Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Day to Day | Comments Off on Flashbacks

Before the Hoarding

“In solitude we give passionate attention to our lives, to our memories, to the details around us.” -Virginia Woolf

Not drug-induced flashbacks, the kind where a certain smell or place sends you reeling back in time.

I found myself walking into our local ER a few days ago. The doctors thought it was appendicitis; however it turned out to be a case of inflamed kidneys.

As the automatic hospital doors slid open, I flashed back almost forty years. Uncle Joe was holding my hand as we walked down a hospital corridor during a cold Michigan evening. Back then, it was asthma that would make me a frequent guest in St. Joe’s Pediatric ward.  The routine was usually the same, two failed Epinephrine shots and a breathing treatment. When the doctors didn’t see improvement, a wristband, oxygen tent and semi-private room would soon be in my future.

After my grandmother died, and the hoarding started at home, I welcomed the hospital stays. I felt horrible for wanting to stay there, but I came to love the sterile white environment. I found it very peaceful, even with the constant sounds of equipment and activity at all hours of the night. I loved that everything was neatly organized and accessible. I loved the tightly folded bed corners, and most of all I loved the luxury of a bed.

Coming home was difficult.

I was always happy to be back with my family yet my chest squeezed each time I walked through our front door for the first time after a hospital stay. My stays were at least a week long – just long enough to get used to a different environment. My Aunt and Uncle would visit each day, usually with homework and a new supply of reading material. We talked, played games and walked the halls, my I.V. a constant at my side.

The drive home after a stay was usually time for mental preparation. As I became older, the prep time increased. When my hand turned the doorknob it felt like the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – I walked through to a new reality.

It was nice when I came home after a fresh snowfall. The blanket covered the piles of “stuff” on our front porch and gave me a few more seconds of reprieve. Inside, the stacks of newspapers that formed a maze through our front room would still be there. The sofa with room for one had not changed. The dining room table buried under things to be used “later” was still there – somewhere. My secret life was still there, waiting patiently for my return.

A calamity of emotions went through my heart and mind.

The knowledge that my parents loved me and cared for me was there. My medical care was amazing, I didn’t lack for anything besides normalcy. The knowledge that something was wrong was also there. I never dreamed that there were other families like mine. It’s for this reason that I’m sharing this part of my journey. Reality shows like Hoarders show a quick voyeuristic glimpse into several lives. It can’t capture the years of pain and isolation that children experience growing up in that environment. It doesn’t adequately show how families breakdown or the pain and suffering of the hoarder. It caters to ratings and showing a nice neat scripted view of life.

I’m happy that it brought awareness to the problem, and the possibility that it made it easier for others to seek help. I can tell you from my personal experience that it doesn’t all neatly fall into place in an hour – but if you or someone you love is a hoarder, I can tell you that you can have an amazing life despite, and in some cases like mine, because of the hoarding.

When my husband drove me home from ER, no mental prep was necessary. We drove to our home in warm sunny San Diego, and I grinned from ear to ear when I walked through the door. It’s been a lifetime journey and worth every single moment it took to get here.

Has there been a time when you felt as though you were the only one on earth going through a situation like yours? What did you do to cope?

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