Saturday, May 12, 2012

I hate Mother's Day

Really. I hate Mother's Day with a fiery passion. Most of the time, I feel like I've made my peace with having a mother who just couldn't care for us kids the way that most mothers do. But then sometimes I run across something (like this truly lovely blog post) that makes me realize that I still mourn not having a functional relationship with my mother. I still have an internal sense of that lost little girl who grew up in a hoarded house with no room for her, physically or emotionally.

I know I can't possibly be the only one out there who hates Mother's Day. Granted, it really isn't the type of thing that tends to come up in conversation. I might as well announce a hatred of puppies and unicorns. But then again, maybe not. Truthfully, I don't see how children of a hoarding mother -- or a mother with any kind of mental illness -- could avoid having at least somewhat mixed feelings about the day. Hoarding tends to be comorbid with other mental illnesses, which means that many of us children of hoarders had additional parental issues to deal with. Female hoarders have a higher incidence of panic disorder, binge eating, OCD, substance abuse, and bipolar I disorder (the kind with the really high highs and the really low lows). Male hoarders have a higher incidence of social phobia than male non-hoarders. (See this NIH-published study for more information.)

My extremely anxious mother hoarded, binge ate, and suffered from what seems to be undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Growing up with her was less than delightful. Don't get me wrong -- she loved us and tried to do the best that she could (although her best was a total nightmare). So every year, as Mother's Day rolls around, I once again try to make my peace with celebrating a mother who couldn't cope with her own life, much less the lives of her three children; a mother who prioritized her relationship with things over her relationship with people; a mother with whom I, more often than not, had to assume the role of care-taking adult. That's all still true, come to think of it.

So here's to all of those people out there who have mixed feelings about the holiday (and the people who outright loathe it, like me. I know you're out there.) Happy freaking Mother's Day.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Yup, you sure showed me

The spring weather today made me have a flashback to a Spring Break in high school that I spent organizing my mother's garage. Ha, you say. What teenage hubris inspired you to attempt to de-hoard a suburban, two-car garage filled solidly with junk stacked higher than you are tall? By yourself? In a week?

Well, I wouldn't say it was hubris so much as desperation. Also, that my mother kept hounding me about never helping my own family. ("Never helping" from her perspective translated, from mine, into being a sixteen-year-old girl trying to raise my younger brother, do the grocery shopping and the cooking, and generally keep my mother from making our lives more disastrous than they already were.) So for some reason, and ostensibly with my mother's blessing, I decided that I would spend my Spring Break week really helping. (Looking back, I suspect there was a good bit of "I'll show you!" teenager-ness about the decision. Little did I know how badly I was outclassed.)

My mother is mostly a hoarder of books and paper. I spent the better part of the week going through boxes upon boxes upon boxes.  The garage was filled with stacks of worthless papers, junk mail, magazines, newspapers, and thousands and thousands of discarded books. I sorted. I organized. I sneezed through the dust as I clambered over giant piles of garbage. I got the garage ready so that we could finally get rid of everything, so that we could finally be free.

And at the end of the week, when I proudly showed my mother my accomplishment -- Look! It's ready for us to go get that Dumpster we talked about! -- she did let me throw some of her things away.

She let me throw away one box. One. The rest of it she went through, piece by piece. She might need it someday, or was sentimental for her, or she hadn't had the chance to read it, or she was saving it for someone who needed it -- for every single item in the garage. All but that one lone box that went into the trash.

Looking back, it's kind of amazing that she let me get rid of anything at all. That was the day, though, that I realized that I cannot help her. I'm pretty sure that her garage is fuller now that it was then. I'm pretty sure that the house is filled as well. I'm not totally certain, though. She won't let me inside, Dumpster or not. So in the end, really, she showed me.