From the highest of highs, to the lowest of lows. Another split result on tonight’s episode, and not in the way I thought it was headed. This served as another reminder that often when dealing with extreme hoarding, you’re dealing with other mental health issues as well.
Jackie, San Leandro, CA
Jackie loves teddy bears. You can hold them, you can love them, and they don’t reject you. She gets comfort and relief just looking at them. She must be the most comforted and relieved person on earth, because good hell, there are a lot of bears. (She isn’t, by the way.)
Jackie has two children, Nichole and Gerald. It’s been 8 years since they’ve been inside, but they grew up with the hoard being ever-present in some form. She’s been like this for a long, long, time. Just on purchases of dolls and bears, Jackie has spent close to $1 million. On teddy bears. She even has a $5000 teddy bear. In the hoard. …somewhere.
“To get top quality dolls and bears, you have to pay top dollar.” Well, when you bury that top-quality bear under 10,000 other ones, the value of that item becomes irrelevant. Or rather, does a toy bear have value in a hoard? But this really isn’t about an expensive bear. This is about the rush of buying something that has become symbolic for some element missing in Jackie’s life, and the need to have that again. It could be Frisbees. It could be a drug. But for Jackie, it’s a bear. I’d bet diamonds to donuts that the bear symbolizes a tremendous loss.
Jackie says has low self-esteem; she bought things because she wanted to feel better. She actually says that.
[Look at that tree! …what forest? All I can see are trees.]
She was a computer programmer (and yay, I love seeing an older Woman of Color in a STEM job!) but quit when Gerald had a horrible accident as a child. But she couldn’t go back to work because of a kidney cancer diagnosis. She had a $1 million severance package. Goodness! Only that payout just put her buying into overdrive for 20 years. Now, she’s in a tailspin of financial heartache and could lose her home.
Mark Pfeffer arrives, and this is a great match-up, I think. He has a loose sense of humor yet a gentle spirit that I think will appeal to Jackie. When he introduces himself, she makes a point of saying that he’s not seeing her best bears, because they have been stolen. She genuinely believe there’s some malevolent person with a vendetta against her living in the hoard, stealing her things.
Mark is pretty sure that’s going to be a problem he’s not going to be able to solve in the week he has with her. She believes fundamentally that people are literally breaking into her home and stealing her “best bears”. She has to be correct about that, otherwise, she’ll have to admit that she has a problem. That’s only a part of what’s happening, of course.
We are dealing with depression, hoarding, compulsion and paranoia. This… this is not going to be easy. Not by a long shot. Jackie needs to be in control of everything, and that’s not possible for anyone. This will be difficult.
Before Mark brings the children into the house, we see him prepare Jackie. I really appreciated that, as we don’t usually get to see it in the 22 minutes devoted to each hoarder. He makes sure she understands ahead of time that her children are going to be emotional, gives her the chance to brace herself for that. They’re clearly overwhelmed when they do come inside. I think that’s a feeling going through everyone.
Standolyn shows up, and gosh, I just love seeing her. They always do the best job of matching people up. She immediately asks Jackie if they can put “obvious garbage” on the truck.
“Oh, yes. Yes.”
Standolyn, barely fazed, pushes on. “You mean it?”
“Yes, yes I mean it.”
Well. We’ll see, won’t we? They get started in the garage, and Jackie cheers them all on. But then, nothing in the garage is special, is it? Her bears will be where we get push-back. Standolyn has the team lay out an industrial tarp, loading it up with the first round of bears to be sorted. She immediately begins crying. “This is awful. All of my beautiful one-of-a-kind designer bears are gone!”
Oh. This isn’t about what we think it is. She’s convinced these are, I don’t know, imposters? The rejects? Someone has stolen her “proper” bears and dumped this mess in her house to make it look cluttered. This… this is way beyond a hoarding disorder. This is severe paranoia.
