...
Not knowing that there was a concept of 'Gas-lighting', or narcissism, or hoarding... but realizing for the first time the warped reality my mother forced me to live under. And I got so angry. And the resilient, stubborn and persistent person that I became was born then.

I knew at that instant it was not me. I also knew that I was going to have to fight for myself. And I started standing up, pushing back. And being rejected shortly thereafter was my salvation.

Many times, folks have asked me 'when I knew'. So many ACOHs turn this internally, and accept it all. I have struggled with trust and intimacy... But I knew what she was dishing out was wrong. And I did not deserve it. Until now that memory was hidden from me. Like so many others, I do not remember a lot (if any) of my early childhood.

I remember that. I also now remember my mother checking that book out of the library and seeing my name at the top of the card in the pocket. And I remember the craziness that resulted.

Some things do not have to have see the light of day, or 'have the scab pulled off' so to speak.

I will call her in a bit, when I run into town to wish her a happy Mother's Day. I do wish her well. I wish she would address the mental health and childhood demons that she chooses to allow to make her life what it is.

I also realize you cannot want something more than that person wants it for themselves.

-Hoarding... It is not about the stuff... That is merely a symptom of a life threatening mental illness.

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Wow.  You cannot make this stuff up.

Just hung up from a call from my mother... which is a relatively rare thing lately, she usually awaits my check in calls (which makes me happy, honestly...).  

Anyway, last night I called her quickly after I had met friends at a sushi place in a nearby town, and when I drove up to my apartment I noticed the outside lights were off on the backside of my building, where I enter my garage.  I just mentioned that it was weird, and she immediately went from zero to worst case scenario in under 10 seconds.  "Did someone sabotage them?  Should you call security?  Should you call the police?..."  You get the idea.  I told her it was fine, the place is large, and sometimes the individual timers get out of whack, and this happens. I would just use the internal stairs and go up through to my apartment rather than go out and around as I normally do.  I hung up, thinking no more about it.  

Today I stayed home from work.  I did not have anything scheduled, and I wanted to try to rest and recuperate a bit more from whatever allergic reaction/illness I acquired from being in the hoard car a week ago.  I am getting better!  YAY!  

Just a couple of minutes ago my mobile phone rings, and it is her ring tone.  (And yes, I am a sarcastic ass.  Her designated ring tone is a certain little ditty from the Wizard of Oz movie... but I digress).  I pick up the phone and she nearly screams, "Lisabeth?  Are you okay?  Is everything alright?"  Um... yes... I told you I was not going in to work today.  "Oh.  Well, I know you came in last night and the lights were off, and it was after dark, then I did not hear from you, and I was wondering if you made it in okay or if something had happened and..."  NO.  I am fine.  I am getting ready for bed.  Tomorrow will be a long day.

"Oh.  Well I did not know if you would answer, and I had called the [local county] sheriff to see if I could get the number of [my state's] state police barracks..."


"Well to see if anything..."

Never mind.  Goodnight.

<dial tone>

WOW.  WOW!  Of course, this is the same woman (who just shared this last week, 9 years after the fact) that when I was on a Caribbean Cruise with my now ex-husband Hurricane Dennis was causing a bit of issue in that area.  Apparently she called several travel agents to find out 'what they would do' and attempted to get a number to contact the cruise ship directly, but was not successful...

She is also always saying things about how she would not 'let me' do such-in-such if she knew then what she knows now.  Things like travel to South Africa and other places abroad... anything she finds 'so scary'.  Like she had any ability to permit or to deny me going!  I have been on my own and totally self supporting for many, many years.  Her perception of control and her narrow and rigid view of the world is sad.

So... I was very relaxed and getting ready for bed.  I just realized that I am sitting here, clenching my jaw hard enough to start a tension headache.  I am going to log off, take a nice warm shower, do a bit of gentle stretching, and read my lovely book in bed with my two feline house companions.  

Have a good night.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

So when in the home state... I visited my hoarding mother...

Sorry for the radio silence for the past couple of weeks.  Mostly it has been the same old, same old for me... all grants are due at my agency, and the past several weeks have been 75-85+ work weeks.

So- the one week that I could potentially 'rest'? I decided to reverse my decision to NOT attend the professional conference in my home state as I had not cancelled yet... and went.  It is a 7 hour drive roughly, and I needed continuing education hours to renew my professional license that expires at the end of this calendar year.  

I did not let my mother know until I was in my hotel suite, feet up on the ottoman and working on things via my VPN client.  I made plans to meet her in a town halfway from the town I was in, and where she lives.  It is a really rural, small place about 30 miles from both of us.  

I met her at the designated location, and we went on to the restaurant.  After that, we went to a super Walmart and she shopped, and I was on my way back to my hotel less than 3 hours later.  

She was on relatively good behavior.  Relatively.  She was shocked when she saw me, as I am now 102 pounds lighter than I was, and this has been a three year journey of watching calories, adopting a mainly pescatorian eating strategy, and eating mainly fruit, veggies, and organics at that.  She made it quite clear that she thinks I am:

  1. Going to die like my dad did of heart disease because I am losing too fast!  Um... over 3 years? and the last 40 lbs has been since October?  I am not Karen Carpenter, and my BMI is 24.  No danger there.
  2. Look bad.  I did grab a pair of Levi's since I my jeans are too large even with a belt.  I found an Missy size 8 (US sizes) and could have worn a size 6 if they had them.  That is the smallest I have been since I was 23 or 24, but I was much thinner in high school and college.  And at 5' 4 1/2'' I am not a big woman.
Being in Appalachia is always interesting.  The folks are resilient, giving and open people.  And they will stare if you do not fit in.  And I do not.  And I am okay with it.  Mom, however, was making a big deal out of it.  And apparently it was my fault.  I was wearing a cute little swing (yet modest!) dress with an empire waist (black) and a hot pink shrug that matched my hot pink patent leather stilettos/pumps.  

