Saturday, September 22, 2012

Long Time, No Post

It's been quite a while since I've posted, and like my last brief posting, it's because I've been busy living my own life. I'm still struggling with insurance, both the at-fault party's and my own health insurance. My full-time temp job has been cut back 10 hours, so I'm volunteering that time at the local United Nations Association, and I'm enrolled in a certificate program for volunteer management.

It's when we go to bed, and we're not already exhausted, that I think about my parents. My boyfriend last worked for them a month ago, and has yet to see a paycheck from them.

Before I helped clean anything other than my mother's desk (lower leftt hand corner)

Boyfriend's cellphone picture of the disaster the front office area has become

Dad is out of the country working a job on a cruise line (documenting the amazing time all the rich insurance executives are having...coincidental given my current circumstance). My mother was upset when he accepted the job, and made sure everyone knew about it. She claimed he always refused to go on cruises with her, so she went and booked a hotel room for herself to sulk in. My dad's rebuttal was that he tried to get her hired, and it's a paid job. The way they treat each other at this point though, it's pretty clear that it's okay that she's not going.

They were over not too long ago, at our new place. Every thing someone said had the risk of setting my mother off. Someone would say something, and we'd all make eye contact around her wondering if her mood could be predictable. I got the wii game out and set my parents up to bowl. My mom became belligerent and upset that she wasn't winning, "The remote doesn't work. The game is too slow. Why didn't the game give me instructions? Your game is broken, obviously." Meanwhile my dad was getting into and enjoying himself, but quietly.

Meanwhile my mom is multitasking, both attempting to play the game and telling my boyfriend about her plan to replace the large picture window in their living room. He related the story of what his parents did and how much they like how it turned out. She was immediately defensive and said "Well, I wouldn't have to replace the window if the wood around it wasn't rotting out. And that's not my fault" *severe glare directed to my father* My dad's response was "I don't know why you're bothering to put a window back in, why not just do sidding and close it up? There are too many boxes and piles of crap in front of it to be a functional window." We just about felt awkward-ed out of our own home. It was awful.

Then to break the tension, my boyfriend suggested we turn it to boxing. My dad and I went at it, which was kind of cute since he was my martial arts teacher for so many years. We had fun, and I knocked him out. Then he passed his wiimote to my mother and she and I played. Same reaction as last time "Why isn't this more realistic? I swing and punch and it doesn't do anything! This is stupid if it's not going to work. If this were real life I'd be winning by so much."

Thankfully, the oven timer went off at this point. Saved by the bell.

It's hard to think about what they're living with every day. My boyfriend sent me a picture of his own workspace and I could see how bad it had gotten since he worked several weeks before. I want to go in, to have my dog's nails trimmed and have a bath, and to visit. But I know I also want to go to see the downward spiral. Based on the clutter blindness post, I wonder if video recording the building/house/garage would have a positive effect on her. There's no way to predict what her reaction would be, but I my parents' relationship and their quality of life declining.

Clutter Blindness 101

A great post on r/hoarding by sethra007:

