Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A&E Hoarders Episode IV

A quick synopsis...

Jake is a young man (21) who is living with his alcoholic (and verbally abusive) father in an apartment. The father seems seriously depressed and a serious alcoholic who hasn't thrown away a wine bottle in 6 months. His space is almost literally covered in bottles. Jake is suicidal. He seems to have diagnosed OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and cannot throw out anything that ever comes, in, including trash. He fears he will shorten his dog's life if he throws out the fur she sheds. He is an emotional wreck, but has a supportive boyfriend. Therapist Tara Fields is working with him.

Shirley, 71, lives with her husband in squalor in their home. She thinks she has 21-25 cats. She had a stroke and is blind in one eye. Animal control is in on this one and has cited Shirley for having too many animals. There are dogs on the property, too, but it is hard to tell how many. In the end, they pull out over 70 animals, 43 of them live cats. Several must be put down right away due to their ill health and serious disease. A "hoarding specialist" comes in. This person seems to be a junk hauler rather than a trained organizer.

Just a quick comment on this right now.

First of all, these are both very serious situations that are beyond the training of even professional organizers like myself who have been trained by the NSGCD to help clients with hoarding issues.

Jake is a wonderful, intelligent young man with some very serious mental health issues. The fact that he speaks of killing himself numerous times is a giant red flag for me that this man needs a (very well qualified) therapist. He seems to have gotten that in the show. Dr. Fields was gentle and gave him control with gentle nudging and self-awareness of his anxiety levels. He is also living in a situation with his father that is very unhealthy not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. Jake made wonderful strides for letting go of the trash, and he will need long-term support from a professional for him to continue growing. Hopefully his relationships with his mom and boyfriend are healthy and supportive ones which will help him continue his growth and independence (from his stuff, his obsessions and his father).

Shirley's is a case of animal hoarding, which is a completely different level of hoarding than "stuff" hoarding and I don't know if even the "experts" know how to deal with this yet. We saw a lot of denial from Shirley about the problems with the cats--she herself didn't realize how many she had and that so many had died or were sick. That is part of the illness of animal hoarding, is very poor insight into reality. I'm glad to see she wasn't charged or sent to jail. Yes, she neglected animals and kept them in poor conditions. But she wasn't intending to do that and I don't see how jail time would have actually helped her. People who hoard generally have poor insight into their situations, and even when they do realize a change must occur, often cannot make the change on their own--even with the threat of jail or children or spouses leaving or being taken away. It is bigger than they are. It doesn't excuse the situation. It just explains it.

I hope that more people will realize how complicated hoarding is. There are no easy answers. No one-size-fits-all solutions. When I was a park ranger in Yosemite, visitors would often say "Just don't let cars in the Valley, that will solve the over-crowding." Another no-easy-answers problem that (literally) fills volumes with idea for potential solutions.

Watch for more from me in the next few days about the larger problems around finding solutions around hoarding.

And, yes, if you have any ideas, send them my way!

What do YOU think?

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