Hoarders: The Secrets that Hide Beneath

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My husband and I have been staying with his 90 year old grandfather for a few weeks now. I am off sick from work because I went off the rails again from my PNES symptoms or as the psychologist I went to for a formal assessment calls it “Conversion Disorder.” Apparently, according to him, the two terms are interchangeable. It also is called “pseudo-seizures” and/or “functional neurological disorder.” Whatever you call it, it is incited by the anxieties of my workplace. I also have a cyst on my right wrist which makes writing difficult, as well as typing, and stapling. As a teacher, stapling is one of the most tedious, annoying parts of the job. Stapling handouts of stories (I’m an English teacher) takes forever and the hand movement causes great pain. You may be wondering: photocopiers have stapling functions enabled on them, so why do you have to staple by hand? Well, I’m mighty glad you asked. Because the school is too cheap to pay for the staples. My hand was getting very painful before I left to go on sick leave but it is my brain that is the reason I went on sick leave. In any case, that is not the purpose of my story this morning. As I said, we are staying at my grandfather-in-law’s, and just like my cyst that hides under my skin, his home has some secrets that hide beneath as well.

20171117_054107.jpgThe secrets are mainly in the basement, but can also be found in pretty much every drawer and cupboard in this house. You see my grandfather-in-law is a hoarder. Not the kind that you see on TV that you can’t even open the door to get into the house, but he certainly has great difficulty with throwing things away. Both he and my late grandmother-in-law, bless her soul, are people who have/had difficulty tossing anything away. And not just sentimental things. EVERYTHING! 20171117_064128.jpgMost of the items are in the basement. I go down to the basement about once a week to do the laundry. Doing the laundry is a fun adventure, because I always take the opportunity to sneak around the basement to see what cool things I can find… you know, like when you’re visiting someone else’s home and you rummage through their medicine cabinet. You just never know what will be in there!

Since we’ve been staying here, my husband and I have been trying to get his grandfather to throw things away. But it’s always the same with him, hemming and hawing, “I might need that someday.” For example, in the summer, I cleaned out his cupboards of all the expired food and went through with him what we should throw away and what we should keep. When I came to the Cake Mix, I was not allowed to throw it away. “I might bake a cake some day.” My husband laughed, “My grandfather has NEVER baked a cake. Now at 90 20171117_054843.jpghe’s going to bake a cake?” But in the end I prevailed (not with the cake mix but with other things), mainly because I waited for him to be asleep or out running errands. In those times, I quickly grabbed garbage bags to throw things away in such as cans of beets that expired in 2005 and had leached through the can. In the end, I threw out about 5 garbage bags full of expired canned goods, and baking supplies like sugar and flour that were all as hard as rocks. After organizing the kitchen, I was excited to tackle the basement. (I know, I’m a weirdo who loves to organize things… when properly medicated that is (ADHD)).

At first, my grandfather-in-law was receptive at the idea of cleaning up the basement. But then he got kind of funny about it. He decided he better get down to the basement before C. (my hubby) or I went down there. Just like me, secretly throwing old food away, he waited for us to go out for the day and, at 90 years old, climbs down the rickety stairs and into the maze of things lost and sometimes found, (but usually not found until a new one has already been bought.)  For example, he doesn’t have a dog, and hasn’t for at LEAST 30 years, but I found 5 heated dog bowls down there, 3 of them in the original packaging. In fact, my husband and I have decided to no longer shop for items we need before checking the basement. So far at the Lost and Never-Found Basement Store, we’ve picked up a spice rack, a paper shredder and a Pyrex lasagna pan. The prices couldn’t be better- FREE! My grandfather-in-law has no idea what he has and what he doesn’t have. Yes, we are horrible people. But back to the old man in the basement; he went down with a ladder and started moving things around. He did create a path that loops around the perimeter (for the most part) that allows us to maneuver around the piles of stuff. But the thought of my 90 year-old grandfather-in-law going down those dangerous stairs (even I’m nervous of falling) and climbing up on ladders, especially when he’s home alone, scares me more than Donald Trump being president of the United States (you know, because Trump can press “the button” at any time.)

So for now, my husband and I have decided against organizing the basement. We don’t want to be responsible for any accidents that could beFALL his grandfather down there. But for your viewing pleasure, I have taken photos of some of my favorite discoveries in the Lost and Never-Found Basement:

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Expired food. Notice the bottle of cleaner on the right- hand side of the photo. Yummy, canned goods, water and cleaner. The Heinz Chicken Gravy expired in 2001. Still good eating though…
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Above: Wardrobe bag. Right: Wardrobe bag inside an old Wardrobe Chest.

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How old do you think these ice skates are?

 

 

 

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Old wood for the fireplace that hasn’t been used for around 40 years. Notice there is also a toboggan, the old lawn chair, and on the left-hand edge, old cans of paint.
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More old paint. The house was built originally as housing for soldiers in World War II and some of the old paint in the basement is from when the house was originally painted.
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A broken chair along with empty garbage bags, rope, chemicals, an old humidifier and other junk.
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Broken exercise bike. There is another broken exercise bike upstairs in the kitchen that my grandfather-in-law won’t let us move out of the kitchen because “I’m going to fix it.” So he has two broken exercise bikes.
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Who ya gonna call? (Still works.)
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ASS. And if you wondered, yes, it is an Electrolux vacuum on the left. It still works and it is the vacuum they use.
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???????

