Not Quite a Hoarder Part Two: Clear Pathways

Can a person with NLD teach herself organization?

Posted Apr 12, 2011

In part one I took you through experiences without adding any insight or explanation.

I wasn't in denial, or refusing to tackle my problems head-on.

I haunted self-help departments of bookstores where I taught myself to interpret body language, begin conversations, overcome my fear of success (that was a big one in the late 70's and early 80's,) meet suitable men (I lived with a lawyer cum AI/PHD for part of the 80's so that lesson semi-took,) be a woman in a man's world (though I refused to wear bow ties with my dress-for-success suits.)

Books on clearing the clutter from your life and organizing your way to happiness hadn't been written yet and wouldn't have worked anyway since they wouldn't talk about my particular underlying issues.

Nonverbal learning disorder (NLD) precludes me from seeing what's in front of me or around me until there's a true mess. I lack the organization button so important to life.

More pragmatically I was beginning to realize that my problems involved lack of spatial abilities but I didn't know exactly what they were. I thought of therapy as a natural part of life but neuroscience wasn't really thought of as providing answers in the '80's. I focused on how I was trying to sabotage myself and other such stuff. I didn't think I was trying to sabotage myself by having panic attacks etc., but nobody said what I needed to hear: "You can't help it. They're physical problems. Let's work with that and the emotional baggage will be lessened."

By 1991 my father had a stroke and died five days later.

Cut to '94.

I was living in a one bedroom rental in Riverdale The Bronx, where I had been an SSI Claims Rep. Now I was going to grad school in social work, and interning in a large respected nursing home. The first week of school my uncle died and I had to take my mother, who had macular degeneration to the nth degree to Miami. I went and was back within 27 hours. The following Monday my sister had an emergency C section. I was the first at the hospital and the third to welcome my incredible niece to the world. The weekend after that a friend's child was kidnapped by the non-custodial parent. I found the divorce papers and explained everything to the police. On the fourth weekend I needed an emergency root canal as the frenzy of the prior weeks left me not even realizing I had a toothache.

On the fifth weekend I figured out the language of social work. Fancy words to mean common-sense concepts. Professors tried to give me "A+,"s when the highest grade was an "A." In my internship I was given more and more responsibilities as I was so "mature." Meanwhile a fellow intern, old enough to be my father and I was 44, was screwing up his internship, fighting with everybody, and determined to take me down with him.

Though he was kicked out of our internship he was allowed to come to class. I didn't understand why he was allowed to go to social work practice when he wasn't practicing. Before class began he would put me down. I would pretend to ignore him to the frustration of many classmates. But they didn't know what I should do either.

It didn't make sense that he was allowed to get away with it. He was given more rights than I was despite having been kicked out because he told residents not to take their meds, fought with all superiors and co-workers, couldn't learn the fundamentals of the job, and sexually-harassed me. Being harassed by a man who needed two knee replacements seemed almost funny. I managed to get the hearing that would decide whether he remained in school or not moved up but it took most of the semester. Finally he was kicked out.

Going home was no solace. My next door neighbors insisted that I had huge parties, and constantly played very loud music. I couldn't get my friends to come to Riverdale. When the super would "measure" the decibels he couldn't hear them. Most of the time I was at my internship or school; unless my apartment had ghosts that worked the stereo I couldn't be doing the things my neighbors accused me of. The super told me to ignore the couple but it was hard ignoring brooms and obese fingers constantly knocking on my living room wall. I basically moved into the bedroom.

My mother was losing her independence due to macular degeneration. She was upset because her life had become much more limited. While she still had friends and activities, she who had never ever complained would cry to me. I was the only one who knew the depth of her misery. The world saw an ever smiling woman. I so wanted the smile to remain. Yet selfishishly I wondered:

What about me?

I couldn't even enjoy excelling in school. The geriatric's problems encompassed the first year. My supervisor didn't have supervisory sessions with me. She was overwhelmed by the geriatric. We would talk about him. At the end of the year she retired early.

