I made a trip to Japan a few years back and it forever changed my view of my personal space. I didn’t consider my home and office surroundings as cluttered until I returned with a new minimalist view of space. My home now looked cluttered and I began to see some elements that resembled hoarding.
I have worked with several clients who suffered from hoarding. Yes it is a diagnosed ailment. Compulsive Hoarding is typically part of the anxiety spectrum of mental disorders. It is usually identified by the degree of mental disturbance just the thought of getting rid of items produces. The actual act of getting rid of items can increase the anxiety to such a great extent that the person may experience panic and or be immobilized and unable to achieve the mental organizational ability needed to achieve the task. It is hard for non hoarders to understand how someone can be so attached to items that these items make their life and home, areas of great dysfunction. As I returned from Japan, with its predominantly minimalist structuring of home décor I had a changed perspective on what I now saw as my cluttered setting. My home and office space now seemed too filled for my peace of mind.
I faced the question of what to get rid of, for the first time. I would traditionally, like other people who didn’t suffer from OCD, or any anxiety disorder that manifested itself in hoarding, get rid of things that were broken beyond usefulness. However I was now looking at items in my surroundings that were all useful and had worth in my estimation. I saw a raison d'être for all the items placed in my surroundings. Some were there because of personal relationships (gifts from kids), other items were practical and functional (coffeemaker, linens). I was able to find some things that were no brainers and got rid of them with ease. I didn’t realize that I had held on to my children’s reading books. Given the fact that the youngest was now reading on a high school level it was doubtful that the Judy Blume books would need to be used by them again. As they had no emotional attachment to these books it was agreed that they could be passed on to the school library (the Harry Potter series did however stay much to my dismay). After loading three diaper boxes of books off to other homes there was an immediate lightness in my home. I was now faced with a harder choice, how to discard items that were more precious to me. This is the dilemma that hoarders face; the items we ask them to discard are precious to them.
The steps I used and found the most successful are outlined below. I have since employed this model with clients who are diagnosed with anxiety disorders and who engage in hoarding behaviors as a result. These steps are basically a variation of systematic desensitization, a model used to address deep fears. The greatest fear of the hoarder is loss of access to their cherished items. To address this fear, the cherished item is removed by degrees. There are rules however about not adding to the clutter while engaged in this process. One rule I had for myself and my clients is that you couldn’t buy or accumulate another item without getting rid of a current one. My Achilles heel was home improvement stuff. I always had a plan to work on some area of my home. Therefore it made sense to buy a specific wall ornament, or paint that was on sale, or some tiles that were just the right style when I saw them. The plan to improve my bathroom or repaint a bedroom remained plans as the purchased items stayed tucked away for that faithful day. I now knew that unless the planned remodeling was going to happen today, or this weekend, then I was forbidden to buy any items in anticipation, regardless of how great the sale was. Also all the magazines that I had collected with ideas that I wanted to implement would also have to go. Because was I really going to reference a magazine article that was 5 years old at this point? Thanks to the internet I no longer had to save every magazine article or picture that appealed to me. I could now have decorating ideas at the touch of my fingers through online do it yourself shows and online magazines
Armed with the rule of no new purchase or acquisitions without removing a similar item, I began to tackle my environment, one room at a time.
With each step you take, remember to take the time to self congratulate. Self validation and praise is important in this process. You can do so using some practical means. Assign yourself a treat. Not necessarily food, but perhaps you can go to the movies with a friend. Why? Because you have just done something to improve your situations, and even if no one knows about it, you do and it is worthy of some recognition. We certainly take time to recognize our screw ups. Let’s take time to recognize when we take steps in the direction of health and mental wellness.
Have you ever had a sleepless night, a night where sleep eluded you? Or how about you go to sleep but your eyes pop open inexplicably at 2 am and you know sleep is over for you? What do you do then?
Well for me this was a constant occurrence when my children were in their teens. I was constantly thinking (truthfully worrying) about something related to them. If it wasn’t their schooling, it was their future, or their friendships or their relationship with God, it was always something.
