Growing up hoarded

This weekend, while watching clickbait-y videos on depression, YouTube suggested suggested an episode of Jasmine Harman’s Extreme Hoarders. This sounds kind of clickbait-y and sensational and it is, but the show’s titular host is very kind and understanding. Herself having grown up with a hoarding mother, she has the patience of a saint and genuinely cares about it as a mental health issue. I have only watched two episodes and already I feel like I have been through quite a bit of post-traumatic shame and anxiety from my own experience growing up with a hoarded, messy house. I don’t think I would have been able to sit through even that much if I hadn’t been on the right side of two years of talk therapy.

Just one more and then I’ll go back to work…

I remember the shame and confusion as a child of having to make excuses about why I couldn’t have friends over, and then the anxiety and frustration from attempting to explain my dissatisfaction to my mother in the best way I was able to at the time, only to have her respond with such anger! My mother has never been good with emotional intelligence through her own life experiences and choices, and I did not understand or know how to deal with such defensive aggression. She guarded both her life, our lives and by extension her things with many unspoken rules. It was incredibly stressful and embarrassing. If I brought the subject of cleaning or moving things, she would tell me to “worry about my own room” and tell me to “find another family to live with if you are so unhappy.” I was taught that my basic human physical and emotional needs were unreasonable things to ask for and it hurt in a deep way that I am still trying to unravel, with the help of medical professionals and medication.

I was not equipped as a child to deal with such emotions

My siblings and I were frequently ordered to clean our rooms but were not allowed to throw many things out, yet were not afforded a means of discarding them in other ways either. When I was sixteen I actually snuck out in the middle of the night to take a garbage bag full of old useless objects that I didn’t didn’t want or use, she wouldn’t even notice but I knew she wouldn’t let me discard (she never noticed them being gone) to a dumpster at the fire station (there were no charity shops within walking distance). These were all things that would get pulled out and questioned if I put them in the kitchen garbage such as:

  • old promotional makeup bags from department stores
  • craft items (sequins, rocks, old paints)
  • stuffed animals
  • plastic knickknacks, like those from inside Kinder Surprises
  • old socks and underwear

As a further example, my brother and I shared a weekly task of cleaning the mudroom (entryway in the basement). We had to sort and rearrange piles of old, dirty shoes that no one used anymore but were not allowed to throw out. In order to sweep and mop the floor we had to move all these shoes out of the room, then move them back in afterwards. In this way, every chore was made difficult by the amount of clutter that had to be moved in order to clean the underlying surfaces.

Not my house, but similar “style”

Though we lived in a five bedroom house in the suburbs, my two younger sisters had to share a bedroom for over ten years because my mom did not want to clear the things out of the fifth bedroom. Those things eventually got moved into the garage and the rec room, which meant that we could not use either of those rooms for their intended purposes anymore. There was a small space in front of the downstairs television that could be used for an armchair, but the space could not be used properly. My father reached quite a high level of piano and enjoyed practicing, but he wasn’t able to access the piano anymore because of the stuff in front of it. The room that was supposed to be for relaxing and enjoying hobbies instead became just another storage closet.

To add to my confusion, my mother has always been fond of beautiful homes and house-fixing shows of the sort shown on HGTV. She would actually watch shows about hoarders! I don’t know if she was self-aware enough to be watching them for the purpose of feeling less alone or to feel better about her comparatively lesser degree of hoarding compared to a reality tv show. Since I saw our messy house, and I saw that these tv shows with people with messy houses, I had asked if maybe she wanted to be on one of those shows once while walking home from school. She said that if I ever contacted one of these shows she would kill me. So. Healthy fear of the hand that feeds maintained?

Looking back, I can see that my anger and frustration was completely justified, and it was her anxiety and insecurities that lead her to lash out at her children from an age when they were only curious as to why we had rooms with closed doors full of things that we weren’t allowed to touch or look at. Even though I have moved out I still can’t shake that feeling of shame around my upbringing and even current living space.

Now, all but my youngest sister has moved out of our parents house. I have told my mother explicitly that I do not like visiting because the mess stresses me out, and her reaction is always “okay.” There is an ongoing cycle of anger and pretend forgetting that repeats as it has for years, with no sign of progress or future resolution. I have to set a time limit on how long I go home to visit for because I know it will start to stress me out considerably. Even with these boundaries I usually end up in one of my siblings rooms, napping or attempting to nap as an escape from the chaos. It hurts now and it hurts then to know that her maintaining control over her things is more important than my happiness as a child or improving relationships with her adult children.

