I’m quite a minimalist, and yet I’ve long been fascinated by the practice of extreme collecting or “hoarding”. When I was a home support worker, I had several clients who hoarded. I was fully prepared to “help” clean a given place out -we had a responsibility to co-create a home that would not leave a client vulnerable to fire or falls, and one in which they could access their food and also prepare themselves meals when we were away. However, we had an equal responsibility to support our client’s emotional safety (and their willingness to ever let us in again!), thus we had to respect that which gave them a sense of security and comfort. It was a tough balance to achieve (and often wasn’t).
Where does my fascination with hoarding come from? It makes no sense to friends who see how relatively spartan my home is. And yet, there it was in full force when at the library last week I came upon a book called Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O Frost and Gail Steketee. This book provides compassionate, non-judgmental insight into the topic of extreme collecting. I was blown away to see several of my pre-GAPS thoughts presented in it. One, for example, was: all things have thoughts and feelings, thus cannot be thrown out. As a result of this belief, as a child I had collections of sticks, jars, pencils, and more, and when I moved out of home at age seventeen I carried more than 60 stuffed animals with me. I was stunned to find many of my past (and in some case current) thought patterns represented in the book.
And then the authors proceeded to make perfect sense of it.
The authors presented details related to overlapping disorders as well the physical nature of people who have “hoarder thoughts”:
- While different from obsessive compulsive disorder, there are often overlaps between OCD and hoarding.
- In hoarding, there is a strong element of anxiety and, specifically, in distress tolerance.
- In many or most cases, hoarding can be resolved by slowly and incrementally building the person’s distress tolerance.
- A predisposition to hoarding is represented in the genes and chromosomes.
- Genes on one chromosome implicated in hoarding are also “important for establishing immune system responses and have been implicated in the development of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease”.
- “A study of Tourette’s syndrome found a familial linkage pattern for hoarding on a different set of chromosomes.”
- “Hoarding occurs in more than 50% of children with Prader-Willi syndrome.”
- The book notes a high frequency of hoarding among children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
- A university study cited in the book noted that “hoarding kids also experienced more anxiety and somatic problems and displayed more aggressive behaviour than non-hoarders.”
Hang on… Immunity, Alzheimer’s, Tourette’s, anxiety, OCD… Sound familiar? It reads a lot like a list of issues relieved by the specific carbohydrate diet and the program presented by Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride for GAPS.
Those hanging out in the GAPS world know the following:
- many “mental” and “behavioural” issues are physical in source, and dramatically resolve upon implementation of dense nutrition;
- the genetics expressed in a personality or body are dramatically influenced by what we eat; that is, regardless of my genetic vulnerabilities, what actually manifests will change depending on what I’m eating
My son was diagnosed with autism and had enough symptoms of Willi-Prader syndrome that he was assessed for that, too. Some of his symptoms of Willi-Prader syndrome resolved through GAPS and the rest resolved through EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing).
An aspect of my own nutritional journey that amazed me was when, a couple of months into using the specific carbohydrate diet and other tools presented by Dr Campbell-McBride, issues such as vague but strong guilt, shame, and anxiety simply disappeared. (Wait -these weren’t emotional, but nutritional?!? Wow!)
Now, if my son had his way, he would collect. Sticks (like his mum before him), stuffies (again, like his mum before him), broken glass, toys, notes, you name it. It’s in his genes, apparently. But I changed his nutrition and then taught him how to tolerate any remaining distress when releasing stuff. Tidying up might never become his favourite activity, but he cooperates, saying things like, “Well, I guess I can find another one if I decide I need it again.” And, “Well, I enjoyed it, and when I give it away, someone else can too.” The remainder of his stuff he is able to keep reasonably organized inside a set of simple, bright, pull-out bins from Ikea.
Many thanks to Randy O Frost and Gail Steketee, and all those working with them past and present, for this compelling presentation on compulsive hoarding and its relationship to the body, and even moreso for the incredible kindness and compassion with which the topic was researched and presented.
A note about this blog: Last spring, circumstances demanded that I revamp my blog, develop new book distribution options, etc. I’m still working on things. Currently, I’m working on getting in place a ‘Subscribe’ button for this new blog. I tried one recently that didn’t work, so back to the drawing board! Keep checking in for more posts and more features…