I said the serenity prayer and recognized that they were their own people and I couldn’t control them as they matured and made decisions about their lives, but yet I couldn’t sleep. I remembered that when they were babies I use to sleep a full 8 hours, and wondered if I would ever see those days again. Well I did come through and am back sleeping well, so for you going through it now, there is hope.
My children are all grown now living their lives with various degrees of success and I am proud of each and every one of them. There is progression not perfection in their lives and I am trusting God to bring them into His purpose for them. But I will still have the occasional night where sleep is difficult. One thing I noticed however is the ability of God to stay up all night and be my counselor. As a counselor myself I am not that selfless. I have only been asked to stay up late with someone once as I helped them through a crisis. I did it because I wanted to help that individual, but I don’t think I am selfless enough to do that on a continuous basis.
On the occasional sleepless night I will be up at 2 am asking God to counsel me as my mind races with thoughts and feeling about many situations. As a wise counselor He listens patiently as I outline my thoughts and my feelings. As I express my various feelings, anger, disappointment, fear, I will usually hear nothing, just the sound of His present silence. I wondered if that is the way my clients feel. I am there hearing and just breathing. Is it comforting for them, because for me Gods silence was comforting. His presence is a non judgmental witness to the turmoil in my mind.
As time passes I start to hear him say things, but it isn’t him saying anything. It is me remembering things he had said to me over the years. You see He and I have a relationship where I have read his word many times and I know the kind of things He says, I know His take on many things. I remember what He said to Elijah in 1 Kings 19 and I hear him saying the same thing to me. “Eat and sleep”. I hear him encouraging me to take better care of myself. I hear him remind me that He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and can give me access to anything I need, and will when He believes I “need” them. I hear Him tell me that I am precious to him and that I can come to him at any time with my hurts, my frustrations and my fears.
Over the years I have had many clients come to a session and share that they had faced a situation during the week but were able to manage it well because they remembered something I had told them and they applied it to the situation. I actually had a client say “you are in my head”. Don’t know that that was the goal of therapy, but it was said in a positive way. I came to realized that if you trust someone and are prepared to let them guide and direct you, they don’t need to be present for you to benefit from the guidance.
Recognizing that God is able to guide me even at 2 am has been wonderful. There is no physical counselor out there who will visit you in the dark in your bedroom while you are under the covers and just sit and hear your thoughts. If there was one, it would be creepy, just saying!. God however does just that by providing you his comforting presence at the most inconvenient time and place for anyone else. Who else is glad that they have a “Wonderful Counselor”.
The dreaded holidays are upon us. The stress and discomfort of having to interact with so many people and smile when you don’t feel like smiling is a constant worry. The financial expectations and obligations that you feel compelled to fulfill are looming. If this is the gloomy view of the holidays that you entertain, you may be experiencing a form of depression that is very prevalent during this time of the year.
It is not necessarily a clinical depression that needs to be treated with medication or therapy, but it should be addressed in a healthy manner. The key here is to identify these emotions as temporary, only associated with the holidays. If they persist past the holidays then we may be looking at clinical depression.
But assuming that these feelings manifest themselves only around this time of the year, here are 3 tip to get you through.
In life it’s not so much the answers that trip us up, it is understanding the question. For example for most people 1 + 1 = is an easy question, and the most likely answer you would receive is 2. Most would say this is a no brainer. However supposed the question looked more like this; what happens if I put a 1 next to another 1, what will I have in the end. Then, with some thought the person may answer “two 1’s placed next to each other would produce the number 11. Would the person asking the question then be correct in restating “oh so 1+1 is equal to 11! With horror, the provider of the answer would probably try to correct them immediately and explain that having two 1’s together is different than adding a 1 and another 1.
Years ago my husband and I lived in an old home, then when we moved we built a brand new home. I remember my old home was warm and comfortable, but my husband complained that all his weekends were spent repairing things that were going wrong. In hindsight I now see that it was very labor intensive for him to maintain the safety of such an old home (84yrs old). He was delighted at the prospect of us building a new home and rejected the idea of buying an already constructed home when we moved.
