Archive for September, 2014


More Than the Diagnosis

“Wow, you’re a bit OCD, huh?”

No. I am not OCD. Any more than I “am” PTSD. How can one BE a disorder? I have OCD, PTSD, and dysthymic disorder. They affect who I am, but do not define me.

So I’ve been thinking about a few other, similar things lately. I often say my parents are hoarders. Particularly my father–I’m fairly well convinced that my mother hoards by association wit h my father and her tendency to pick up what those around her do, rather than any personal inclination.

Now, looking at this logically and realistically, since they’ve never admitted it or done much about it, they sort of do let it define them. They have not chosen to rise above it, to be more than it. But at the same time, they are more than hoarders–in both positive and negative ways, but more, at any rate.

So I’m going to try to start saying that my parents have Compulsive Hoarding Disorder, rather than that they are hoarders. At least my father does. My mother . . . well, again, it’s a little up in the air whether she has it or whether she’s just absorbing the behavior of my father. But they both certainly have depression (that they see in each other but won’t acknowledge in themselves so they don’t seek help for it) and that’s another way I need to change my terminology. They have depression.

Because, for my own sake, for my own healing, no matter how much I think I may have forgiven them for various things, I don’t think I really have if I continue to define them by their disorders, conditions, etc. I don’t want to be defined by the conditions I have, and I don’t want to define other people by the conditions they have either.

So I am me, and they are them. And these conditions and disorders and such? They’re things we have to choose to deal with, each individually. But they are not who we are.

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I would like to offer a disclaimer at the beginning of this: I do NOT believe that being a COH is equivalent to being a slave or to major child abuse. That is to say, it could be equivalent, but it all varies case by case. My case was what I consider “boarderline abuse.” That is to say, I would be reluctant to call it abuse, but it was pretty stinkin’ close. Technically, I think it classes as emotional abuse and neglect, but I still have a hard time calling it that. At any rate, it certainly isn’t the same thing as, say, Dave in A Child Called It, or an abused prisoner of war. Chains of the past that are hard to be released from vary in origin, strength, and even in their effect on various people depending on their personalities and how they react to circumstances. But the extreme chains of one doesn’t negate the lesser-but-still-present chains of another.

For various reasons (mostly related to sci-fi–yeah, that’s my brain) I started thinking about slavery earlier. I was thinking of Teal’c from Stargate: SG-1, who was born into a slave race and fought to escape that slavery, then fought against the slavers to free the rest of his people. Yet it took him a very very long time to trust his new friends he was fighting with, and even well into the series he had a hard time asking for help with personal matters, even though he would offer ideas and happily work with them in professional matters. And this got me thinking of how hard it must be for a former slave, especially one born into slavery, to ever feel “equal” with anyone else, even his friends. If they weren’t also in slavery, I suspect the freed slave may forever feel substandard, though his friends would never (at least never intentionally) do anything to make him feel that way.

I was actually thinking of writing a story involving this element, and as I wrote down a short conversation to later include in the story (if ever I have a surrounding story to go with this brief concept) I realized something very significant: I feel like this too. No matter how kind someone is, no matter how loving, no matter how they confess their faults to me, I never feel like I’m “equal” or “good enough” when I’m around my friends. I mean, a lot of people often have a sense that everyone else has it more “together” than they do. But it’s more than that. I have this sense of being on a slightly lower plane of existence–like I’ve managed to raise up to a higher plane of existence than I was ever on before, but still never as high as those around me. Like I’m incapable of reaching that plateau. Like I’m forever pulled down to a lower level.

Despite my frustrations when my mother-in-law is helping me–which are not based on her help, but my own feelings of failure–I still feel very comforted when she’s around. I feel like she’s a comforting and calming presence, an anchor of sorts.

