I’m no dragon…

Photo 10908953 / Dragon © Kostyantine Pankin | Dreamstime.com

Dear friend,

I hope you’ve been well. Lately, I’ve been thinking about dragons and their hoards. There’s something dangerously attractive about the idea of piles of gold and jewels, living in isolation, and flying free whenever one wants. As an introvert, I think the idea of living surrounded by the things I love and coming out only when I feel so called to is very appealing. And yet when we think of hoarding as humans, the idea is far more sad and troubling.

My uncle was a hoarder. He piled my grandmother’s house full of stuff and they never let anyone in to see it. I remember going over there as a kid and feeling like I was entering into another world; a world where things were piled high and it was hard to move around. The smell of grandma’s house was always a bit musty and strange, and I never felt quite comfortable there. As the years passed, the house got worse and worse. Since my family lived many states away, we only saw them once a year, so there wasn’t much we could do from a distance beyond encouraging Grandma to tell him to stop. It’s too late now and that’s somehow heartbreaking. My uncle passed two months ago and my last remaining maternal uncle has been working on cleaning out my grandmother’s house ever since. It’s a slow process, untangling decades of accumulation, but bit by bit, the house is becoming livable again.

Hoarding is now recognized as a mental illness, and it’s one that I think many of us can understand on some level, even if we don’t suffer from it ourselves. After all, who doesn’t love the idea of surrounding themselves with things they love? Whether it is family photographs, a favorite collectible, even a lovingly curated collection of favorite novels, most of us have things in our homes that bring us joy. Of course, most of us know that it is important to do a routine cleaning to remove items that are worn down, no longer used, or no longer serve a purpose.

The difference, of course, is that hoarders can’t let go of anything, and their homes become cluttered and dangerous as a result. It’s a lonely existence and aside from the obvious health risks of mold and pests, one of the worst parts about hoarding, for both the hoarder and those related to them, is the shame. The urge to hide it, to keep it quiet, to avoid talking about it to anyone. If we just don’t say anything, it gives them time to fix it, right? Well no, actually. It’s a vain hope. And it festers, like a wound that never heals. I wish my uncle had gotten help while he was still alive. I wish a lot of things, but mostly I wish my mom’s family had easier lives. I think most of us have someone we care about for whom we wish we could fix life circumstances.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from watching my uncle hoard things he planned to resell at antique stores, it’s to be vigilant about my own collections. I admit I’ve let things slip during my depressive episodes. It’s amazing how quickly things pile up, from books to clothes and even documents I no longer need. But over the past few years, I’ve been chipping away at my own home, removing the clutter – which has never even come a fraction close to what my grandmother’s house had become. I use a keep-donate-trash method, which has worked well for me.

My suggestion for tackling any area in your home that feels overwhelming – even if it is your whole home – is to start small. Pick one table, nightstand, or shelf on a bookshelf and start there. Start by tidying – put anything that has a proper place back where it belongs. Then move to decluttering – anything that you no longer need or want, get rid of it. This can be difficult, but it’s important to remember that material things are not worth your mental health or well-being. After decluttering, take a step back and look at what you have left. If it makes you happy, great! If not, maybe it’s time for a change.

I’m not saying that everyone who has a lot of stuff is a hoarder. Maximalism is an interior design style, after all. I’m also not saying that getting rid of everything one owns is the right way to handle hoarding. In fact, doing so without the hoarders consent can make the problem worse! But I am saying that for me, decluttering my space has been an important part of managing my mental health. It’s one way I’ve found to keep my depression and anxiety at bay, and it’s something I recommend to others.

I’m no dragon, but I understand the appeal of the hoard. I think we all do, on some level. But it’s important to remember that for some people, it’s not just a quirk or an eccentricity. It’s a real and debilitating mental illness. And if you’re struggling with it, or are close to someone who is, know that you’re not alone. There is help available, and there is hope for a better future.

Regardless of the state of your own collection, I hope it brings you joy. I hope your home is a sanctuary, a place you can return to at the end of the day and feel at peace. I hope you are surrounded by the things and people you love. And if you’re not, I hope you have the strength to make the changes you need to, for your own sake. Take care of yourselves, everyone. You deserve it.

Love,

Katie

Ash

Hello Friend,

I hope life has been treating you kindly lately.

