Monday, August 13, 2012

Research Into Hoarder/OCD Relationships

Dr. Amy Przeworski, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Case Western Reserve University, and her group are conducting two online studies regarding the relationships of individuals impacted directly or indirectly by OCD or hoarding.

The first study aims "to gain information about the relationships of individuals who have OCD and/or hoard."

The second study aims "to gain information about the relationships of individuals who have OCD and/or hoard from the perspectives of their romantic relationship partners and adult children."

For more information, please visit Professor Przeworski's study site or follow the link in the twitter message below. (By the way, the professor has an interesting and entertaining blog of her own at Psychology Today, and you also can find her on twitter at @AmyPrzeworski.)

The surveys close on September 14, 2012, so hurry up, and get those answers in!

UPDATE (October 9, 2012): The survey period has been extended, and the links have been reactivated, so if you wanted to participate but couldn't earlier, now is your chance!

Awkward Party Questions

Here's the scene: I was at a small party a week or two ago, and everyone was having a great time. Awesome food, a glass of wine or two, in a lovely, lovely home. People were laughing, telling jokes, sharing stories, and maybe even exchanging a little gossip here and there. A perfect Sunday afternoon.

I was having a nice chat with several of my fellow party goers. A couple of other people were engaged in conversation just a few feet away. Without warning, someone in that other conversation - a smart, beautiful, charming woman who had recently published a book - jumped into our conversation. She asked me, with a big smile and loudly enough for all to hear,

"Hey, Joe! You had fleas when you were a kid, right?"

Everyone laughed...

...including me! This was not a horrifying moment of humiliation, but a moment of friendship and bonding. In fact, amidst the laughter, I enthusiastically replied, "That's right! You guys had fleas, too?"

You see, this wasn't just any old party. Everyone there was a child of a hoarder. Every one of them understood.

Rather than being something straight out of a childhood nightmare of exposure and ridicule, this was a moment of shared experience, a moment where survival in the face of abuse and neglect was something to be celebrated.

Instead of feeling like a freak, I knew that I was surrounded by people who had endured the kind of experiences that I had endured as the child of a severe hoarder. Even though these experiences at various times threatened me and others in the room with destruction, somehow, we were all standing there: people who were enjoying themselves, people who were worthy of love, people who had accomplished much in life, people who went on to build happy homes with their spouses and their children, people with interesting and exciting careers...people who, despite some deep, invisible scars, were normal. Maybe even superlative. Maybe that means that I can be okay, too.

If you are a child of a hoarder (COH), I encourage you to connect with other children of hoarders, either online or in person. A great way to get started is to visit the Children of Hoarders website, its Yahoo Group, or its Facebook page. Over the last couple of years, several members of the online community have started meeting face-to-face with other COH, and many have said that meeting other COH in person can be an overwhelmingly positive experience. I agree. It's hard to describe what it feels like to realize that, without knowing it, you've dropped a lifetime of defense mechanisms and are enjoying yourself without worry or reservation. It is remarkable to see other COH also shed the burdens that they have been carrying for so long, even if it's only for a little while.

Before I wrap up this post, however, there was one question at the party that was a little bit awkward for me to answer. The conversation had turned to our parents' choices of professions. While no formal studies have been carried out to substantiate their observation, members of the COH online community have long suspected that an unusually high percentage of parents who hoard work in the helping professions, particularly nursing. Unsurprisingly, several of the party goers remarked that they had a hoarder parent who was a nurse. When I was asked about my mother's profession, I said, "Housewife," since that is what she would have said herself. However, "Housewife" didn't really sound right, for any number of reasons, so then I started to say, "Homemaker." That was even worse. Frankly, our house was anything but a home. Mom probably was more of a "homewrecker," and I felt like most of the people in the room knew enough of my story to realize it. Awkward. Indeed, the only awkward moment of the afternoon. (I emphasize the awkwardness was entirely from me examining how my mom defined herself. My friends could not have been more supportive.)

Strange, isn't it? At a regular, non-COH party, I would have had the exact opposite reactions to the question about the fleas and the question about mom's profession. I would have answered, "Housewife," without a concern or a second thought. On the other hand, I would have been mortified if I had been asked about fleas. Eventually, I'm sure that I will be confident enough to answer either question in the same way, forthrightly, under any circumstance. Not yet, but someday. Someday soon. The work continues.

PS. For those of you who haven't guessed, the "smart, beautiful, charming woman who had recently published a book" is none other than Barbara Allen, author of Nice Children Stolen From Car, available in paperback or Kindle format at Amazon. For a quick preview of her excellent writing, check out an excerpt from her book over on her blog. Yes, the excerpt is about fleas.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Hoarding Awareness Month

Via the COH Facebook page and the Hoarding Project, I hear that Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has proclaimed September 2012 as "Hoarding Awareness Month."

By itself, a proclamation doesn't change things very much, but it demonstrates that awareness of an issue is rising, which suggests that more effective change might be on the way.

Thank you, Governor Dayton!

One state down. Forty-nine to go.


WHEREAS: Hoarding is behavior characterized by three criteria: the acquisition of, and failure to discard, a large number of possessions; clutter that precludes activities for which living spaces were designed; and significant distress and impairment as a result of the hoarding; and

WHEREAS: Hoarding is a mental health concern found to be related to genetic vulnerability, mental health, cognitive deficits, trauma, or loss; and

WHEREAS: It is estimated that between two and five percent of people in the United States hoard. When the effect upon family and community members is taken into account, the problem becomes even greater; and

WHEREAS: Treatment for hoarding is often ineffective, possibly due to a lack of understanding of hoarding behaviors in the public and professional sectors; and

WHEREAS: Studies show homes that took ten years to become "hoarded" will likely become "re-hoarded" within three to six months of the clean-out. Clean-outs done without accompanying therapeutic intervention can pose a tremendous financial burden on individuals, families, government agencies, and communities; and

WHEREAS: Increasing public awareness of hoarding will benefit local government agencies, individuals and families affected by hoarding behavior, and communities across Minnesota.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, MARK DAYTON, Governor of Minnesota, do hereby proclaim the month of September, 2012 as:
HOARDING AWARENESS MONTH in the State of Minnesota.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of Minnesota to be affixed at the State Capitol this 31st day of July.

(Signatures: Mark Dayton, Governor, and Mark Ritchie, Secretary of State)