One of the things I struggle to overcome as I fight the hoarding tendencies that I've inherited from my parents is "clutter blindness".
Clutter blindness is defined as a person's literal inability to see his clutter in front of him. The person may perceive that there is a pile of newspapers, dishes, or other items collecting in an area, but her mind minimizes or just flat-out ignores the mess. In extreme hoarders (levels 4 and up), ths mental "blindness" is progressive until the issue is brought to light, and then they're overwhelmed by the mess and unable to do anything about it.
There's several articles about to clutter blindness out there on the 'Net, including ones on ways to overcome it.
One common suggestion is to invite people over, as a way of motivating the hoarder to clean his home. This is great if the only problem is a few stacks of things sitting around that you wouldn't want someone to see.
What happens if it's a lot more serious than that, though? The idea of bringing people into your hoarder's home, with the fear of shame and guilt and judgment, can be too much for the hoarder to bear, and be very demotivating. As grateful as some of us are for the reality shows that have brought hoarding into the public's awareness, we all know what a lot of folks think of the people who are featured on those shows. Your hoarder doesn't want to be identified as one of "those people".
So, what do you do to de-clutter when your hoarder can't get motivated? Try to overcome the clutter blindess by training yourself or your hoarder to see the clutter. A few strategies:
[1] recommends (among other things) videotaping or taking pictures of your hoard. Sometimes seeing your things in a different context can help you understand what other folks see. Pictures or videos can accomplish the same thing that having someone over accomplishes: it make the hoarder imagine what his hoard looks like to someone else.
(I myself have heard (anecdotally) that some hoarders, upon seeing the reality shows, photos of their hoard, or videos of their hoard, snap out of their hoarding mindset with a "Dear God! So that's what my house looks like!" ) goes further. Lynn says to take a close-up picture of one small section of your hoard, [2] blow it up on your computer screen as big as you can, and start identifying the different items in that picture The idea is to get you to see the fine details of your hoard without the whole room to distract you--seeing the trees instead of the forest, so to speak.
Because your brain naturally wants to process visual information as "chunks" (in order to make that processing easier), it's easy to say "oh, that's just the coffee table pile" instead of "oh, that's just the pile that has my cell phone charger AND my keys AND three days worth of newspapers AND thirty-eight other items". By forcing yourself to really look at the objects that make up the pile, you're bypassing the "chunking" your brain does, and really seeing your mess for the first time in a long time. (To see Lynn's advice for cleaning up the mess once you actually see it, click [3] here).
[4] She Who Prevails has said that the drug Lamictal (which she takes to manage her bipolar disorder) has had the interesting side effect of reducing her clutter blindness:
...Before I knew that I was dealing with Bipolar Disorder, I used to experience compulsive urges to shop, mostly at second-hand stores and thrift stores. I had all sorts of grand ideas for what I would do with the treasures that I purchased. The act of shopping and searching out bargains would actually calm me.
Two results of all the purchasing, unfortunately, are an overwhelming amount of clutter in my house and an empty bank account. For a long time, I experienced what I call “clutter blindness”. I think clutter blindness must be a defense mechanism that prevents the mentally fragile person from being completely terrified by the chaos that they have created. Even though clutter blindness might be a defense mechanism, as with many defense mechanisms, it falls short in the long run.
Since I’ve been taking the Lamictal, my clutter blindness seems to be lifting and, believe me, it really is a bit terrifying. Terrifying in that I’m finally seeing the mess that my excessive acquiring has created. Part of me feels desperate and wants to crawl into bed, create a cocoon with my blankets, and avoid the miserable truth about my chaotic living conditions. I won’t, though.
I made a genuine attempt to start to dig my way out of the mess nearly every day last week. My body ached from the effort and the fibromyalgia flared up, which really made me feel like a wreck and did little for my mood. I do, however, feel proud of my effort in spite of the fact that I estimate, at the pace I was progressing, it will take months to restore my home to a level of acceptable functionality. That thought is really depressing and it’s taken a great deal of effort not to slip into a mindset of defeat and self-condemnation...I have been afraid that I could be classified as a hoarder. To some degree, I fit the profile. I do, however, enjoy being able to get rid of things....
Obviously, I'm not a doctor, and this post doesn't constitute medical advice. I AM NOT RECOMMENDING ANYONE TAKE LAMICTAL TO HELP WITH CLUTTER BLINDNESS.
That said, Kayt's story does show that the right drug treatment for the underlying disorder (in her case, bipolar) can alleiviate some of the symptoms of hoarding, including clutter blindness. If you or your loved one are in treatment for hoarding or an illness that causes you to hoard, try to remain open to the idea of drug therapy if possible.

My response:
I really needed to see this. It's been months since I've gone home and helped my mother clean up, then I saw a picture of some space that I had helped clear out. It's so much worse. This "clutter blindness" might be a tangible symptom that my mother can relate to. I've taken photos, mostly to make me feel better after helping. Perhaps now I can show her the downward spiral that everyone else sees. Not to mention it might help my "far-too logical" father that he isn't without his own clutter. Thank you, truly.