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Voices of COHP



I am the only child of a single mother and, like many children of hoarders, I feel deep love, pity, and fiery anger toward my mother.  Not only did I grow up immersed in her severe mental illness, that illness overshadowed most of my childhood milestones. 


We lived in two worlds.  To others, my mom was always known as a sweet, caring, kind, giving and thoughtful woman.  To this day, she charms people easily and is often at the center of a group of people.  It was common for people to tell me, “Oh, your mom is just the best lady” and “She just loves you so much.”  She would often go out of her way to be the light for someone who needed assistance.  She looked like a caring parent who had nothing but love for her child.


Alone, my mother was a completely different person.  She was alternately suffocatingly sweet, incredibly needy, or immersed in sweeping rages.   Over and over, she told me that I was a lazy, ungrateful, messy, and selfish child while being hugged 7 times before bed because she read that a child needed 7 hugs every day.  


Here are just a few examples:


  • I did not get control of my bladder until the 3rdgrade.  At 6 years old, I came home with wet pants one day.  She flew into a rage, stripped me naked, and put me in a diaper.
  • When I was bullied, came home sad, or needed care I would listen to stories about how other children treated her as a child.
  • In grade school, it became apparent that I had a learning disability.  My mother suddenly realized that SHE had a learning disability and got tested.  I did not receive support at home.  Instead, I spent the next 15 years hearing about HER learning disability.
  • When I was molested, she told me stories about being raped.
  • As a pre-teen, I wrote a suicide note that my mom found.  She went absolutely ballistic, discounted how I felt, and told me that I was an incredibly selfish child. 

My problems were always less than hers.  I learned to become small, hide my emotions, require less assistance, and make her needs greater than my own.  By the time I reached adulthood, I shut down and became numb in her presence.  I also served various other roles: cook, cleaner, TV remote, confidant, and best friend.   


She always had an active social life.  There was always a best friend or a lover on a pedestal.  This person became her everything.  Until they proved to be human like the rest of us.  I was expected to worship then reject them as she did.  People who became important to me were there one day and gone the next.   She went through “clubbing” phases and there were a lot of different men.  I never knew who would be there, where they would be, and what I might find when I woke up. 


She was not a severe hoarder when I was child.  The house was usually dirty, grimy, and cluttered.  There was no household cleaning schedule but the home was usable.  I was told the mess was my fault and I believed that until I moved away.  After her second marriage fell apart, she went from cluttered to filling rooms and I realized her behavior was the problem.   I didn’t see the severity until, sight impaired while recovering from her second stroke, she CRAWLED INTO A DUMPSTER to retrieve a set of wicker baskets.  Hoarding wasn’t the biggest problem in my childhood, but it finally made her mental illness visible to others.


Growing up in that environment left me completely unprepared for adulthood.  I had no sense of responsibility, I felt like a victim, and struggled with crippling anger while having low self-worth.  Her illness separated me from my family and I had no support.  My early 20’s were spent repeating many of the bad decisions she made.  At 24, I was fortunate enough to face my worst fear “no one needing me.”  It was devastating, I was lost, but I chose therapy over death.  I rebuilt myself slowly, through trial and error, to become the successful person that I am today.


My mother can be manipulative and melodramatic.  She casts herself as victim and turns a headache into a deadly disease.  Paradoxically, she downplays serious illness.    Her cancer scare was a 10 minute conversation before she was gone again.  She never managed her money, using her victimhood to gain attention or money from others.  She manipulated people to believe that I had abandoned her.   Eventually, they saw a pattern and went from looking at me with disdain to looking at me with pity. 


As an adult, I had to learn to say no to her requests for money and ignore the pleading from her “friends.”  It was difficult and, on many occasions, I ended up caving.  The last time was when my grandmother died and left me $5,000 dollars.  My mom asked for the money so that she could “pay off her bills” and I, stupidly, agreed.  Instead, she used it to completely fill her home with things.  It was the worst mistake I have ever made and, not only am I still sick about it, I am still moving that crap around to this day.


But my mom wasn’t a monster, and I have always known that she was desperately sad and alone.  I love her with all of my heart.  Through therapy, I was able to process the incredible anger I felt toward my mom and be around her in a more healthy way.  Through support groups and learning about her mental illness, I gained an understanding of hoarding and the difficulties treating mental illness.  At the age of 41, after 20 years of waiting, lightning finally struck and I got the opportunity to help my mom.  It was absolutely worth the wait. 


If my story sounds familiar, here are a few truths I learned along the way:


  1. Your parent is suffering with severe mental illness which is neither your fault nor your responsibility.  That is absolute truth, don’t let ANYONE convince you otherwise.

  2. BOUNDARIES!  Boundaries are your ally.  Learn about them.


  4. You have every right to a life, friends, and experiences outside of your parents’ circle.

  5. Secure your own lifeboat before helping others.  Let your parent(s) be responsible for theirs.  I had to help myself before I could begin to do anything for my mom.  Therapy was an important part of my life and it took a long time to get to the point where I was in any position to help her.  Even now, it is still difficult.  I think everyone needs a therapist, they absolutely help, and as an added bonus you may get to skip that “hot mess” phase of your life.  



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