I wish I could say my journey has been easy over the second half of October, but it’s been rough. As I keep saying to my friends, my sister, my counselor: “I’m okay, it has just been A LOT all at once.” I’m sure you’ve had moments like that in your life, too – maybe you are even in a situation like that now, where things just. keep. happening. over and over and over again one after another and yet another with barely a break to breathe and recenter.

When all you want is for things to pause for just a bit, just long enough to catch your breath, to rest, to recover. It sucks when it feels like the brakes have given out and we are frantically steering our way forward, trying to find the least dangerous and damaging way to slow to a stop. I’m trying to coast along right now, focusing on the good things I pass – the crisp autumn air, petting Gunny as he soaks up the sun, appealing to my inner child by wishing on the first star I see each night, and so on. These moments of happiness, of presence, of “in this moment, I am okay,” are serving as speed bumps, helping me slow down enough to figure out how to navigate the next curve in the path.

A little context on my personal path at the moment: my uncle passed from heart failure on October 16th but I didn’t receive the news until October 17th. My home’s electricity decided to add to the fun on October 19th. In doing repairs, we ended up with a full panel replacement, which also left us with a giant hole in the wall to be repaired separately and drywall dust throughout our entire downstairs. And I do mean EVERYWHERE. We are still working on cleaning it all up a week later. In looking at all the dust, I’ve been trying to think of the events of the past few weeks (uncle’s death, home repairs, my car bumper damaged in a hit and run, to name a few) as a sort of phoenix moment. If I can view these hard situations as the flames and ash arising from the death of the old me, maybe I can see this as a moment of rebirth, too. I can more easily see how I’m handling things better than the old me would have. I have been laughing more than crying. I can see how much I’ve grown in that this domino effect of bad news overlapping hasn’t shattered me. Sure, I’ve had plenty of moments of feeling overwhelmed, but they aren’t even lasting half the day and are rarely lasting more than an hour at a go – that’s a major improvement over past self. So if past self’s hardships led to me of today, who is coping far better than past me could even imagine, then I can see this as the moment when the phoenix dies and is reborn in flames. Sure, there’s a lot of ash to clean up (literally in the form of dust and metaphorically in terms of processing everything mentally and emotionally). And maybe cleaning doesn’t happen every day, maybe growth in this new version of me, after this current rebirth, is slow at first, but I’m still growing, still moving forward, still testing my wings over and over again. And maybe you can see your own hardships the same way, maybe you can see yourself as a phoenix, too.

When you have phoenix moments, too, moments of major change and shifting from an old you to the new, I hope you remember it is okay to mourn what used to be and what could have been as you settle in to what is. I hope you have support and comfort and people reminding you how much you are loved. I hope you have people reminding you to be gentle with yourself because change is hard and often painful. Most of all, I hope you know how strong you are and give yourself credit for how much you’ve grown and evolved from who you used to be.

Wishing you well today and always,

Katie

How do you say goodbye?

Hello self,

This situation sucks. We know it. We also know we aren’t the first to go through it, nor will we be the last. How do you say goodbye to someone yet living when you both know they are dying? How do you say goodbye?

You leave to visit family a few days earlier than planned, stunned by the news. You frantically scramble to adjust your hotel reservation dates. You go to the doggy daycare in person to request permission to board your dear Gunny later that day. You spend the rest of the day completing all your necessary tasks – get the car inspected today because you don’t know if you’ll be back before the month ends, put together Gunny’s food and medication for Thursday through Tuesday…and add enough for a few extra days, just in case, pack and triple check that you have everything ready. Try to sleep…only get two and a half hours of shut eye before the alarm blares and you race out of bed. Look at your sister, notice the haunted expression she keeps trying to hide as you swallow down two cups of coffee before you get on the road. Pick up Starbucks for you, your sister, and your Mom and drive north to pick Mom up. Say hi and bye to Dad and Annie-girl. Drive and drive and drive, switching off with your sister on the thirteen hour trip. Why didn’t you fly? Too expensive – $845 one way per person…Wonder over and over and over if you’ll make it in time.