I on the other hand found the building process very stressful. I didn’t have the confidence that my decisions would be right (what kind of cabinets for the kitchen, what color should the carpet be or should we have a wood floor?) There were so many decisions to make; decisions that we would have to live with for a longtime. I was much more comfortable viewing homes already constructed and deciding to modify to suit my aesthetics. We had two different thoughts and viewpoints on the whole situation but our goal was the same, to have a home where we would both be happy to raise our family.
When I see couples in counseling I recognize the same dilemmas. The couple comes to counseling identifying the common goal, to make the relationship work for both of them and perhaps their family. They however may not have the same view on the work that needs to be done to get to that goal.
Sometimes one partner is set on repairing the relationship. They are the one who state that the relationship use to be great and they want to know what to do to make it great again. They want what they liked in the old situation; they minimize the structural defects, or unappealing aspects of the past relationship. The other partner wants a whole new relationship, they want to rebuild. They feel they have been working too hard to salvage something that is no longer appealing to them. They may be the partner who has strayed outside of the relationship and had an affair, or they may be the one who is suggesting a divorce. Their attendance at counseling may be a last ditch effort to help their partner accept the loss of the relationship and they want the counselor to condemn the building and support them in their cry to abandon it and move on. Or in a more hopeful scenario, they want the counselor to help them rebuild with that same partner, but they definitely want a different structure on the same parcel of land.
Understanding the perspective of the couple as well as the individuals that make up the couple is key to helping them design the relationship that will work for both of them. Whether they choose to rebuild or repair will be determined by the degree of damage found, the investment of time, effort and finances each person is willing to put in, and the ability of the parties involved to actually do the work. If there are issues of substance abuse, domestic violence, or mental/physical limits the partner’s willingness may be hampered by their actual ability. But a competent counselor will help them to identify this.
I recommended that before a couple determine which plan is the best, they speak with an expert who can support their common goal and give them the tools and advice that will help them make the best decision for their particular relationship. After all when you are looking to purchase a home, you are thinking a lifetime (or 30+ years). Shouldn’t you be as committed to your relationship?
I like fried eggs, the look of the yellow yolk so clearly defined in the middle of the white and edged with a slightly crisp edge. I like scrambled eggs, the soft almost custardy texture of the eggs. I dislike eggs that are scrambled-fried. How do we get scrambled-fried? By not being able to maintain the integrity of the fried egg and not prepping for a scrambled egg.
As I pondered my breakfast I wondered why a scrambled-fried egg bothered me so much. Surely it was edible. It was composed of two nutritious eggs that had been cooked. So what if the original goal of seeing them fried had been abandoned as they began to stick to the pan and break up. So what if I had decided to just scramble them mid cooking, after seeing that they could not be salvaged as perfectly cooked fried eggs. Yet I still looked at them with disappointment, trying to decide whether to discard them or eat them.
Looking at them represented to me a failure. They were not what I had originally envisioned when I started this project. It had gone wrong, and my attempt to salvage had produced a product that was not palatable to my eye, as my eye was still aligned with my mind and seeing what it should have looked like. The thought of discarding the egg, a wasteful and foolish thought, still had appeal because of the depth of my disappointment, and the greatness of my desire to have what I originally envisioned.
I put my creation between two slices of warm buttered toast and took a bite. To my surprise, it tasted like fried eggs. That distinct fried flavor I had been craving; the look of it hidden between the slices of bread. So glad I didn’t discard it. I wonder how many things are discarded because we just get disappointed that it didn’t turn out exactly as we envisioned. I learned the value of recognizing that at its core there is value in many things that are disappointing, it’s all about using what you have to make what you feel is lacking more appealing and palatable.
This year, if there are some things that for you represent failure and disappointment, before giving up on them (children, marriage, career) speak to someone who can help you perhaps find a way to recognize what core value may still remain. It would be a shame to discard something that with a little work could be salvaged.