My sister told me the same thing tonight about her own mother-in-law. And we agreed that we don’t feel that with our mother. In fact, I had two days with my mother-in-law here followed by one day with my own mother here last week, and the difference was drastic. I could talk to my mother, joke with her, but almost the same as I could with a relative stranger. I lack a connection with her, and what connection I really feel is negative. I feel like her very presence, even when she’s here helping me rearrange bookshelves and get more organized (yes, she apparently can actually do that!) is somehow pulling me down to a lower plane. But when my mother-in-law is here it’s like she gives me a temporary free pass to that higher plane that I’m never actually allowed to live on. I never feel like I belong there, but I can at least be there for a short time and have a respite from the stuffy lower altitudes.

And I’m sure it’s the same with abused children. And with slaves. And prisoners of war. And anyone else in such a situation. maybe it’s a PTSD thing overall, or maybe it’s something else. I don’t know. But I know that if I’m ever talking to someone who was in any such situation, though our experiences will certainly differ and though they may be dwelling on lower planes or have a harder struggle to get up with more chains weighing them down, I do know this: I may not be able to identify with everything they’ve been through, but I’ll certainly identify with that particular feeling.

People love to point out–to me, or just in things they share on Facebook–that you are responsible for your own actions and your actions are not the fault of your past. Even when it’s a generic image shared on Facebook, I always feel like that sentiment is being shot at me like a very insulting arrow. Which is funny, because I do actually believe it. But I feel like people get so caught up on that that they ignore the fact that your past does, in fact, affect how you react to things. If I’m cruel to someone, that’s my choice. If I neglect my son, that’s my choice. If I ignore my house and do nothing to contribute to my family’s comfort and well-being, that’s my choice. But if I experienced these things in my life, they will certainly make those choices much harder. If you’ve been given an example of the wrong thing your whole life in one area and the right thing your whole life in another area, doing the right thing in BOTH areas is your choice, but in which area do you think it will be a harder choice?

So yes, if I use my PTSD (which I’ve only recently realized is almost entirely related to cleaning–how strange that the simple matter of how to clean is the area I react as the most “abused”) as an excuse not to clean, that’s a cop-out. But if I struggle with doing the right thing, keeping a clean and healthy environment for my family and teaching my son how to clean, because I was never given that example growing up, that’s legitimate. The point is, however hard it is, I made my choice–my choice is to fight.

Now I just need to figure out how to choose to believe that I really am equal with others, even if I don’t have a perfect house.

Just One . . . .

“If one person in this house put one thing away where it belongs just once, I’d be thrilled!”

There are certain moments in life that stick in your brain for no logical reason. I thought I’d write about one of my own today. I was a senior in high school. We were in the apartment of the year (as we had a different one every year for 3 years in a row), with the same mess that we always packed away, then released from the boxes upon arrival to instantly fill the new place. I was laying on my bed in the bedroom reading a book for English class. And my mother was very loudly looking for the can opener in the kitchen outside my room.

That’s when she shouted the above sentence. And I glared over my book and muttered, “You wouldn’t even notice.”

I would never say something like that within her hearing. My self-appointed tasks in life were to keep my mother from crying and defend my father as not being able to do anything because of his disabilities (even though he could have done a lot more than he did).

But from the safety of my room, I could at least mutter my thoughts. Because honestly, let’s be realistic here. We had access to half the living room in that apartment, the other half being entirely piled up with boxes of stuff that we “needed” to keep. Of course, we survived a year and a half in that apartment–it being the last in our string of moves before moving to the house my parents lived in from a few days before I left for college, until just a few months ago–without any of the stuff in those boxes. But we couldn’t get rid of any of it either. We “needed” all of it.

What’s more, we still had piles and piles of junk EVERYWHERE, and several drawers and fixtures that functioned when we moved in were broken when we moved out. We kids were blamed for this, and I admit we could have done more than we did. You can refer back to my last post, though, about the importance of being taught how to clean. I mean, my siblings and I used to try to make our own chore charts, entirely of our own accord, so we could keep the house clean. We would go on frantic cleaning sprees. They resulted in failure after failure, never sure how to keep up with things, never sure how to stay motivated, never kept accountable or sure how to keep one another accountable, and often yelled at for throwing things out like, say, a meat tray (“Those can be used for paint pallets!”) or a moldy, cat-pee-soaked t-shirt (“We can wash that!” [if we ever got around to getting any laundry washed]). So yes, I admit that there was often more that we children could have done, but please realize that we were kind of flying blind through a very hostile environment when it came to cleaning.