To circle back, in the show Extreme Hoarders Jasmine Harman tries to uncover the psychological reasons behind each persons hoarding by bringing in mental health professionals to talk with the subjects about their lives in order to discover the life events that lead to such an emotional attachment to things. It seems that (from only watching two videos, but I think I see a pattern) hoarding stems from anxiety and a need to control ones surroundings as a way of coping after traumatic experiences.

From what I know about my mother, I know this pattern to hold true for her as well. For the first time I feel that I am able to feel a little bit of pity for her. It is nice to feel something besides resentment and anger. Unfortunately she has shown no sign of being open to any sort of outside help, including speaking to a therapist. Knowing that I can only be responsible for myself, I have had to set the boundaries mentioned previously in order to protect myself and continue with my own healing. Maybe someday things will change.

Starbucks Honeycomb Lavender Iced Latte Review

Photo by Filipe Costa on Unsplash

Today, I tried what had the potential to be the flavoured iced coffee of my dreams(?)

Iced is my preferred way of drinking coffee, but I hate that nauseas feeling I get after drinking overly sweet drinks. I tried the Hawaiian Iced Latte at Honolulu Coffee the other day and forgot to ask for it half-sweet, and man did I regret it. I was able to salvage it a bit by getting more ice to make it more refreshing and less cloying by lowering the temperature, but I wouldn’t get it again. I felt sick on the bus on the way home with all that syrupy aftertaste. When I saw ads for the honeycomb lavender latte on my phone, however, I felt like it had potential.

This drink was half syrup, half ice. It was still a lovely coffee date, though!

In the last few years, Starbucks has been releasing more limited-time-only and seasonal beverages. They combine a feeling of “I have to try this now or I won’t be able to later!” with looks designed for instagram. Summer 2019’s new honey lavender latte was not only limited time, it was also limited to Canada, as nod to the Canadian honey industry in which lavender plays a primary role.

the drink

It was very nice! I got the lavender honeycomb iced latte (that is a mouthful). as a reward for finishing an exam at school. Usually I get iced coffee so I can get the refill and economize my time at the cafe while studying, so I wanted to get something different that would feel a special; something that would make me want to slow down and consider the moment.

I got the drink half-sweet, which I think should be a requirement with all Starbucks drinks. I seriously do not know who feels good after having the regular recipe’s amount of sugar for their hand-crafted beverages. Unfortunately the lavender IS the syrup, so I was cutting down on flavour in order to reduce the sugar.

I brought my metal straw to be hip and eco-friendly.

There is a honey drizzle on top that disappears quickly, unless there is some special ultra-fine foam technique that would have supported the honey for more than three seconds. I am not sure why they added the “comb” to the “honey” because they it is just honey squeezed from a drizzle bottle, as far as I know. Get your pics quickly, if you want the honey included. Otherwise it just looks like an iced latte with a fun foam hat.

Don’t let these comments lead you to believe that I didn’t enjoy it, however – the foam was the best part! Creamy honey foam that I spooned up with my straw (quickly, before it melted!). Overall, I felt refreshed and relaxed sipping this summery beverage.

Lavender is not just for soaps anymore! It is a lovely nod to a flower that is a favourite of Canadian bees and it really did feel a little bit special to sip it outside on a warm afternoon. Say what you want about novelty drinks, if it makes you feel good and you enjoy a light, sweet coffee then I would for sure recommend this drink.

Cut your hair short

Photo by Darya Ivanchuk on Unsplash

One of the most useful tips I learned from listening to the audiobook of “First We Make the Beast Beautiful” by Sarah Wilson is to accept the necessity of dropping “security anchors.” This means to allow yourself routines in daily life so that you can at least be certain of some things, giving you courage to proceed with things that are more unpredictable.

