surveys that take it out of you

I generally fill out surveys with a sense of duty… righteousness, even. However, over the past two weeks, I took the time to complete Dr. Suzanne Chabaud’s Adult Children of Hoarders Survey which at times made me feel like I’d rather die than continue to the next page of questions. But then, not completing tasks would be very COH of me. I trudged on, amazed at some of the questions, constantly thinking, “What the heck? Is THIS why I act like that?” In the end the only thing that compelled me to finish was my desire to reformat my hard drive: I was afraid I’d lose the 75% I’d already entered. Enter the survey at your own risk. I found it revealing and thought provoking, but not much fun.

Since joining the COH listserv, I’ve often felt that my case is so different because my father didn’t really become an evident hoarder until after I had left home. I don’t know what it’s like to have my room filled up by someone else’s junk, and I’m grateful for that. But as I read about other people’s parents, there are so many other similarities beyond the actual hoarding. The signs of a mental illness (or at least a disorder) have long been present in my father. It was just a matter of time before they manifested in his collecting.

While I felt OK answering questions about my parent, when the survey turned personal, I began to feel the hoard coming after me. I immediately emailed D. with a list of questions that appeared. Some of the highlights – rate yourself on the following:

I get distracted
I hyperfocus on tasks or details.
I struggle with completing tasks.
I struggle with making decisions.
I struggle with establishing priorities (deciding what is most important, e.g., eating is more important than going to a movie).
I have difficulty sticking to priorities – e.g., doing what is most important first.
I have trouble organizing my physical environment (putting things in reasonable or sensible places).
I have trouble maintaining my physical environment (keeping it clean and tidy).
I have trouble managing paper in my home or office (mail, school papers, newspapers, files, receipts).
I have trouble being on time.
I have trouble accomplishing tasks (e.g., getting things ready for a trip, getting chores done, getting ready for work, preparing a meal).
I have trouble managing my parental responsibilities (e.g., getting children to school and activities, preparing proper meals, and maintaining a reasonable schedule for activities such as play, sleep, bath and homework, and supervising activities).
I under-manage others (Being able to direct or supervise others in a manner that is appropriate to the relationship).
I over-manage others.
I have trouble managing my finances (paying bills on time, establishing reasonable priority for using available funds).
I overspend.
I am “tight” with money.
I give away too much (time, things or money).
I have trouble giving (time, things or money).
I have trouble taking care of my basic needs for self-care (e.g., medical, health, hygiene, rest, nourishment, and clothing).
I struggle with telling people what I need.
I have difficulty facing conflict with other people.
I blame myself more than I should.
I put myself down.
I overfocus on my flaws.

And on it went, into my issues with boundaries in personal relationships, my ability to parent, and so on. Devastating. And at the same time, D. was at a conference and I was preparing to take S. on our first international flight alone together. I was suddenly all too aware of how I was spinning instead of properly packing for the trip. Not to exaggerate: I did get it done and we made it through the flight just fine. I do finish tasks (I have a Ph.D., after all), but I find it incredibly challenging to do simpler things like get S. fed, dressed and out the door on time in the morning. If I’m dealing with only myself… well, let’s just say I sometimes forget to shave one leg or comb my hair, but I feel good enough that it just cracks me up. D. thinks I’m rigid in my schedule, but I need to stick on a schedule or I’ll forget to eat and have a meltdown.

Another point raised in the survey was whether the participant had to be the caretaker in the family. In my childhood home we fended for ourselves quite a lot and did all or most of the cooking and cleaning for several years. We quickly became autonomous, but I’m starting to angrily realize that I didn’t have a chance to see how a parent should take care of a child. I’m really just striking out on my own, perhaps over permissively and over indulgently, but I only know the way my parents did it was upsetting for me as a child.

Anger is possibly a good step, but I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more hopeless about the amount of work I have left to do as a result of this hoarding mess.


4 responses to “surveys that take it out of you

  1. When I saw the title of your post I knew EXACTLY which survey you were talking about! *Whew* I did it too and felt very much like you did. Very.Much. I had the same kind of self discovery happening, the same kind of “this was not fair to me, us as kids” type. And now we’re moving – my own family – so the house is starting to “get” to me because, honestly, I have no idea where to begin to organize all this stuff . . . . .

    Craziness. Crazy survey. Very interested to see the results from it once it’s done.

    • Thank you, Michelle, for letting me know I’m not alone. This has been a constant process of discovery over the past months since I (quite innocently) started the blog. I had no clue how deep the issues ran on that fateful day when I struggled to let D. throw out my broken suitcase and started realizing how the hoard was chasing me down. I’m very sorry you have to struggle through the minutiae, too, but I’m appreciative.

  2. My grandfather didn’t hoard until his wife died and my mother and uncle left the house. But he was always mentally ill, respecting no one’s boundaries except his own. Frankly, he was an asshole.

    My MIL, as Greg gets deeper into his dig into her hoard, it seems she had hoarding tendencies for years. Before her son was even born. Now that Greg is examining the family’s findings, he’s remembering stuff creeping into spaces of his own (oxymoron), and hearing memories from friends and babysitters which confirm this. Her hoard exploded once Greg left the house and he never went back.

    I’m very glad you participated in the research; it should help others. Anger is healthy in this situation. COH’s often follow the five stages of grieving. You are grieving the childhood and parents you deserved, but will never have.

    Great post! Now get angry so that you can move onto the final stage: acceptance.

    • Sid, I always appreciate your comments. I have been thinking about your willingness to meddle and I’m slowly forming a blogpost tribute to your efforts. It’s so unlike me to get into anyone else’s business (see above boundary issues), although I often wonder what kind of opportunities would arise if I would. So thank you for reading, commenting, participating, and speaking your mind.

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