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Chronic Illness Neuroses?

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Have you watched or heard about this reality TV show called Hoarders? It’s what it sounds like -- people who save everything until trash completely dominates their home and their life. I’ve never watched it, but I’ve caught commercials for it, and it’s really gross.

I’m not that bad, but I am a hoarder. I have three or four cases of bottled water here, enough kitty litter to get through several months, lots of cat food, and anything else I’m afraid I will run out of.

I wasn’t always a hoarder, I don’t think. But when I got desperately ill and could not go to the grocery store on my own, I started to ask people to bring essentials whenever they were coming by, so I would know I wouldn’t run out. The stack of cases of bottled water was almost as tall as I am, although I backed off to some extent when the stack fell over one day. The bags of kitty litter are extreme.

Everything is neat and in its place -- my hoarding is well hidden and moderate enough so you might not even identify it as hoarding -- but if I go to the grocery store and there’s no kitty litter, I freak out until I find some to buy, even though I have plenty of it in the house. Every corner of my house is in use to store an extra roll of paper towels (or 20), enough Lean Cuisines to feed an army, bottles and bottles of shampoo and conditioner. I have more than what I need of about everything.

As best I can tell, this habit became a neurosis because I am afraid that I will get sick and won’t be able to get to the store. It may be that I had a milder form of this before I got side-lined by illness, but it was never this bad until I had to rely on others to meet my needs. I hate asking for help more than I hate just about anything. I’d always managed to meet my own needs before. But when I got so sick that I couldn’t drive or lift a bag of kitty litter, it got extreme.

It’s not just hoarding supplies. I have to have at least a month’s worth of my EmpowHer columns in the bank at the beginning of every month -- after all, what if I got sick and couldn’t write for a couple of weeks? Although payday is on Friday, I write payroll checks on Wednesdays -- what if I wasn’t feeling well on Friday? I live my life under a cloud of “what ifs.” And it definitely comes from being sick and the fear and aloneness that comes along with that.

It’s all about creating the illusion that we have some control over our illnesses, and over our lives. But in the end, it is an illusion. Chronic illness has a mind of its own.

Edited by Jody Smith

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I really feel for you. Not that I am a hoarder (yet...) but in being unable to do some of the normal things that everyone takes for granted, and the terrible fear that surrounds that. My driver's licence was taken away from me back in January because of the state of my feet, and then I had no way to get anything - not a happy way to be. Thanks so much Doctor Nicholls for being so understanding and forward-thinking (NOT!) and rendering me completely isolated.

Among other things - "Powdered milk is my preference", I said to my kids - rather than tell them that I could not manage to get fresh, so I used powdered to hide the fact - so many little subterfuges and tricks to try to keep ahead, keep safe, keep well -

Then I got a mobility scooter - wonderful! Until the day it shorted out between here and the station and I was stranded - and terrified. Really, really, terrified. Being helpless on the side of the road is beyond hell for me I discovered. Now the Government has provided me with a powered wheel chair which is much more capable and not so likely to conk out - great, eh? It is also very large and heavy, so I got bogged out in my own garden. Up to the hub-caps in soft soil. Could not get back into the house. The exit doors were all locked, the gate was locked (you can see that I have safety issues...doh!) and my daughter was away in another town visiting her in-laws. Sat in my garden and unable to even go to the toilet, and just trying to think what to do, how to get help, on a Sunday afternoon. In the end I rang my daughter and just sat and waited until she arrived at my house, having left her function early to come and help me. She was not happy - she was a little cross. Why had I not taken my stick? What was I thinking? Couldn't I have called out to the neighbours? (I did, but they were playing very loud music, and either did not hear me, or chose to ignore me - and they could not have got in, anyway - everything is locked...)

So when I read how you collect the items you are afraid of running out of my heart simply swelled with sympathy. Do you think that maybe you are not really a hoarder as such, but simply terrified? 'What would your cats do?' must run through your head - How would you manage? I feel so much for you - because I know how terrified and alone I get with my disability and mental health issues - sending waves of kindness and support your way

September 14, 2011 - 1:47am
(reply to Crowsister)

So kind of you to take the time to share your story. These are all examples of how chronic illness becomes bigger than just the illness itself. Jennifer

September 16, 2011 - 6:49am
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