Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Largest Hoard Begins With
But A Single Piece of Crap

from My Mother-in-Law is Still Sitting Between Us.
used by permission
Please go visit for more insights (& pics) on hoarding

I didn't live in a Hoarding House, capital letters. 

I did live in a hoarding house, in progress.  I refused to live in a Hoarding House, but I could see the writing on the wall =  the boxes stacked in the garage.  Creeping into the computer room.  The non-functional TV on the floor of the bedroom.

When people (who've never dealt with hoarders) see news stories or hear about it, their reactions are usually, "I would never let it get so bad," they say.  "I would put my foot down."  They're not  meaning to be self-righteous, but they don't "get" how tightly those with a hoarding problem cling to their crap.  The few experts in the field have a very, very hard time trying to therapize hoarders to break the habit.

It's a very real mental disorder, although many hoarders live seemingly normal lives outside their homes or hoarding areas (some actually hoard in their cars, too.)

The Wheelchair
photo by Medical Products Direct
My OCPD ex devoted his life to caring for his elderly parents' lives in their last few years.  He bathed his mother and changed her diapers.  He spoonfed both parents as necessary.  When his father developed circulation problems, my ex did physical therapy with him, rubbed his legs, not giving up until the man regained partial mobility.  Ex's aunt loaned a wheelchair during this time, which had been used by her late husband.  Later, when ex's parents began their final decline, it was in constant use, especially for his father.  Shortly after his father died (at 96), ex b-f put the wheelchair in the garage.

This occurred in the first few months of our dating, when I was unaware of his OCPD.  Mostly, he seemed "normal" (honeymoon/courting stage) and I chalked up any quirky behavior as due to his loss and grief.  I truly thought him a hero, and in many ways, he was.

About two months after the father's funeral (the mother predeceased the father by about 4 months,) the elderly aunt came by while I was present.  The idea was to have the aunt sort through her deceased sister's clothing, prior to them being donated/sold, to see if she wanted anything. 

During the visit, she requested the return of her wheelchair.  Ex explained that it had been in the garage, and was currently all dusty and cobwebby, to please let him clean it up and return it to her at a future date.  Although it did occur to me that perhaps ex associated the wheelchair with his father, and had some trouble letting ago, I thought the clean-up excuse was not wholly unreasonable.

When he and I moved in together, over a year later... the wheelchair went from sitting in the garage of the parents' home, to sitting in the carport of our home.  Okay.  He'd had a lot on his plate, so it wasn't a priority, but surely within a few months, after we were settled in, we could clean it up, and make the trip (about 30 miles) to have a visit with the aunt and return the wheelchair.  No biggie.  So I assumed.

Shortly, as his OCPD behaviors flared out of control, the wheelchair became the least of my worries.  Still, I would make periodic attempts to get it returned, as it continued to sit in the carport, taking up valuable space, gathering more cobwebs, becoming more and more pitted with rust.

I tried reasoning, arguing, guilt, anger.  I tried mentioning it once a month; I tried not mentioning it for an entire year.  I tried bringing it up one year, early in May, as a suggestion for something we could do over the Memorial Day weekend; we could clean up the wheelchair, visit his aunt, and still have plenty of time for all the "normal" weekend activities that kept him so worried/busy (read, churning).

He wouldn't budge.  He didn't have time to clean it up; it had been used when his aunt bought it so it wasn't worth much anyway, and he was the one who'd put all the work into fixing it, so it wasn't like he was depriving her of something with much monetary value; it wasn't any of my business; what if he needed a wheelchair, didn't I know that he wasn't feeling very well?  However many times I brought it up, he had an excuse answer for why it simply wasn't possible at that time.

In retrospect, it's a classic example of how OCPD can become deeply conflicted when two imperatives collide.  On the one hand, the moral side - he verbally agreed with me that when somebody loans you something, you return it in as good or better shape as when you borrowed it.  And you always return what you've borrowed, even if it's a dog-chewed pencil with the lead missing.

Especially when the lender has asked for it back.  Returning something that belongs to someone else is the Right Thing To Do - and OCPD is all about always doing the Right Thing.

But then, there's Demand Resistance plus the OCPD hoarding compulsion.  (Note: It appears that in the upcoming DSM-V, hoarding will not be included as part of the diagnostic criteria for OCPD, but as its own illness.  While it's true that not all hoarders have OCPD, and not all of those with OCPD hoard, many do.  Of those with OCPD who don't hoard, many are the mirror opposite - they have a compulsive need to throw everything away.)

Hoarding, for some, seems to be tied to procrastination  (better not to do something at all, unless 100% convinced it can be done Right.)  To fear of catastrophe/future need. (What if I throw this away and need it later?)

Photo via The Concert T-shirt Etiquette Guide
Then there's the attachment most people have, to some degree, to inanimate objects.  Most of us have an old teddy bear or a favorite T-shirt, that has no practical use but we can't bear to throw away.  It's not the scrap of fabric, itself, but the memories that we don't want to let go.  When we look at that T-shirt, we are once again 18 years old, in a pack of friends screaming our lungs out for Dio or Black Sabbath or New Kids on the Block.

I can totally sympathize that perhaps in some subconscious way, ex b-f felt that the wheelchair = his father.  That it was really, really hard to let it go.  I did have a problem that, after nearly six years living together, seven years after his father's death, he still could not bring himself to return his elderly aunt's property.

Or, to get rid of a lot of other old things that were making our lives together worse, not better, and which, like the wheelchair, continued to gather cobwebs and were slowly rusting into the ground.

I wish I could tell you what the answer is.  In the end, I was not willing to live in a growing hoard.  Faced with the choice - get help, so he could understand why it was so difficult for him to let go of these things, or watch me walk out the door - he choose the hoard over me.  Despite the verbal and emotional abuse, despite so much that was terrible in our relationship, I would have been willing to stay and help him work on it, if only he had been willing to see a therapist and work on his issues.

He wasn't.

Now he has lost me, and his aunt passed away earlier this month, so he won't have to return the wheelchair. 

Somehow, I don't think he is any happier.

Do you have a hoarding story?
Do you keep, perhaps, too many items with sentimental value?