You do. You have dinner with your Mom and sister before Mom leaves to visit her brother while you head back to the hotel to unpack. Your sister reads tarot spread after spread, seeking…god, you don’t know what. You practice Reiki and silently thank your teacher for fitting in your level II attunement the night prior. Mom comes back and you get to bed around 11…somehow you sleep in until nearly 7, before spending the day with your uncle at the hospice. The pattern over the next few days – you all go to pick up Grandma, go to breakfast, pick up lunch for your uncle, spend a few hours with him at the hospice. He looks surprisingly good…but for the fact that he’s the thinnest you’ve ever seen him, he has no color in his face, his fingertips are getting more blue by the day, and you try not to focus on how often he seems to stop breathing for a few seconds, how often his voice fades to nothing as he’s speaking, how much your visits seem to exhaust him…because he lights up when you show up. He laughs and cracks jokes and you all try to pretend everything is fine. You leave for the day, letting him rest. Drop Grandma off at home and head to your remaining family on Dad’s side. You pick up your step-grandmother for dinner. You are thankful for her tight hugs when you arrive and when you leave. You enjoy dinner with her, then take her home and spend a few hours chatting in her garage as she has her after-dinner smoke. You all say good night and you, Mom, and your sister head back to the hotel. You spend an hour sending Reiki energy to the hospice center and all within it, to your family, to yourself. You try to sleep. Wake up. Rinse and repeat. You find yourself feeling more and more drained by the day. Your coping mechanisms are helping less and less by the day. Two days remain and that stupid voice of Nox returns. You applaud yourself for recognizing it is a Nox thought instead of a Katie thought, but you are struggling. You tell Nox to go away. You try to pretend you are fine.

Your last day in your parents’ hometown arrives. So how do you say goodbye?

You end the last visit to your uncle with a tight hug that lingers longer than usual and you reminded him that you love him so very, very much and he tells you the same. He smiles as he walks away and you try not to cry. Mom, you, and your sister have a late lunch with Grandma and your other two uncles on Mom’s side. Drop Grandma at home and proceed with the usual evening routine. Hug your step-grandmother longer and tighter as you say goodbye for another year. You head back to the hotel and pack up as much as you can. You don’t practice Reiki that night because you took time for that in the morning that day. You try to sleep, but your sleep tracker says you got barely five hours.

You pack up the car and you manage to upset Mom by insisting you want to drive. She cries for three hours and doesn’t stop until you reach the first stop on the Ohio turnpike. Your sister wakes up and texts you to ask why Mom is upset. You explain. You let Mom drive for the next few hours, but before you get back on the road, she talks about how hard she was trying not to break and you feel guilty, but your sister reminds Mom that she needs to let those emotions out – it isn’t healthy to keep them inside. You remember your posts on this blog about how long it took you to learn to process your emotions in a healthy way. You let your sister and Mom switch off driving for the remainder of the trip home while you sit in the backseat with your headphones on, listening to your “I can do anything” playlist in an effort to re-center yourself and send Nox away. You find yourself tracing the symbols you learned during the Reiki II course into both of your palms over and over and over again throughout the day as you watch the scenery go by.

You get back to your home state in the early afternoon and drop Mom off at her and Dad’s house. You stop in to say hi to Dad and to Annie-girl before heading back home. You drop the suitcase off at your condo and head out to dinner with your sister, and then you pick up Gunny. You return to the condo and take the first deep breaths you’ve been able to take since the 22nd. You take an extra day of leave to decompress emotionally and to rest. You end up sleeping most of the day on the 29th. You go back to work and it is hard. Explaining where you were and why is hard. Hearing people’s condolences is hard. 

You know your uncle is still here, but god, you jump and cringe every single time the phone rings. You dread picking up calls from Mom. You know that call will be coming some day soon. You continue to send Reiki energy to the hospice center and your extended family. You try to go about your day without thinking the worst. Nox is quiet again, and you are grateful.  

You wait. You wonder if you should reach out to your uncle since he’s still being active on Facebook, but you don’t know what to say. You find yourself fighting back tears at odd times and for strange reasons. You wait and you wonder…how do you say goodbye?

Love from yourself,

Katie

Shattered…

Pieces of Broken Shattered glass on black
ID 107317832 © Arsgera | Dreamstime.com 

Hello dear friend, 

Over the course of the next few posts, I will be discussing my journey from being entirely shattered to loving myself as I was, am, and will be. I freely admit that I’m a bit nervous about writing these posts – I know they cover a lot of darkness in my life and I’m a bit afraid of delving back in to those moments, but I…well, I just know, somehow, that it is important for me to share my journey because I am living proof that it does get better. It is worth holding on. That said, the following few posts deal with grief, suicidal ideation and other depressive thoughts, and anxiety and panic attacks in detail. If you find that is difficult for you to read at this time, please feel free to skip the posts from now through April 21. I do invite you to return for my post tentatively planned for 4/22, when I discuss coming out of the dark and finding myself again. Okay? Okay.

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