Friday, November 30, 2012

Life happenings

by capecodcyclist via Flickr
I'm not going to lie: November was a rough month for me, guys. Hurricane Sandy was the catalyst for me telling my grandma the truth about my mother, her hoarding, and our relationship. I had a bad Thanksgiving break that involved a reminder that my family is incredibly screwed up and, while I think it's normal, it's far from it; some tummy trouble; and my dad's girlfriend either blatantly ignoring me or being incredibly rude (like waking me up at 3 AM rude). As if these things (and trying to prepare myself for a cross country move!) weren't enough, I broke up with my boyfriend this week after some big thinks about how what we want and where we are in life are different. It just didn't seem like we were going to make each other happy in the long run. While I know I did the right thing, I feel sad to see it end and I feel awful for hurting him.

I'm in danger of bumming you all out, so here are some entertaining links to round out this post:

Don't settle for just fine.

An amazing example of how change in a community doesn't have to be overthought. 

GoldieBlox instead of Barbies for all the young girls in your life!

There's not enough quiet in our daily lives. Defend it!

"Kiss Me Again" by Jessica Lea Mayfield is my sad jam these days.

If you like a good play on words, how about this Freudian slip mug or some Freudian slippers?

I hope November was more gentle on you than it was on me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


by sophiadphotography via Flickr
"If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it." -Mary Engelbreit

Monday, November 26, 2012

Delayed gratitude

This Thanksgiving was mostly pretty awful for me. Lots of stress and family drama. But before I recount my tale of the Thanksgiving from hell in a future post, I want to take a moment to remember this quotation: "It is not happy people who are thankful; it is thankful people who are happy."

It's so easy to complain, complain, complain and fail to see the good in our lives. While this Thanksgiving was not one for storybooks, I did get to spend quality time playing with my ever growing nephew, travel safely to and from my brother's house, and have my health and the health of my loved ones mainly intact. No matter how hard it can be, choosing gratitude will always add some perspective and happiness to your life.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Let go

via Free People
“You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.” -C. JoyBell C.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Interview series: Diane

Next up for my children of hoarders interview series is Diane. The floor is yours!

I am 40 years old and going through my midlife crisis, husband supported. I play video games/board games and spend time geeking out with a friend of mine doing math. We even took the mensa test for fun at one point. I am a full blown computer nerd. Capital N. I don’t have pets or kids because I hate having someone or something depending on me. My mother always depended on me.

Which parent hoards? My mother. It was only her and I growing up.

Do you have any hoarding tendencies? Hmm. No, not really, though I lived messy for quite some time. I thought it was normal to live that way and clean up for company.

Is there a history of hoarding in your family? If so, who else hoards? I am not sure but I think my grandparents did. They had a huge attic that was full of things. And one bedroom that was stuffed as well. It didn’t take over the whole house though.

What are your hoarding parent (HP)’s favorite things to hoard? This is a hard one. She liked to save everything. Mail/papers, food, collectibles, clothing, cat litter (used and new) and.. well basically if you can name it, she kept it. She loved shopping and had 80k in debt at one point and had to declare bankruptcy.

How is your relationship with your HP? Feb 2009 we broke contact. I have had little contact since then. She faked a stroke (at least, we believe she did) but has since had a real stroke and memory loss, though she is good at not paying attention so we still aren’t 100% sure about how realistic it is. She faked the first I believe to stop working and come live with us. I found out when we went to her house to get her pets how bad the house was. Dog had to be put down, cat came to live with us but was starving and living in filth there. She had also used money I had given her for her mortgage payment to purchase more exercise equipment. This was the final straw for me.

Do you still live at home? If not, when did you move out? No. I am 40 now but I went away to college at 18, came home for summers for two years, then took a year off and moved out. So I was 21.

Does anyone besides your HP currently live in the hoard? If so, who and how are they handling it? No. My mother actually doesn’t live in the hoard anymore. After the second stroke they moved her into new housing and wouldn’t bring the hoard.

Who else, if anyone, knows about your HP’s hoard? My family and friends know. I haven’t kept it a secret once I found out how bad it was. I try to use it as a way to explain some of my weirdness.

When did you first realize that your HP’s behavior was abnormal? After I started leaving and coming home from school. That was the first time. It would be a mess and Prior to that the mess was contained in a few rooms and the garage. But I would come home, and suddenly it was everywhere. She was always cluttered, but I don’t believe hoarded until I completely moved out.

When, if ever, were you able to disassociate yourself from the shame of hoarding and begin opening up about it? So, I had this experience where my then boyfriend (now husband) and my best friend came to my house and kept offering to help me clean up. I wasn’t hoarded, just messy. I would clean for company but they surprised me a couple of times. It was then that I started opening up about it.

Have you ever sought any kind of therapy for dealing with your HP and living in a hoard? Therapy yes, but not for the hoard. More for the narcissistic mother I had.