I felt selfish that I even thought about myself when so much was going on around me. Though I didn't get credit I volunteered at the nursing home that summer. Stupidly I stayed for my second year. It was the year of the Newt Gingrich cuts. They lost a full time social worker but had me. I ran a hall.

As I took and passed the then certification exam, now licensing, while still in school, they had me sign as a CSW. I paid for this and deeply resent doing real work for no money, when I should have been learning techniques, and given time to experience as many different responsibilities as possible. It was totally my fault for staying.

But I was one very overwhelmed student/intern. We learned about the sanitation police in school. I half believed they still existed and were going to come to my house. It didn't help me clean.

People with NLD are supposed to stick to routines and have as little change as possible in our lives. It felt as if I sought change while change sought me. I stayed at the nursing home because I couldn't face beginning again after such a chaotic year that followed a chaotic half-decade in my personal life.

Yes damn it I hoarded.

I didn't know about NLD then. In my internship and readings I learned about clear pathways or the space needed for a person to be able to navigate their surroundings. I was losing mine at home. I worked with hoarders. One woman came to the nursing home with bugs, dead and alive, on her person and in her pocketbook. I never wanted to be like her.

But my apartment said I was.
There are different types of hoarding I didn't fall into the "collector" type. I can easily make large decisions but small decisions escape me. I travel often yet never pack correctly. I never know what papers to keep and what to throw.

I'm disorganized and so have difficulty organizing items. I never procrastinated when it came to school, bill paying (auto pay then the Internet,) assignments or anything work related. But I procrastinated when it came to making decisions regarding what to throw out or not. Sometimes it was easier just to let things fall to the floor.

I now live under the assumption that almost anything can be replaced or found somewhere on the Internet. I get very little mail and print things out infrequently. I now own a washer/dryer and dishwasher. Between using them, plastic bins,Swiffer, steamers, light weight vacuums, and eliminating what's not necessary, cleaning seems easy. I'm the only person to get excited on trash and recycling nights. Love bringing the rolling cart and bin to the street!

But that was to come later. Meanwhile I needed to clean my apartment. For the first time I left on a long vacation without cleaning. I couldn't enjoy my trip. I hired an old friend to help.

After I graduated I helped my mother move and then became obsessed with finding a coop on the Upper West Side. It took a year. I eliminated over a hundred quickly. When I saw it I knew. Passing a strict coop board is a Manhattanite's ultimate dream. It felt great for awhile.

My apartment was completely renovated in a doorman building. While it was small it had a bath and a half, and the one closet was as large as some NY bedrooms. I had it made into a California type closet. I found a great cleaning woman to come every other week. Zobedia wasn't a luxury but a necessity in my life.

The apartment was immaculate. I went through 9/11 in it. 33 nights later I got a 3:30AM phone call. My mother had fallen and died fifteen minutes later. I was a wreck. I didn't know who or what I was mourning: my mother, two buildings, and/or thousands of people I had never met.

One night the police came. Somehow my phone number became intertwined with the domestic violence unit. Eight of them came in full domestic violence stance--guns drawn, women police in front. They insisted I open the door. I was scared not to. They shone their flashlights into my apartment, smiled and left.

I looked around my living room. It was spotless. Then I realized something. It was three years past 9/11 and my mother's death. I had yelled, screamed, eventually cried, and began a blog where I got it all out. But I had never hoarded!

Slowly I began to believe in myself. I sold my apartment and moved to coastal South Carolina where I bought a house. An actual house where I'm responsible for all maintenance. Somehow I find the upkeep easy. Six rooms are easier to clean than two or three. Again I consider an every two week cleaning woman one of life's necessities not a luxury. Because of the recession my contractor, Eldon, became my handyman. Eldon calls my house his art project as my ideas seemed so out there. He's convinced that any day magazine editors are going to come knocking on the door asking to photograph it. I'm not but love the fantasy.

There are times I'm scared that nothing looks good enough or that I will begin hoarding again.

I will never be great at closets or arranging things so they're spatially perfect. I care but less and less as time goes on. I love having people stay over; I bought a house to fill it with the wonderful mess  called living.

© 2011 pia Savage