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Lynn's Story

Lynn is a bundle of nervous energy.  A self-professed extrovert, she was excited to be out around people.  Now retired from her career as a medical underwriter, a job she loved, she is a mother of three and a grandmother of four.  Lynn is a woman of faith and gets great comfort from the community of her church. She loves clothes and being well put together. Here is her story of Lived Experience.

I’m excited to tell my story, but I am also scared. It’s an embarrassing, humiliating secret. I’m afraid someone will read it and recognize me. My daughter told me not to tell people too much about myself because then they won’t like me.  I don’t have many friends. I don’t know why people don’t like me.  I know I’m a bit odd.  Sometimes I overshare and then I feel guilty.  I don’t have the skills really to know who it’s safe to talk to. I have bi-polar disorder and ADHD.  I take medication to help me but I’m always trying to understand why I’m like this. 

I grew up in a violent household.  My father was an alcoholic and he beat me and my mother.  I remember watching him kicking my mother and smashing a roasting pan over her head.  I remember looking at the telephone line dangling down the wall. I couldn’t reach it. I didn’t know what to do. I was three. When I was fourteen, we left, but within a year my mother had remarried, and I was “in the way”.  I’ve never felt loved. My mother never told me she loved me, ever.  My father died; I was the one who found him. I had a family of my own, but my partner was abusive. I felt all I was needed for was sex – just a vagina.  Eventually, I found the courage to ask him to leave and I raised the kids on my own.

I’m not sure how I started collecting and saving, but I was always called a packrat.  That wasn’t a bad thing. I hate the word “hoarding” – it’s so harsh.  I need to have things around me; it feels like an external hug. It feels secure. Stuff gives me comfort.  If I don’t have things around me, I feel naked.  If I go into a tidy, uncluttered space I sit with my back wedged against the wall.

I look through recycle bins. If I can’t find anything, I’ll just take the plastic bags. I pick things up off the ground – a paperclip or a bobby pin. It’s fun and these things could be useful. I donate things to Value Village and get a coupon which I then give to one of my kids.  They don’t like that I’m a packrat, but they like to get the coupons and ask me for them.

My children grew up in a packed home. They were always anxious, and I didn’t know how to give them guidance. Two of my children tend to over acquire and save which makes me sad, but I can’t say anything as we have fragile relationships.  One child lives in a minimalist home. My daughter cried when she saw my home and none of my children will come in.  My grandchildren wonder why they can’t visit me at home, but I know it would be dangerous for them and I don’t want them to have that memory of me. 

I’m slowly seeing the error of my ways, but I find it extremely difficult to concentrate and make decisions.  I recently had an intervention and that was very helpful.  I particularly liked that one of the people helping me had lived experience of hoarding. I was allowed to participate and make decisions which was very important.  At one point I was so desperate I considered going on a hoarding show, but these shows exploit people. They only show extremes.  There is no follow-up. How do these people cope after the intervention? It’s an on-going problem that needs on-going support. How are these shows helpful to people with hoarding disorder?

I find one-on-one counselling very helpful as well as group support, although sometimes I hesitate to go because I’m not sure I have anything to contribute, or I fret about what to wear, or worry that I will forget to go.  But I feel safe in the group. I’m not judged by the others who are also struggling.  I’m reminded how hard it is to make decisions and rehearing the words “keep, discard, donate” over and over is helpful. I’m learning to retrain my brain and not always go to the negative. I need to be held accountable by someone who has empathy.

I don’t have a whole lot of hope.  One person went four hundred days without acquiring but is there really hope that someone can overcome this? I’ve tried so many doctors and medications. Letting go is hard.  I can’t overcome the whole disorder, so my hope is in maintaining.  Not getting worse. Maintain. Maintain. Maintain.  I’m not giving up!

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