Do you have any hope that your HP will eventually stop hoarding? Why or why not? Like I said above, I think she was forced out of it by the second (or real) stroke. Now other people are managing her care, and they won’t allow it. She is bad enough that she doesn’t fight them. Or doesn’t remember.

What is the most disgusting or interesting thing you encountered in the hoard? Oh man… when we first discovered how bad the hoard had gotten (she hadn’t let me in for a few years) we took video in case we had to involuntarily commit her. On rewatching the video, I saw poise pads everywhere. Her toilet in her bathroom didn’t work, but there were two others in the house, however, I believe she was using the poise pads to pee instead of the toilet. They were EVERYWHERE. Bags and bags and bags of poise pads (new) I didn’t see any used, but honestly I didn’t look that hard either. Also the cat litter. She would put used cat litter into bags and stack it up in this large box (think 4 ft x 4 ft) and just keep piling and piling. It was almost to the ceiling. Yuck.

What is at least one positive thing you were able to glean from living in a hoard and dealing with your HP? I know how unimportant things are. I know that memories are more important. I take pictures of myself with anything I think of as a memory piece and unless I can display it in some way normally, I donate it. Get the junk out of my house! :-)

What are some ways you coped with living in a hoard? When it is all you know you sort of get used to it. It wasn’t as bad when I was young. It really took a downhill turn when my mothers mother died when I was 16. Then I moved partially out at 18. Then my mom lost her cat (this weird, symbiotic relationship where they would talk to each other) when I was about 21. Then she pretty much went full on hoard where you could barely walk through the house and had a few goat trails. It was bad in parts of the house before (2 car garage full of stuff, office you couldn’t open the door to, bedroom closet that couldn’t be used) but it really went off the rails after the cat died.

Do you have any advice for others currently living in a hoard or trying to cope with their HP? My only advice: get out asap. Learn to keep a clean home so you feel normal. Use any method that works for you. Realize you are never going to be more important than the hoard. It is sad, but true.

Thank you, Diane, for sharing your experiences! If you are a child of a hoarder and are interested in being interviewed over email, please shoot me a message!

Monday, November 19, 2012

When it rains, it pours

by ccho via Flickr
"That secret that you know, but don't know how to tell / It fucks with your honor and it teases your head / But you know that it's good girl / 'Cause its running you with red"
-Bon Iver, "Blood Bank"

Hurricane Sandy was not only an awful storm for the east coast. It was the catalyst for me finally revealing my real childhood to my grandmother, a secret I have guarded tightly and intentionally from her for nearly two decades.

My family did not sustain any terrible damage from the storm, but my grandma did lose power for four days. My brother and sister in law contacted my grandmother and mother before the storm hit to let them know that they were available to help them if they needed it. They didn't hear from them and so they assumed everything was fine once the storm hit. My great aunt, my grandma's sister, contacted my sister in law over Facebook three days after the storm because she was concerned about my grandma since she hadn't heard from her since before the storm. My brother was able to get ahold of my mother that evening and found out the situation.

They had lost power shortly after the storm hit and my mother had only been able to charge her cell phone that evening my brother called because she went to a nearby church for a free meal. When my brother had related the news to me, my heart sank to my stomach and I instantly burned with anger. So many whys ran through my head: why wasn't her phone charged before the storm, why did it take her so long to find somewhere to charge it, why didn't she try to tell anyone that they didn't have power, why why why? I was concerned for my 92 year old grandma and her health. My fury sprouted from the fear that my mother was neglecting my grandmother's basic needs just like she had neglected mine when I lived with her.

My anger made me bold and I called my mother after I spoke to my brother. After I confirmed the details I had heard from my brother, I just went off. My mother, of course, did not take the criticism well and kept passing the phone to my grandmother in hopes of shutting me up. The conversation kept going in circles and I finally had enough. I told my mother that our relationship is now nothing more than us calling each other when a family member dies. Is that what she really wanted? I reminded her that the ball has been in her court for three years and she has done nothing to show me that she was genuinely sorry for what she put me through.

They wound up getting their power back the next day. Over a week passed. Then I got an email from my grandmother, chastising me for talking to my mother the way that I did. I have gotten flak from her before about the way I speak to my mother sometimes, but nothing like this. After nearly 20 years, I was sick of taking bullet after bullet for my mother. This hit was one that I was not going to take lying down. It was time for my grandmother to know the truth.

Hi Grandma,


Based on the things that you mentioned in your email, I have a feeling that Mom did not tell you the whole conversation that we had nor explained why I was so upset. In fact, over the years, you have been given a primarily one sided account of the relationship that Mom and I have and why it is the way it is. You no doubt have noticed that Mom's and my relationship has been strained for a long time and that it has continued to get worse instead of better. While it is unfortunate what happened because of Sandy, that was not the real reason I called Mom and spoke to her the way that I did. The real issue at hand is much, much more involved.

