Harrowed Hoarders Hurt from Haunted Habits
You’ve seen the show Hoarders: Buried Alive. There used to be another one but I can’t remember the name of it. It’s astounding that these people live this way. This isn’t a scripted show from what I can tell, at least I believe it. Maybe I’m naive but I don’t think so. Hoarding is in the DSM-V, listed under a compulsive disorder, under OCD. It was debated whether or not it would get its own category for V but that didn’t happen. Of course OCD can also be symptomatic of a larger issue, such as Bipolar Disorder or any one of a number of Anxiety Disorders. I feel for these poor souls. That cannot be an easy life and since these urges are incurable, the best hoarders et al can hope for is control of their symptoms. Usually this requires intensive, ongoing counselling and medication. Meds are actually very helpful. They don’t sedate people. It requires an anti-psychotic to cause sedation (or a sedative) and the former are usually given to schizophrenics or bipolars who are in mania. These are extremes. For OCD and hoarding, anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications tend to fill the bill. Sometimes.
Hoarding has many levels – from 1 – 5, with 1 being the mildest (barely begun) and 5 being the worst and most difficult to control. Levels 4 – 5 are fire hazards, and therefore life-threatening. In the previous episode, the psychologist attending the house had to wear a respirator to avoid contracting any bacteria or viruses that could lead to a disease. Children are always removed from these households by Children’s Services. These are illegal households and often the city will intervene and enforce by-law to make the hoarder clean out the household. Fires are a no-no in suburbia, because they easily spread to other houses, as do coackroaches and rodents. Hoarders bring down the value of real estate on their streets. People have the right not to tolerate this abuse of their environment. However, abuse is exactly where hoarding begins. When a hoarder is young, neglect and abuse tends to contribute to hoarding. Often this person is a victim of the foster system; constantly moving and not permitted to gather personal items. They own next to nothing. Ownership of personal items, no matter how repulsive, becomes a safeguard, a false sense of security against the cold, untrustworthy world around them. The worst possible thing done to these children is when a foster parent, or biological guardian, forces the child to dispose of their items. Some adults have been known to force children to burn their precious belongings. I can’t think of anything crueller, next to sexual abuse. Now that the child has grown up into adulthood, s/he can collect and hoard as many items as desired. It becomes a cycle that spins out of control.
Another reason is in the way that people process information. Consider:
- The objects physical appeal for the hoarder’s attention. This makes sense. You know how it is when you’re garage-sailing of course. You might not be searching for something specific but an item suddenly catches your eye for reasons you’re not even cognizant of and you have to buy it. A hoarder displays an extreme form of this behaviour. S/he pays attention to the shape, colour and texture of an object. Whereas most of us consider the usefulness of an object before we purchase it, hoarders consider the appearance of it and whether or not it can simply be added to a collection at home.
- Length of time assessing an object. The hoarder spends a great deal of time investigating an item purely for aesthetic reasons. It takes a long time for the hoarder to make the decision as to whether an item is valuable or not.
- Hoarders are highly disorganized. A lot of us think that about ourselves as disorganized but wait! This is different. When you get mail, you probably have a place where you usually place mail. A hoarder has a very different system. S/he organizes visually and spatially. They rely on memory rather than organization.
- Creativity. Some hoarders have a creative streak in that they appreciate the detail of an object. However this is taken to the extreme when almost everything the hoarder sees has an artistic bent.
- Hoarders’ brains process information differently than non-hoarders. Studies have discovered differences in patterns of brain activity between the two.
This story brought my interest back to the topic (I’ve blogged about it before). A Connecticut woman died when the floor above her head collapsed on top of her, while she was in the basement doing god knows what. Police found the body of 66-year-old Beverly Mitchell after an alert mailman told police her mail was piling up. The building was so unsound, firefighters had to cut into the side of it. They used a backhoe to scoop up the pounds of debris that covered her corpse. If hoarding isn’t a type of mental illness then I’d like to know what qualifies. Surely at this level of hoarding, there are rodents, cockroaches and other infestations, feces from insects and roaches everywhere. The woman’s own toilet was probably backed up and in that case, she would have been defecating on the bathroom floor. “She just never threw anything away. Mail, packages, bottles, lots of papers, newspapers, magazines, you name it. Piled to the ceiling in most rooms. There was a waist-high layer in the room she had been living in.” A police officer commented. He stated that social services offered to help her many times, but she refused. No surprise. “It’s unfortunate because … we’ve tried all along to get her assistance, but she was a very private and solitary lady.”
It would seem to me they didn’t try hard enough. I’m surprised that the city didn’t intervene and force the woman to accept a clean-up crew to clear out the house. Social services are all well and good, but not if they can’t help the affected person. There are other channels that could have been used to help Mitchell so that her life didn’t end beneath a collapsed floor. What happened here?
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