Monday, May 13, 2013

Reader questions

From time to time, a reader will reach out to me via email to share their story and ask me for some advice. I think that sharing my response on the blog while maintaining the reader's anonymity could benefit other readers and perhaps even spark some further advice in the comments. I received the following email from a reader about what to do about her brother who is currently living in the hoard (some details have been omitted):

Dear Sarah,

I am also the daughter of a hoarder. I have been on my own for many years now, but my mom's life choices still seem to come to mind every holiday time, especially when finals are here (I'm sure you can relate). Tonight I felt compelled to stop ignoring the situation and do something. I googled hoarding. It feels strange now, realizing that I've never actually done it. All these years..and I'm just finally trying to find some support, to maybe connect with people that have been there. I came across the COH website, and your self interview. 

What has me really thinking was lately realizing all my discarded hobbies and passions, that I've always known stemmed from my childhood. And this gets me thinking about my brothers; my full concern is my 14 year old brother. He lives there with my mom and her husband (along with 3 or 4 cats). The house last I peeped was worse than ever. All I could think about tonight is what he must be going through alone in that house, and how guilty I feel for not trying to do something for him. I know how hopeless I felt at that age. The beginning to the end of your childhood, there is so much pressure to perform and become this amazing individual. Yet being the child of a hoarder, that potential is buried somewhere among the clutter. This is how I see it. 

I am terrified of him feeling like I did for those last years. I am terrified of him not living to his fullest potential because of his current environment. It seems like such a waste of a young brilliant kid. I see him struggling when I get a chance to go visit. I see him shutting off and I know he has so much in him but I'm afraid of her killing him (in not such a literal sense). I just need to reach out and find an outlet to help me, to help my family...Hopefully make something change, even just for the sake of this awesome kid. 

I really don't know where to begin, or even how to proceed in this situation. I am really just looking for anything, something to start turning things around. 

Here was my response:

I'm honored that you felt comfortable enough to share your situation with me, so thank you for reaching out. I understand so very much of what you feel and think about your life and your situation.

Knowing how hard it was for me as a teenage child of a hoarder, my heart simply breaks for your younger brother. I personally do not know a teenager currently living in a hoard, but I have some ideas based on my personal experiences that might help both you and your brother.

I think that it's incredibly important to talk to your brother about the situation, so my suggestion for getting started would be to start a conversation with him. Make sure that he knows that it is absolutely not his fault that the house is in the condition that it's in. Talk to him about how you felt living there and what you did to cope with the situation. It's very important that he does not feel like he is alone and that he knows that someone else has been there. He may not talk much, but I think having him hear what you have to say would be helpful. Let him know that you're there to listen and that he should not be afraid to ask for help. 

I would highly encourage him to pursue his hobbies and interests, especially the ones that take him outside of the house. If he can redirect his attention and passion to something constructive and fun, it will make life more bearable for him. Also, it may help build a future for him down the road outside of the home (if he likes basketball, he could work hard at it and get a basketball scholarship to a university so he can leave home, etc.). Having a part-time job would also get him out of the house and start some skill building. 

I'm not sure how close you live to your mom's house and, as a working student, I know that you're busy, but if at all possible, it might be good to set a date once a week/month/whatever that can be reserved just for the two of you to spend time together outside of your mom's house. Maybe he could even stay a night or a weekend at your place so he can see that you were able to get past living in a hoard and have a normal life and also so that he can experience being in a normal home. I know I felt like I was in paradise when I got to spend the weekend at my dad's house since it made me feel more normal. 

I would highly encourage counseling for anyone. It wasn't until I spiraled downward rapidly that I finally spoke to someone. It truly made all the difference.

I hope my suggestions have at least helped a little bit. I wish the best for your family.

Do any readers have further advice to offer?

1 comment:

  1. I agree - letting him know that you know what it's like to live there and how life can be different/better will help. Be there for him as much as you can, whether you are far away or nearby.