You have issues with the way that I speak to Mom. You’ve stated that plainly in the email and have said as much in the past. I think you know me well enough to know that the way I sometimes speak to and treat Mom is not indicative of my true personality and nature. I do not speak to or treat anyone else the way that I do with Mom.

I have never told you why I speak to and treat Mom that way and I have never told you why I am so upset with Mom. I never told you over the years because the truth is upsetting and I didn't want to upset you unnecessarily. When I was young, I also thought that it was my fault for the way things were and I was ashamed to tell anyone about it. I thought that Mom and I would move past this and I wouldn't have to say anything. It could simply be forgotten. I see now that that is not going to happen. You are clearly already upset about the situation and so you deserve to know the truth and I am no longer afraid to tell you.

Quite simply, I speak to and treat Mom the way that I do because no one else has treated me the way Mom has treated me. Mom is a hoarder. By hoarder, I do not mean that she simply has a messy, cluttered house. While it’s true that she has a tendency to collect clothing and food for the less fortunate, I am referring to a condition that is much more serious... The details are unpleasant, but you need to know in order to understand my distress... To put it plainly, if anyone really knew the conditions I was living in, I would have been taken away from her in a heartbeat and she would have been charged with child neglect.

As a child and then a teenager, growing up like this was incredibly upsetting. I did not understand why Mom was allowing our house to get worse and worse... I blamed myself for the way things were. I thought I did not deserve to live in a clean home and that’s why Mom did not throw things away or clean. I was sick all of the time because of all of the bacteria, mold, mildew, and feces around me (I've rarely been sick since I moved out of the house). I went through bouts of depression because I felt unworthy of everything and I thought that Mom simply did not love me. I became fearful that people would find out about our situation and so developed anxiety. The incredible hurt that I felt from our living situation would cause me, and continues to cause me, to lash out at her and speak to her and treat her the way that I did and do.

I didn’t fully understand the situation that I grew up in until I went away for college. By then, the damage was already done to my mental and emotional health as well as Mom’s and my relationship. It pains me to admit this to you, Grandma, but the intense anguish I felt drove me to the brink of suicide. I sought therapy and attempted to find peace with the situation. You might remember that a few years ago, Mom and I fought for over 3 hours on Christmas day. This was shortly after I hit my lowest low. We were talking about her hoarding and how it affected me. I confronted her about how damaging it was to me.

[My brother] knows about the past partially because he was there and partially because I’ve told him the details. He has talked to Mom multiple times about her hoarding and has tried to help her. He convinced her to apologize to me. When she apologized, I accepted her apology, but I told her that in order for any change to take place, I needed to see some action so that I knew she was genuine. I placed the ball in her court and I have seen no action. She has since distanced herself from [my brother] as well.

I have tried to talk to her and reason with her. I have tried to make her understand how hurt I was and continue to be. While I am still so hurt, that anger is going to come out and lash out at her. I am not proud of this and I would like nothing more than to change it, but I cannot change if Mom is not willing to help heal the wounds that she caused.

The reason I was so upset when I called after Sandy is because, over the last three years (since I asked to see action from her), I only get a call from Mom if someone in the family dies. She does not communicate things with me or with [my brother]. This is the part of the conversation I don’t think Mom told you about. While I understand that there were barriers in place, communication in these situations is necessary. More importantly though, the fact that Mom is assisting in your care touched a raw nerve with me. When I lived with her, Mom neglected my basic needs and did not seek help in our situation. I do not wish that or the hopeless feeling I felt then on anyone. I was concerned that you were also being neglected and not being helped. My trust in Mom has been broken for quite some time and I want you to be in capable hands.

No doubt, if she is confronted about this or if she reads this email, she will have excuses and will be in denial, but these things are facts and this is the way that I felt and continue to feel. These things are my past and she has not taken responsibility for what happened to me when I was a child. She was the parent and she let these things happen to me.

She might have issue with the term “hoarder” and she might want to continue to blame her thyroid disease on the situation despite there being zero medical evidence, but that does not change the fact that these things happened, that she did nothing to stop them, and that they affected me profoundly in physical, mental, and emotional ways.

I’m sorry if this email is upsetting and shocking to you. I hoped so much that this would blow over and be forgotten. Instead, it haunts me every day. I have many demons because of the conditions I grew up in and the relationship that I have with Mom. The way I speak to her is just one of these demons. I fight hard against it, but it will still rear its ugly head until I can find ultimate peace with this situation.

I love and care about you deeply, Grandma. Your house has always been a safe haven for me... I hope that Mom and I can one day get past this. Until she is fully on board though, I honestly doubt that is possible.

