When I met with Wendy to hear her story of living with hoarding disorder, she told me she had a very busy mind and was easily distracted so may change topics mid-sentence. In fact, our conversation unfolded like any other; back and forth, questions, commiseration, and laughter.
Wendy is a mother of three grown children and seven grandchildren. She and her husband have been together for 43 years and live with their much-loved rescue dog. She is a self-taught photographer, having once had her own dark room to develop her craft. Her skill as an amateur photographer led to her professional employment for many years. She loves the outdoors and throughout her life has enjoyed camping, canoeing, backpacking and snowshoeing.
She has been an active community volunteer, once participating in a 40km snowshoe race with high school students! She hopes to continue to give back to the community. She’s also an artist, transferring her eye for photography to multi-media painting. Here is her story of Lived Experience.
I’m a noticer – I notice things. I love rocks and rusty bits like bolts, screws, and washers. Earlier in my recovery I would get so excited if I saw a rusty bit, I would pick it up and take it home – it was a treasure; a present. I once took a tree stump home. Passing a construction site where many beautiful old trees had been felled, I felt compelled to take the stump home, to honour its life, to preserve a beautiful piece of what was. I still notice but, most of the time, I’m able to walk by.
My realization that I have a problem with over-acquiring came slowly. I’ve always liked clutter; it feels cozy and even as a teenager my room was full. When I got married and we had a joint account, I started overspending. I didn’t understand how finances worked, especially savings and often spent any extra money. It wasn’t until my kids left home that it became apparent that I was over-spending and over-acquiring. I have several health issues including recent mobility issues, struggles with low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation and attempts, partially because of a challenging childhood. I often feel hopeless and worthless – a piece of garbage, really. To alleviate these overpowering feelings, I shop, thinking at some level I can buy my happiness and, if I buy the best, then I will be the best. With the best art supplies, I will become the best artist – so the thinking goes. I feel that I am not whole without these things; they are very much tied to my identity. I am learning that this is a thinking error, but the urge to acquire is strong. It’s a vicious cycle, because once I am home with my purchase/treasure, I feel awful, filled with regret. The negative black and white thinking comes back, I berate myself, I may return the item but if I do, I often purchase something else and/or spend more money . . . and so it goes.
My over-acquiring has put real strains on my relationship with my husband and my sons. Two of my sons won’t come into my home. At one point we declared bankruptcy. My children worry that they will only inherit debt.
There is so much stigma associated with this disorder. I feel embarrassed if someone comes to my home. My home is shocking, I have 200% too much stuff. I am aware of this and with the help of therapy, group support and peer support I am gaining insights into my hoarding behaviours and working on the challenges.
There is so much misunderstanding about having a hoarding disorder. I would like people to know that hoarding is a disorder. We are people. We have stories. I used to be able to put on a brave face but now I tell people the truth. I am tired of secrets. I hope I can help someone with similar challenges.
Nighttime is particularly bad for me; alone with my thoughts I often feel hopeless, will I ever overcome the feeling of being unworthy, will I ever get out of debt, will I ever get my house cleaned up, will I ever love myself?
I’ve seen happy people who have very little. It gives me hope. I will continue with my recovery and my hope for the future is that I am able to have gatherings again in my home with my family and friends, get my finances in order, go camping, backpacking, travelling, and . . . get my laundry done!