It’s Hard Not to be Furious

Posted: September 28, 2010 in anxiety, childhood, depression, hoarding, OCD

It’s been a pretty typical Tuesday in most respects. I had an appointment with my therapist this morning. Normally I feel a strange mixture of sadness and hope after therapy – I feel better, because I know I’m working on getting healthy in every way possible; but what I’m working through in therapy right now involves the past, and it hurts. It’s a constant, weekly reminder of how bad the past really was.

In all reality, I’m just now starting to come to terms with how bad the past really was.

As a kid, you never want to believe your parents have flaws. It’s natural to try to overlook them, I think…they’re your parents.  I spent over twenty years of my life believing that everything that was wrong was my fault. The house was messy because I wasn’t a good enough child to clean it. The dishes weren’t done because I hadn’t been responsible enough to do them. My hair wasn’t brushed because I wasn’t a clean enough child to take care of it. I grew up with such an overwhelming sense of responsibility for not being perfect that I developed a paralyzing fear of failure. It has impacted every decision I’ve made until recently.

It wasn’t until I was in my twenties and starting seeing a therapist consistently that I realized it shouldn’t have been responsible for cleaning the house as a little kid. Kids are supposed to help with the dishes, not manage them. A five year old doesn’t know it’s their own responsibility to brush their hair. Sometimes they even avoid it because it hurts. They have to be taught and guided. I wasn’t. If I didn’t figure out how to do things on my own, they just didn’t get figured out. I was told I had to be okay with that. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve made the decision to give back the responsibility for things that aren’t my job to take care of. It hasn’t been easy.

When I moved out of my parents’ house at 18, any semblance of cleaning stopped. After years of dealing with a mess, I cleaned my room on my own for the time around age ten or eleven. It was the only clean room in the house for the rest of my childhood and teenage years. A few months before I moved out, I cleaned the rest of the house as best I could. I was dealing with my own personal trauma (something I’ll talk about in a later post in more detail), and I needed an outlet.

Cleaning the house was almost as traumatic. Lots of things I remembered from my childhood had been ruined by mold or mildew or mice.  There were rotting mice everywhere – including the oven, which hadn’t worked in years. Some of the windowsills were so eaten through with termites they disintegrated when I tried to clean them. The floor in the bathroom was rotting from the bottom up. Sentimental items were missing or destroyed. The process was devastating.

By the time I came back on my first break from college, the house was in worse condition than before I’d tried to clean it. My parents had literally filled it back up. That was devastating. After that, it just got worse and worse and worse. Exponentially. By the time I finished college and came back, it was the worst it had ever been. For me, after four years of living in a clean environment, it was too much. It was literally unlivable.

It wasn’t until the last couple of years that I really started to understand that hoarding is a real problem, and it wasn’t my fault that I grew up in the conditions that I did. It shouldn’t ever have been my responsibility to clean them. Watching television shows about hoarding is a double-edged sword for me. On the one hand, it’s comforting to feel like I’m not alone. It’s a good thing to know that there are other people out there who do understand what it’s like to grow up with parents who put things before children. On the other hand, it’s especially hard to see people talking about how bad the situation is when the house isn’t as bad as the one I grew up in. I understand the pain they’re going through, but I can’t help but wonder where help was when I needed it. When I was little, hoarding wasn’t a problem that was talked about. It was a big secret to be covered up. It still is that way for a lot of people, but I’m finished keeping quiet. Intentions aside, my parents’ hoarding has hurt a lot of people. It’s time to stop hurting and stop healing.

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