I was able to implement this mentality in my life recently by committing to keeping my hair short (above shoulder level, though I realize this may not be considered short for some). For me, the benefits of having shorter hair are the following:

  • less time to wash and WAY LESS time to blow-dry
  • washing requires less shampoo and conditioner, which means I save money
  • less hair clogging drain when I shower
  • does not get caught in jacket zippers at the front
  • not have an elastic is not a major inconvenience
  • can weed out the men who think that women should make all efforts to look “feminine”
  • when it is messy it kind of fluffs around my head in a way I think is cute
  • I think it makes me look young and hip

Downside is it starts looking different quicker, and I do not want to keep paying what I pay now for more frequent haircuts. I want boy-haircut frequency at boy-haircut prices, dammit!

Cut your own bangs

I think the key thing with short hair that helps me is feeling “in control.” Although I do not have the confidence to cut all of it myself, I do trim my own bangs. It feels so nice to know that I can take care of it myself and not rely on someone else to not have hair in my eyes. I try to overcut a bit so it will last longer without trimming again. I always leave it to long and have to spend quite a bit of time doing it (removing maybe 2 cm or so) maybe over the course of a couple days so I can adjust and see where needs a bit more trimming.

My friend told me how to do it a few years ago and I have never looked back. Even if hairdressers say they do free bang trims, I still have to spend time and money getting there and I feel the pressure to tip them even though they say it is “free.” I am very against tipping culture, but that is a post for another time..

Photo by Bianca Castillo on Unsplash

how to cut your own bangs

Here is how I cut my own bangs.

Items required:

  • hair scissors or similar smallish, sharp, pointy-ended scissors (not craft scissors)
  • fine-toothed comb (for wetting hair and holding while cutting)
  • water
  • hair dryer
  • mirror
  • courage and will

And here are the steps I take:

  1. While dry, decide how short you want your bangs to be.
  2. Wet hair with comb along hair lengths.
  3. Hold hair out at a 45 degree angle from your face between your fingers (between lengths of middle and index fingers, not pinched at tips) or with the comb.
  4. Cut hairs by angling scissors mostly in. This will give hair a natural look and be very forgiving to errors. Cut a little at a time then check how it looks.
  5. Try to cut all across your bangs, then see how it looks. Check for symmetry by taking pieces from each side and pulling to the middle to compare lengths. Adjust if necessary.
  6. Blow-dry hair in the way you would usually style it.
  7. Perform final trimming. For me, this usually means single hairs that are way longer than they should be, as well as the edges of the bangs. The comb is very handy for this because you can compare lengths much easier than with fingers.
  8. Re-wet if you think you need to cut a lot more at this point, and follow steps again. It is a process!
  9. That’s it! You look great!

When you are anxious you are supposed to challenge yourself, but wasting time and money to go make awkward small-talk with someone for ten minutes is not what I’m about. So I choose DIY, if only for my front fringe.

Biking over running for fearful ladies

If you struggle with mental health problems, you have most likely been told to try getting more exercise. My parents, my doctor, my therapist, the mood apps on my smart phone are always prescribing exercise to me. I always say “sure, yes, I will try.” I know that it is a good idea, but doing anything when you are depressed and caught up in your own head can feel like an insurmountable task. I delay, delay, delay again, which leads to a spiral of self-hatred. Why is thirty minutes a day so hard?

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

why i hate running

For a long time, running was my go-to exercise that I felt I should be able to manage to do at least semi-regularly. It was cheap, required little preparation, and I hated it. I hated it because it was slow, it took forever to get anywhere, I couldn’t bring anything with me, and it put me in view of other people for judgement. It also felt unsafe – I preferred to run at night, and so I ran with the fear of being grabbed by my ponytail at the back of my mind. As a small woman, being passed by larger men all the time made me feel so vulnerable and powerless. It felt like much suffering and little reward.

It was cheap, required little preparation, and I hated it.

Despite the strain running put on my mental state, I continued to alternatively run and feel like I should run from the ages of around ten until twenty-six. That was a lot of unnecessary suffering! Upon reflection, I believe that I persevered for the following reasons:

  1. Running requires the minimal amount of equipment for an outdoor sport: only running shoes and exercise clothing
  2. It was instilled into me at a young age that I should be motivated to exercise at a minimal possible cost (we did not have much money growing up)
  3. My father ran long distances for much of his life and he wanted to share this interest with his children

None of these reasons are objectively bad, but because I had placed the expectation on myself that I should be pursuing running even though it wasn’t for me, it placed on ongoing stress on me that always hovered in the background of my life. When thinking about alternatives, I thought about how I enjoyed biking but had never owned a bike as an adult, due to the high cost.