As you can see, there is a myriad of treasures in the Lost and Never-Found Basement, along with piles and piles of just plain junk. I guess some people just have difficulty parting with the past, so they hoard. But if you have so much stuff that you don’t even know what you have, then how can you enjoy those items with sentimental value?

If you or someone you know is a hoarder, JUST THROW THAT SHIT OUT! PLEASE! Just rip it off, like a band-aid. You can’t miss something you forgot you had in the first place. And objects are just that- things. They can’t stand in or replace people- and you’ll always have the most cherished parts of people you’ve lost in your memories of them.

O.H.

ADDITIONS!

 

It’s Not Easy Being Green

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Ever feel like you’re being weighed down by bags? I have only two hands and so many bags but I only want to make one trip to carry them all. But I can’t. I need help. I’m weighed down by bags, some of which I didn’t mean to pick up and I didn’t pack them, but I have them nonetheless. What to do with all these bags? It’s overwhelming.

I always try to use reusable shopping bags. They are eco-friendly and I can fit more things in them. I live on the second floor of a flat and the fewer bags the better to carry them up the stairs.

I recently started reading this book given to me by a friend called Choice Theory. I have only read the first chapter but it resonates. The idea is that we are all seeking the same thing: the freedom to make our own choices. Often we feel like things happen to us. But really everything is about our choices. I chose to pick up these bags. And now I have to figure out how to get rid of some of the load.

Life would be so much simpler if we allowed each other the freedom to be our authentic selves. I see it so clearly: the outside pressure on me to choose what others want me to do, what they think is “best.” But I also know in my heart what will make me happy.

Right now I am in a situation where everyday, my bags cause me a mixture of anxiety and depression (which I’ve been told are like ugly step-sisters.) I search my soul for a solution- the anxiety, the depression- the PNES- they are but symptoms of the larger thing that is wrong: the biggest, heaviest bag which seems to be collecting more and more items as each day progresses.

The theory of choice says that I should just do what will make me happy- others can’t make me do anything. But it isn’t really that simple. Each bag I carry represents either a person I love, or an outside entity, or “the system.” It’s not easy to make a choice for yourself that you know has implications for others around you and even yourself that could be negative, especially when you know it is the one thing that will lighten the load.

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Maybe it’s time I stopped being so eco-conscious and started just using disposable bags. I can just let stuff fall out through the cheap plastic bottoms, leave them on the ground, pretending I didn’t notice. One less thing to care about.

 

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I’m not young anymore. I’m in my 40s and I’ve wasted so much of my life carrying around these damn bags. It’s time for someone to either help me or for me to leave a bag behind and let the contents rot on the road side, with the carcasses of raccoons and porcupines.

It’s either the bag or me.

O.H.

 

Mental Illness: A Cancer

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So it’s 4:39 am. I am awake. I’ve been awake since 3:50 am. So I thought… maybe I’ll write something. My good buddy, Sam, said to me, you haven’t been blogging lately. What’s up? Nothing is up. Everything is down.

You see I haven’t been writing because I haven’t been feeling the greatest. My anxiety and PNES has swallowed me up like a person trapped in a cove when the high tides of the Bay of Fundy come roaring in. I’m off work again because people have suggested to me that I should be. I didn’t want to leave my classroom. I love teaching; it is who I am. It was a difficult decision to take time off. The worst of it the fear of judgement. I have left the small town I live in and am staying with family in another city. Being in a small town and appearing healthy makes the anxiety worse: If I go grocery shopping, people will think I’m not really sick. If I go to the gym, people will think I’m not sick. But even being with family and friends in another far-away place is difficult. They want to know why- why aren’t you at work? It’s October, how come you have two weeks off? And then the anxiety…what do I tell them? The truth: I’ve gone completely off the rails because I can’t handle the requirements of my job? Or a lie. I have cancer. I do have cancer figuratively. Cancer of the mind. It starts off as a small bit of questioning. Can I do this? And it snowballs like a growing tumor until it takes up all of the space in my brain. Just get through one more day… one more day. All the things you didn’t get done, you can do tomorrow. Except that tomorrow is the same as today. There isn’t enough time to do all the things. Everyone has a breaking point.

