You might be stoked to learn that 2 Broke Girls will return for season 6—but I had always felt like the CBS show was a little problematic, what with all the jokes Kat Dennings’ Max makes about her childhood abuse and her boss’ sexuality. They really turned me off, then, when I saw a re-run of season 1’s episode 8, “And Hoarder Culture.” When the girls got a side gig cleaning houses, they are sent to tidy up for a hoarder and the tasteless jokes ensue. “They should charge admission for this!” Max says upon entering the apartment. “It’s Hoarders 3D: The Experience!”
I’ve never watched A&E’s Emmy winning documentary series Hoarders because I worry it would be triggering. I’ve been told by friends that they feel it’s exploitive and that many people, like 2 Broke Girls’ Max, watch it to laugh or to feel better about themselves. “Lucky that’s not me,” right? But what if it was?
It started when I was 16 years old. It came after my brother had died and I had a nervous breakdown some months later that left me delusional and anxious all the time. I developed obsessive compulsive behaviors, checking whether the hair straightener was unplugged and the stove was turned off three times before I could leave the house (compulsive) because I worried that God might burn my house down if I didn’t (obsessive).
It started with journals and magazines, hole-ridden socks and mostly used make-up. All these things I could have and should have thrown away, I couldn’t let go of. I was unable to throw anything out, as my current therapist recently articulated, because I was so deeply afraid of loss. I was not in therapy at the time, as my mother had refused to let me go when I was depressed at 14, so I was left to cope with my delusional and unhealthy behavior on my own.
I have been in therapy since I was 18 years old, and I’ve been medicated since I was 22. I still have a shrine to my former self left in the rose-colored room on the second floor of my parents’ house where I slept in those years, with piles of notes from college I’ll never need, almost a decade worth of magazines, clothes I don’t wear, and so much more. It haunts me from miles away where I live with my boyfriend out of a bag.
I can’t stand the thought of attacking the monstrous amount of stuff I’ve collected over the years for two reasons: It’s overwhelming, and it’s embarrassing. I did recently celebrate my 24th birthday by donating one bag containing unneeded clothes, unread books, and an unused alarm clock to a local, free clothing swap, and throwing out another bag of long-forgotten papers and magazines, hole-y socks, and ill-fitting panties. It felt empowering. I assume that when my boyfriend and I move into a new place and I have a room to myself, I will be able to move my stuff in with me, throwing out a great deal of it before I do, but I often worry that I’ll be too overwhelmed to really do it. It’s painful, but I have to stay strong.
Being a recovering hoarder, I feel alone in my struggle, hearing jokes made in public often at the expense of those who have let their obsessive mess be seen on TV. Being a recovering hoarder, I feel anxious and embarrassed of my mental illness because so few people see it as that. It’s as though it’s seen as a bad habit, like littering or blowing smoke in others’ faces when they walk by. I want to end the stigma.
I am just 24 years old. I graduated summa cum laude from an accredited school of journalism. I work full-time with the elderly and as a freelance writer. I don’t live in filth. I’m just a sick person, recovering from a nervous breakdown that occurred after a shocking loss of a loved one.
Before you crack a joke about someone “looking like a hoarder” for being a little messy or flip on an episode of Hoarders on TV, I want you to remember that when I started, I was a child stricken by delusions and fearing for my life and the life of my family. Remember that hoarders are sick and need therapy and your laughs only add to the stigma that keeps them from seeking the help they need.
If you know someone who you think might be a hoarder, know that, as unlovable as their condition is, they need understanding and support. I wouldn’t be where I am today in my recovery with out the support of my loved ones, their gentleness and patience.
Top photo: 2 Broke Girls
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Angel Cezanne is a queer poet and essayist, and the editor of an intersectional feminist zine called Eleanor. She tweets a lot at @angelmannequin and @EleanorAZine.