Even after I had moved out of my parent’s house and become financially independent it took me some months before I would allow myself to spend money on a new bike. I was so anxious about spending that much money that I couldn’t bring myself to research options and instead relied heavily on advice of the bike store employee, which ended up working fine. I came away with a well-reviewed entry level road bike with contrasting, pretty colours.

why i like cycling

So now I have a bike, and I even ride it regularly. I consider it a very worthwhile purchase and wish I had bought one sooner. Here is why cycling works so much better as a means of exercise for a fearful lady like myself:

  • Biking is safer than running because much of the time you are going FAST and going FAST means you cannot be snatched by your ponytail, a fear that is never far from my mind when running. At the very least you are attached to a piece of metal equipment and are much less portable
  • Since you pass people quickly so it is harder to get caught up in the judgement of other people and yourself
  • The ability travel long distances and explore my city is empowering
  • I can carry things with me like snacks, water, my phone, keys, which add to my sense of security
Stopping for a break at the top of a 12-story car park (a location I would neither be able to reach nor feel safe at night if running)

To counter the anxiety of the greater preparation required for cycle trips compared to running, I use a technique I first learned in Sarah Wilson’s book on anxiety titled “First, We Make the Beast Beautiful,” which recommends “dropping certainty anchors” to reduce anxiety in daily tasks. In my case, I wear almost the same outfit, prepare the same way, and pack the same items for every cycling trip. This means all I have to do is go through the motions, no anxiety required.

I can go out biking alone in the beautiful silence of an early summer night and feel safe, strong and proud. And I am getting faster every day!

Takeaway

A reoccurring theme in my life has been the presence of activities and ideologies I force needlessly on myself though they do not work for me. I still wish sometimes that it was easy for me to just throw on a pair of shorts and running shoes and head out the door for a run, but it’s not, and that’s okay.

Hyper-exposure to so much information, products and opportunities all the time make me feel paralyzed (“choice paralysis” is a thing). Being able to confidently put something in the “not for me” bucket of things has helped me feel a tiny bit more in control. Knowing that by cycling I am finally getting the recommended amount of weekly exercise is improving my self-esteem, as well as providing joyful experiences.

The Vancouver Heron Cam

My reality tv, But a hecks more relaxing

There is a colony of great blue herons that come to nest every year in Stanley Park, Vancouver. Despite their large size (second largest heron species), these herons nest high up in deciduous trees. The nests are present year-round and are reinforced upon the colony’s return in March/April, when they return to pair up, mate, and raise their chicks. One can view this process online from the City of Vancouver’s “Heron Cam” website:

Link to Heron Cam Page

Just sitting on the babies to keep ’em warm

I have found the best camera views to be “Cedar Nest” and “Tree J Nests 2-3.” After checking them all, I believe these offer the best views, especially as the trees grow more leaves which obstruct the views of many of the other camera settings.

I have become kind of addicted to watching these funny birds go about their daily life. Just this week the eggs started hatching, and now some of the nests have fluffy, needy children! Adorable! Walking below the nests, you can hear the cries of the babies that see the layers of white poop building up on the sidewalk beneath. Imagine trying not only have four children but having to sit on them so they stay warm while they squabble and bicker beneath you. At least they are contained to the nest.

here are some of my favourite heron facts:

  • During nest building, male herons collect the sticks, and female herons decide whether the sticks are good enough to go into the nest and where they should go
  • Herons chicks have awesome black mohawks that stick up as youths then slick back as they grow longer
  • Heron eggs are a lovely light blue colour
  • Both parents take turns sitting on the eggs and chicks, with females usually taking the night shift and males during the day
  • Herons (and many species of birds) pluck out a patch of feathers on their underbelly to create what is called a brood patch, in order to incubate the eggs right next to their warm skin

FOCUSING ON SOMETHING BESIDES MYSELF

It has been soothing to have something to focus on besides myself, from the comfort of my laptop. It is really hard to find something that is engaging enough to occupy your mind so it doesn’t get caught up in bad thoughts, but is easy enough to manage. I find this is enough to get my brain out of itself for a minute, so it can be a segway to something else. Excellent views, without the dangers of sky poop!