Right now I'm in the process of doing something that I've once said I don't do - cleaning my house. Only, it doesn't feel like cleaning my house. It feels like cleaning my soul - making a clean-sweep of all of my emotional baggage - that I've been lugging around for several years now.
I think I may be a hoarder - albeit, on a somewhat small-scale, compared to reality tv shows. Still, the amount of crap that I've collected - and the reasons I've used for not getting rid of it - felt very much similar to what you see on TV. I can understand why some people are comforted by hoarding - and I feel for them - because it usually always originates from a place of pain. Like the mother whose infant baby died, and afterward she started clinging on to anything, so that it wouldn't leave her. For me though, even being a mom, I've never been a particularly sentimental person. I've always had the ability to keep only the things that truly are meaningful, and get rid of the rest - especially if it only clutters things up. But, my new hoarding symptoms go beyond sentimentality - they border on obsession and desperation. It all started several years ago, during my breakdown.
I started hoarding clothes. Back before I was diagnosed (and before I gained 40 pounds while on my meds), I started going to thrift stores in town. I live in a very small town - so small, in fact, that there isn't even a Walmart (yes - that small). Some of the only options for shopping in this area (if you don't want to drive an hour), are the 5 or 6 thrift stores that we have. One, in particular, has fantastic deals where you can get brand-named clothing for $.50, at times. Back then, I felt confident in clothes. I was pretty skinny at the time, and looking good in a new outfit everyday was one of the only areas in my life where I felt like I had maybe a little measure of control (even though, in reality, I didn't). Since I had a job back then, I would stop by the thrift stores before or after work - nearly everyday. I acquired heaps and heaps of clothing, and I loved my collection! Clothes somehow gave me comfort, filled up whatever was empty, injected some sort of self-esteem into my hollow self. And spending money was a temporary high (even at thrift store prices). As ridiculous as it sounds, going to thrift stores, and acquiring clothes (or anything, actually) was an addiction. I would get anxious if I knew I couldn't go when I wanted. I would plan my trips around when I did or didn't have my kids. After my visits with my therapist, I would run to the thrift store, desperately trying to erase all of the issues that were just discussed. A few times, I even spent the money my husband gave me to pay the therapist, and used it at the thrift store instead. That's how consuming it was. Then, that therapist diagnosed me, and everything fell apart.
After I was officially diagnosed as having bipolar, I was put on medication which - like almost everyone else - caused me to gain weight. I never in my entire life - even after my two children - have had problems with gaining weight. I've always foolishly prided myself on my ability to eat whatever I wanted, and not gain an ounce. But even my metabolism was no match for lithium. My weight gain came on very quickly. So quickly, in fact, that I remember one week buying 3 new shirts, and 2 weeks later I couldn't even get into them. All of these clothes that I bought to feed this emptiness - the clothing that I felt so good wearing just a few weeks before - now became my enemies, taunting me with their small numbers that I no longer measured up to. But, because of what they represented in my mind, there was no way I was getting rid of them. Getting rid of them, in my head, would mean I giving up any hope that I would get back to who I used to be - that perfect size, that perfect outfit, that fleeting high that each item would give me. We live in a very, very tiny home. My clothing collection would just lay in piles in my bedroom. Just like the piles of build-up in my mind, and the piles of mistakes that I made, and the piles of garbage that I felt like inside. And I adapted to the mess. It became somehow comfortable - invisible. It was, strangely enough, my security blanket.