So here I sit…trying to think but trying not to think. I need to sort it out, but thinking about all the stuff is exhausting. All of the players in my world have their own ideas of what is “best” for me. Some of the players don’t seem to understand that I am not well. Here are some of the things I have been told/ asked to do:

  • Take two weeks off. Don’t think about work. You’ll be fine in two weeks.
    • Will I? “Don’t think about work.” Asking a teacher not to think about how their students are doing is like asking a person not to breathe. It is in my nature to think about what went wrong. To question, to wonder, to worry.
  • Come up with a plan of how we can support you if you have a seizure in front of your class.
    • Okay, but generally I don’t have seizures due to the students. It’s due to the immense amount of bullshit…er… paperwork, policies, etc.. So what do I do to get out of that? Not check emails so I don’t know about all of the new requirements of my job this year? Don’t talk to anyone who might tell me about things I’m supposed to have done and haven’t because it’s not humanly possible to do all the things required in my job and do my job well?
  • Since you’re off, take this minimum wage job as a housekeeper/nanny.
    • So my mother-in-law thought it would be a good idea to volunteer me to help look after her niece’s house and twins. You know, they put me off work to ease my stress and for me to focus on taking care of and healing myself but why don’t I just go take care of other people for two weeks.
  • Since you’re off, can you input this data into a computer for me? And set up a website?
    • My husband, god love him, is excited at the prospect of me having time to help him with his job. I spent much of the summer doing that at the expense of my own planning for new courses. Maybe if I had been better prepared for the 5 different courses I was teaching, I would not be in this situation right now. I love my husband, and I do want to help. But right now, I have to focus on what to do to heal myself.

I guess I wrote something. It’s not my best work. I’m sorry for being a Debbie Downer. Wha-Whum…

Hopefully, I’ll be in a better place soon. I’ve gone through this before and gotten through it. I have no reason to think I won’t get better this time.

-O.H.

Featured image:

“Debbie Downer.” Wikipedia. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debbie_Downer&gt;

October   11, 2017.

 

Playing with PNES

By Ocean Hayward

Anxiety. ADHD. PNES. Okay, you’re probably all well versed on the first two, but the last acronym is probably not as familiar. About a year and a half ago, I was officially diagnosed with Psychogenic Non-Epileptic Seizures (PNES). I always like to joke that, yes, it is an acronym that if stated phonetically would sound an awful lot like penis. Pee-Nes. Just my luck. I don’t typically share my PNES with most people. I used to because the seizures were so frequent that I was afraid I’d have one in front of people. I’d rather them know up front why I’m shaking and trembling like a person during DTs so I don’t alarm anyone.

I started having seizures about 8 years ago. They aren’t fall down, unconscious on the floor-type seizures. They are tremors, twitches and jerking motions that I have no control over. They can last for a few seconds, to a few minutes, to a few hours. It all depends where my state/ level of anxiety is. During the attacks, my blood pressure elevates as well. My seizures are my body’s way of dealing with extremely high stress situations. I’m not sure why it reacts with seizures. Maybe it’s because I tend to be a quiet person, especially when it comes to how I feel. I try to avoid conflict as much as possible and when faced with the anxiety of having to confront someone, that tends to set off the seizures quite a bit.

Certain situations are much more stressful than others. A big one for me is crowds. I hate crowds. Over the summer, my husband and I were walking along the Saint John waterfront and it was “Saint John Idol” night. You know, like American Idol? But with Saint Johnners singing instead. For whatever reason, the whole “Idol” show concept is still surprisingly popular in Saint John, even though in every other place in the world the craze has fizzled out.  It seemed that everyone in Uptown (That’s right, every other city/town has a “downtown” but Saint John has an “Uptown,”) and surrounding areas had amassed into this tiny closed-off-to-vehicles street. Some idiot (because it should be called Saint John Idiot/ American Idiot, in my opinion) was up there singing their heart out and I was stuck with my husband trying to walk on this street through the crowd of both people standing still and watching the Idiot and people also just trying to use the street as a through-way to another part of town (like my husband and I). I started to feel the panic because of all the people around me. My husband was behind me and he could see my body jerking, shaking and trembling as I tried to keep my calm. If I’d been asked to rate my level of panic, it would have been a 10+.

Suddenly, I couldn’t stand it anymore; I needed to be out of that crowd and quickly. You know how they say to stay calm in emergency situations, like if you’re in a crowded building that’s on fire? I was that person who panics and pushes through and stomps on people and kills them. That was me. I was pushing people out of my way in a mad dash to get the hell away from all the fucking people! I don’t remember much about it other than my feeling of panic, but I’m sure I pissed a lot of people off. Although perhaps my panicked voice saying to my husband, “I have to get out of here” made them sympathetic. All I know is my husband grabbed me suddenly by my waist and pushed me into a pub, and out of the crowd. I was still seizuring, but I was out of the source of my anxiety. In about 2 hours, it was as if it had never happened. But it did.

The worst thing about having PNES is I never know when something is going to happen that will spin me into a frenzied state of nervous energy. It’s unpredictable. Some people with PNES can never hold a job. I am determined, however, to beat PNES. (To improve the humor in the piece, read PNES phonetically in the last two sentences.) Where was I? Oh, yes, I will beat PNES. Er… I will overcome PNES. I have strategies. I use self-talk to calm myself down. I try not to take on too many things at once. I try to make sure I take time to take care of myself. I take drugs. Lots of prescription drugs. And I try to always find the humor in life, even in my PNES. The most important thing I’ve learned on my journey with PNES is that I have to put myself first, and keep myself healthy. I’m no good to anyone else if I’m not good to myself first. And on that note, I’m going to go play with my PNES.