In Walmart a gentleman with his family complemented me on my dress, etc.  Mom kept asking questions in a loud tone of voice... "What did he say?  Why did he say that?  What did you say?  Well, you are attractive and a clothes horse... it would not hurt you to be nicer to men... maybe you would have a boyfriend..."  I wanted to puke, and die.  

She would occasionally, and in a way that was apropos to nothing in our conversation, start talking about the hated neighbor in the turn, and she "knows he has been in the house!  The skunk sh*t is proof!  ..."  I did not react, ask questions, redirect, or say anything.  I simply just acted like she had not said anything.  Wonder if she has decided the 'snake poop' she found in the basement is now 'skunk poop'.  She also asked if 'court stuff' could be found on the INTERNET.  She started going on to this neighbor's arrests for DUI, driving on a suspended, etc. and that if she knew he was still under court supervision/revocation of license she would 'make a little call' if she sees his truck leave.  I advised her to mind her own business.  Like THAT is going to happen.

I also lost my mind apparently, and rode in her car from the restaurant to the retail store.  And immediately my eyes felt sticky, and I felt the need to clear my throat.  Over the next two days I felt really tired, and wondered if I was coming down with something.  The answer to that is yes... and on Saturday I woke up with a sore throat, gummy eyes, and congestion.  And it has gotten worse to the point that I sat my birthday out rather than engaging in fun with friends.  It is okay, I did have lunch with my best friend, and spent the rest of the day with my two favorite 'people' in the world, my cats, and I do not require hoopla and party hats... but being sick on your birthday sucks.  And I am getting worse.  I have to work tomorrow, but we will see how this plays out.

I first thought that since tree pollen was at the absolute highest the past few days, that maybe I was having a reaction to the culmination of the 'tree orgy'. Now as this continues to play out, and reflecting back to my extreme physical reactions just being in her house for less than 10 minutes... (I ended up with a largely asymptomatic sinus infection that went systemic... resulting in my bout with endocarditis).  I think it is a reaction to her, and that car.  The car smelled slightly of the hoard, and was dusty/grimy inside.  

What the hell is in the car?  Or on her?  Maybe her NOT being in my car was a good thing.  This takes things to another level.  

Knowing I was going to see her stressed me out.  I had very little to say to my friends, and based on the extreme negativity of her monologues in general, and especially towards me, I was prepping myself to pull the plug on the meeting, and perhaps our contact ... period.  I was struggling with my typical coping mechanism, just shutting down, numbing out, compartmentalizing and disassociating a bit.  But not to the level of Sybil.

I am no longer willing to play nicey-nice with folks who I have shared the secret.  And one of my former co-workers kept harping on ... "well it will be nice to see your mom won't it?  Bet you are glad to see her since it has been so long!  Bet you want to visit more often!"  When I quietly but firmly stated that I was not looking forward to it and was prepared to bail to preserve my well being... The response of my friend was "You don't mean that!  That is your mother!  It does not matter what she does, you only have one mother..."

And so it goes.  I will not give this secret and dysfunction any more free rent.  I do not want to be identified by my mothers psychopathology, and I have no desire for this to 'walk in the room before I do'.  But, I will not perpetuate the ignorance that many have that results in placing accountability on the COH rather than where it belongs... on the hoarder.

Sometimes families are broken or in some level of estrangement for a valid reason.  If she were an alcoholic who engaged in the behavior she has, I sincerely doubt folks would be advising to 'just deal, it is the only mother you have' type of crap.  So much education is to be done, but I struggle with wanting to be an agent for change and to push for understanding, treatment, and resources for hoarders and their families (victims)... but I also do not want to be the ACOH poster child.  So much ambivalence.  

It was good to see her, just as a reality check- I had not seen her since July of last year.  She is walking slowly and bent over with a cane.  I am not sure how much is a production, because she scoots along normally with a shopping cart.  She refuses a walker, and she refused a motorized cart at the store.  She showed me her 'groove' in her leg.  I cannot see anything there.  Her color was good, and she looked healthy enough.  I know looks can be deceiving...  but she does not look ill.

The kicker for me?  Now I am sick.  I will run to the doctor next week if I am not significantly better just to be looked at... I think giving myself a week more to 10 days is reasonable.  Honestly, my staff have articulated/wondered when I would get something since I have been working such killer hours, not sleeping, etc.  I was a welcome mat for a bug... but I am a bit paranoid that this feels more like an allergic reaction, and cold/flu meds are doing NOTHING for it.

Sorry for the long, tangential and whiny blog.  Back to your regularly scheduled irreverent humor next time:-).

Has the hoard progressed to the level that she is carrying who-knows-what on her person?  And what does that mean at some point in the future and the legacy of the hoard?

Hoarding... no one wins.  And the stuff?  The stuff is just a symptom of the underlying disease.