My grandma could have taken that email so many different ways. I was ready for her not to believe what I told her. I was prepared for my mother to call me in a fit of rage. I got a response from my grandma the day after I sent her the email telling me that she was disturbed by what I told her, but that she's not going to get involved. It's between my mother and me. My mother is a good daughter to her and I should try to be more considerate. She hopes I can put the past behind me and is deleting my email so that my mother won't see it.

In someways, I feel relieved for finally saying what needed to be said for years. In others, I feel as though I stuck my neck out only for it to be buried in the sand again by someone else. I can't blame my grandma for just wanting to pretend like she doesn't know and for not turning against her daughter, but, ultimately, she's only enabling my mother to continue her hurtful behavior.

In the end, all I really want is closure. Instead, the door keeps getting stuck hanging ajar.

Friday, November 16, 2012


I try my hardest to post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday here on my blog in order to appeal to my readers' desire for regularity. I must admit that, today, I have nothing to give to you besides this brief update. I have been dealing with some family turmoil these past few weeks and it has finally come to a head. I am honestly too tired to sit down and write a pleasant post for you all. I plan to write at length about what is going on with my mother very soon, but right now, it is just too raw. I can tell you that her secret will no longer be kept from some key players in my family after today.

Any kind words and thoughts are greatly appreciated and I hope to have some much more compelling content to share next week.

Take care and have a restful weekend.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Be not the slave of your own past

"Be not the slave of your own past. Plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old." -Ralph Waldo Emerson via Free People

Monday, November 12, 2012

Someday is Today: Baby steps

Here's some real life honesty for you guys: I've decided not to give myself a new goal to work on this month because I've barely made any headway on my last goal. No use piling on a new goal when I'm already struggling.

Some of you may be wondering what in the world is the big deal about me applying lotion. It's not hard to do and it can be done in seconds. I don't really have an answer to that question. It's something I simply forget to do all.of.the.time. I'm also good at talking myself out of needing lotion. As I've mentioned before, this is complete crap since I suffer from severely dry skin and eczema. It also doesn't help that the weather lately as been a roller coaster and I rarely have dry skin when it's warm, giving me more excuses not to apply lotion.

In order to try to remember to apply lotion more often, I've placed my bottle of lotion on my nightstand so I see it frequently. I'm also getting low on lotion, so I'm going to buy a new bottle tomorrow and hope that the newness of the item will also grab my attention and entice me to try it out.

I know that all of this sounds straight up dumb, but applying lotion is a habit I really need to work on since my skin can become incredibly itchy incredibly quickly. I could easily become covered it eczema spots if I'm not diligent and that is the last thing I want. So! I'm going to try harder this month and hopefully not have to dwell on applying lotion much longer on this blog.

In addition to lotion, I want to also focus in on my blackheads much more and see if I can figure out how to unclog my pores more consistently. It looks like November is going to be full of skincare!

As far as exercise, water, and sass go, I'm continuing to chug along and stay pretty consistant with my progress on those goals.

How have your goals been going? Have you been able to form new habits?

Friday, November 9, 2012


by stoner1 via Flickr
“When you experience uncertainty, you are on the right path – so don’t give it up. You don’t need to have a complete and rigid idea of what you’ll be doing next week or next year, because if you have a very clear idea of what’s going to happen and you get rigidly attached to it, then you shut out the whole range of possibilities.”
- Deepak Chopra

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

November podcast

I am super excited to be sharing my first podcast with you today. Below is a conversation my brother and I had about growing up with our hoarding mother and how our experiences differed. Please take a listen and offer up your suggestions and questions!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Grad school prioritizing

by hockadilly via Flickr
My best friend, Lynn, is currently in a PhD program (which I'm insanely proud of her for!) and asked me for some advice recently regarding prioritizing and how to get everything done in grad school: "How did you organize yourself when you were doing grad school? How did you decide what to work on first? I'm just so paralyzed by the list that I haven't started DOING anything. Any advice would be really appreciated."

Since some of you might be in this same boat, I decided to share my short answer here to spread the love:

You've got a million things that are all important and need to get done and you feel paralyzed because you don't know where to start. I think you should just start somewhere. Don't overthink it. It's all important, so I don't think you can make a wrong move or choice regarding where to start. Start and then when that task is done, move on to the next. Knowing what to do next will stop you from being paralyzed again. Just kind of string it all together so that once you're finished with one thing, you just slide into the next. It's more of a mental thing than anything else and building up momentum really helps. Of course, keep an eye on due dates and work accordingly. It's also helpful to break the big things into smaller chunks and then space them out so that it gets done by the deadline and you don't have to rush around trying to get it all done at the last minute.

Need some more advice about grad school? I've written about how to survive working full-time while going to school full-time (part one and part two) and how to decide if you should work while in school. Have any more questions? Feel free to ask!

Friday, November 2, 2012


"And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it." -Roald Dahl