I’m sorry if the last paragraph sounds very defensive, but these are things people have indicated, implied, or directly stated to me somewhat regularly–that maybe the mess really was our fault and we can’t blame it all on our parents. It’s so hard for me to differentiate what WAS my own fault or the fault of my siblings, and what was my parents’ fault, but it’s even harder for someone who wasn’t even in the situation to really be able to accurately identify this. Especially if they came from a home where they were taught how to clean, or a lot (maybe more than they ever realized) was done by their parents.

Anyway. So back to being realistic about my mother’s statement. In the midst of this huge mess, if one person put one thing away where it belonged once . . . who would notice? Honestly, who would? I was actually really upset by her shouted hyperbole simply because I had actually used the can opener earlier that day and I HAD put it back in the drawer where it belonged. Why it wasn’t there then–who had used it and not put it back, or if it was in the drawer and she just wasn’t seeing it–I don’t know. But really, did she honestly think she would be able to tell the difference if one item was put back where it belonged once? She didn’t even know the difference when we spent hours cleaning while they were out to try to surprise them when they got back. Who could tell?

Picture a beach after a hurricane. Picture debris everywhere. All up and down the beach. Now picture 3, 4, maybe 5 children walking up and down the beach for an afternoon, cleaning up as much debris as they can, with no instructions except “clean the beach,” and no idea what half the debris is. Trying to figure out what to do with it. Not even able to lift some things. Just for one afternoon. Honestly, if no one saw them out there, anyone coming along afterward might not be able to tell that anything was done at all.

Generally, you can get a lot done in an afternoon. Several rooms cleaned up. Lots of clothes sorted through. Under the right guidance and instruction. But without that–without guidance, without instruction, without knowing how to do it–you’ll just wander aimlessly and even if you do a lot, you’ll get very little actually accomplished. Not nearly as much as if you’re taught how to be efficient. Especially if you’re a child. So children wandering on a beach full of debris might get some done, more than if they did nothing at all, but not nearly as much as if an adult helps them get organized, teaches them how to do some things, works with them, and gives them specific instructions.

That mental image of adults and children working together to clean debris up from a beach after a hurricane is kind of nice. A “hope for humanity” kind of image. But now picture that, instead of helping them get organized, an adult out there sitting in a chair, yelling at them that they need to get things picked up, blaming them for the mess on the beach (and hey, maybe some of it is their own mess, who knows? but certainly not all of it), and then yelling at them for throwing some things away because “that can be fixed and I can still use that!” while also yelling at them for not throwing other things away that “obviously” are trash.

Yeah. That’s what cleaning in my house was like. Now, in my house, that adult yelling at us for not cleaning was my father. Most of the time. My mother did too, but not nearly as often. She wasn’t home often, busy working and driving people places. My father was home all the time, and my biggest memories of him (except a few precious memories of wonderfully deep conversations about science or philosophy or the Bible or music or whatever else; and a few weird memories when his inability to do anything was suddenly set aside when he wanted to create various artworks or cook way more food than needed to be cooked at once) are predominantly of him yelling at us for not cleaning, getting upset about things not being clean and throwing things around (which just relocated the mess rather than actually doing anything useful), watching TV, or being in his bedroom asleep while we had to try to stay as quiet as possible.

And no, I don’t blame my father for all those things. I understand some of them. He was frustrated at his disabilities, felt useless or like he wasn’t “good enough” because he couldn’t work to provide for his family. His already-night-owl sleep schedule was extra messed up with various medications he was on. I get that. But that doesn’t absolve him, either.

I’m babbling, though. Covering too many topics. My point is, in a place like that, who would ever notice something being put away where it belonged?

It’s one of those stupid little things–just one sentence shouted in frustration–that for some reason has stuck with me my whole life. As I’ve gotten older and learned how to clean on my own, I’ve learned something very important that, in all honesty, I really knew at the time but wasn’t sure how to do: it definitely takes a lot more than just doing one thing every day in order to keep a house clean.