When I was told by my daughter that I was a hoarder I said to her: “I am not a hoarder, what are you talking about?” I did not have a dirty house full of cats and dogs, that’s who I thought a hoarder was. My daughter who was living with me was of course being significantly affected. She set out to educate me, I resisted, and she insisted. She made referrals, I finally accepted, and with her help, I sought help. Since then I have progressed and regressed, made gains and lost ground: hoarding is a lifelong struggle for me. It’s a struggle that is not uncommon, but like with so many mental illnesses, one that’s rarely openly discussed by its sufferers. So today, a day dedicated to talking about mental health across Canada, I am choosing to talk to you as someone suffering from hoarding … and I hope you kindly talk to me and ask questions too.
My first intervention came through Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the VHA. I had hands-on therapy and in-home coaching and I was successful in discarding quite a bit and I had a beautiful clean living room. I was very proud, and so were the people around me. But after the program ended, I regressed. Hoarding creeps up on you, I did not even notice it because of the way my brain is made up. Through subsequent interventions with dedicated and talented coaches, I made progress again, but outside of that therapeutic coaching – I regressed. I have come to the conclusion that I have a hoarding brain, my brain fires differently then a non- hoarding brain. It is hard to treat, mainly because it is
almost always accompanied by another type of mental illness – co-morbidity.
I want you to know that hoarding disorder is a mental disorder I find very difficult to live with, it is debilitating. I live with constant anxiety and stress, guilt and shame, and my social life is greatly affected, I invite no one to my home. Sometimes I just want to run away, and at other times I just wish everything would just disappear. Although I feel that way, I somehow am unable to bring myself to do it, although it appears logical to me. Therapy, ongoing support and vigilance are essential. Through therapy I gained understanding of the disorder and learnt strategies to help me manage: I now carry a list of strategies on my person at all times, have put up pictures of how I want to live and tell myself everyday, as a mantra, that I will live clutter free. I also practice vigilance, I must always be on guard in acquiring and discarding, though I do much better with not acquiring than I do with discarding. And I need ongoing support like the wonderful programs at Sunnybrook and the VHA. I am committed to, one day, living in a “wellhouse”.
In 2013 hoarding was entered into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – DSM – as its own mental disorder. I have been diagnosed with this disorder. I am a hoarder. .. but I have hope.