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.  


  1. Well Happy Birthday! I mean it! Also, the outfit sounds fantastic. I'm sure you looked fab and I love it that complete strangers told you so.

    My response to "you only have one mother" is "yea, well Manson and Dahmer only had one mother too". I think it stumps people because they never say it again.

    There is no doubt in my mind that you caught cooties from the hoard. Next time you visit take a neti pot with you and try to clear out the passages. Drink an EmergenC before you go near her. just saying...

    Also, Good for you! The visit might do her some good and it sounds like you have taken control of the relationship. You can't change her but you can affect the dynamic of your interaction with her. I'm totally impressed. Of course, if you are at all like me, you probably cried yourself into hiccups. Let it out. There just comes a time when WE are the adults/grownups. Keep your chin up - I'm rooting for ya.

  2. I hope you start feeling better soon! I think though that you have your answer to whether or not the hoard gives you infections. It seems to be a common thread in COH discussions - allergies, illness, sinus problems, rashes caused by visiting or living in the hoard.
    Many of my friends, and even some family who should know better, don't understand why I rarely visit my parents/hometown. The idea that there is no room for us and that we have to get a hotel baffles them. I believe that it is too hard for them to put themselves in our shoes and see that it is possible to have all this stuff come in the way of what they see as an unbreakable parent-child relationship.

  3. Lisa:

    Thank you on all counts! I am glad to be back home with my 2 sweet cats, in my tidy apartment... but it was a good visit. Even just for the reality check, and continuing to use new strategies with her. I did have a small breakdown in my hotel room, but I got it back under control and things in perspective quickly. Now, onward and upward. And not surprisingly, when I spoke to my mother, she could hear I was sick. She began talking about how the outdoors is causing her issues, etc. When I stated that it started for me in her car, there was a millisecond of silence and then on the the next topic in the monologue. Denial... not just a river in Egypt... lol. I will purchase a neti pot and the EmergenC to be ready next time, but I think I will not get in her car.

    The hoard shrinks her world smaller. Sad...


    I do absolutely have the answer. And it is so frightening when I think about what I have been exposed to, what she is exposed to, and those poor cats.

    I think for many folks, the concept of a parent choosing their illness/things over contact with family and health of those involved is so incomprehensible, especially if they are in non-hoarding, more 'typical' families, and are even parents themselves. They just cannot wrap their hearts and minds around it.

    But onward we go. Thank you for sharing, and I can chime in on the common thread piece, one of my COH friends is fighting an uphill battle with her hoarding parents (she has both) and whatever makes her and her infant daughter sick. And when she visits, she and baby sleep on a cot in the kitchen in one of the goat paths...

    We all move along the continuum of identifying, acknowledging, and taking action... I am just sorry that this impacts so many of us. But... onward and upward!


  4. 6/6/2013- An update... Just had to make an emergency trip to the doctor, for what I thought was a UTI. And yes, a bladder/ureter infection was there, along with abdominal inflammation, swollen legs and many other maladies.

    The doctor was puzzled, and used the term 'systemic infection' multiple times, asked if I had been sick recently. I had- from either the hoard car or her. Is it possible? Really, truly possible that riding in the car with her started this cause and effect? I guess at least is was not endocarditis like the last 2 times.

    If I did not know better, and am not into anthropomorphism... I think the hoard is trying to kill me!