Mark says he’s not going to challenge that thinking because that’s something he can’t address right now. He can address the mess with her. Well, to some degree. She is absolutely beside herself, sobbing. Standolyn is shocked, but she and Mark manage to get things back on track the next day. They want to clear out clutter so “no one can hide behind it”. Yeah, this is a hard situation. Mark talks to the kids about her delusional issues, but doesn’t want to label what’s happening. But he wants them to know they can’t sweep that under the rug any longer.
The kids say they coddle her and are patient with her because right now they’re being allowed to clean. This is what they can deal with. I get it, I do. They are picking their battles, and seem to have been doing so for a long time. Mark says it’s going to take everyone to get involved with Jackie in aftercare for any real progress to be made, and that it’s crucial. I think we can all agree with that.
Meanwhile, Standolyn brings in the greatest expert on collectible and antique teddy bears in the entire world. No, really. I love it, because this means Jackie can’t hand wave anything he might say that’s negative. She’s still crying and upset, with paranoia and hysteria thrown in, because that’s how she (subconsciously or not) can get people to leave her alone.
Jackie starts to shut down. Her best friend gets real. “These people are going to walk out of this house. I am about to walk out of this house. You can lay in this filth and there will be no one to help you. Do you understand that?”
Jackie says she’ll talk about it tomorrow and leaves. Oh, for the love of…
Standolyn miraculously has a smile on her face that next morning, and even more miraculous is the sincere apology from Jackie to the group. She basically wants to stop standing in her own way. Well, good! So… let’s do that. They begin to clear and clean the downstairs. It’s not the whole house, but it will be a good start.
An auctioneer shows up to see if she’ll be amenable to ridding herself of any, and Jackie says all of them. “Take them all.” Janet falls to her knees, overjoyed, then pops right back up and wraps Jackie up in a tight hug. Well, that is unexpected and wonderful! Ugh, good girlfriends supporting each other, I am here for that.
I remember a few seasons back where the organizer and doctor managed to talk the hoarder into donating their items to a neighborhood that had recently lost everything, and how that immediately appealed to the hoarder. She had her things because they had value in some way, and by sharing them, other people would see the value she’d assigned to the items. I don’t know if that was said to help Jackie, that by selling her things, she could then be giving those hugs, that nonjudgmental support to other people around the world, but I’d like to think that’s the case.
Jackie says, “It’s time for me to start a new life.” Wow. This is… unprecedented. Amazing. There are three dumpsters worth of teddy bears that go off to auction. Holy. Smokes. When she gets to see her cleared out house, the functional kitchen and living spaces, she’s overjoyed.
“This is the first day in six months where I haven’t cried my heart out,” she says, looking at her home. “So this is the first day of the rest of my life.” The camera cuts to Nichole who is smiling so brightly with tears on her cheeks, I’m choking up just remembering it.
Nichole (and me!) didn’t think her mother would get here, so that’s amazing. But please remember that this doesn’t mean the end of all of our problems. Jackie still fervently believes there has been someone living in her home, and now without the clutter she’ll be able to prove it.
Well, we got the house clean. Now they can focus on the next issue. But the house was a big one, so that’s phenomenal and that hard work shouldn’t be discounted. Goodness, I just want good things for this lady and her amazingly supportive family and best friend.
Richard, Cotuit, MA
“I’m a very loving man, and I collect rubbish.”
Richard is an older gentleman who collects stuff or any and all stripes, from mechanical items to random butchered meat. His property looks like a forgotten dumping ground.
Judy is his ex-wife. “He is a shell of a man.” She does feel bad for him, though. Greg is his son, Tammie and Connie are his daughters, and they all want better for their dad. They have a real fear that the house will be condemned and he’ll become homeless. They’ve offered help multiple times, but he always refuses it.
Richard had several tragedies in life, but it seems the loss of his three-month-old daughter from SIDS was the real trigger here. He wasn’t emotionally equipped to deal with it. Their marriage fell apart a few years later. Judy and the kids moved out, so he began filling up the spaces they had occupied with stuff. He’s been silently hoarding for a few decades now.
There was a live intervention happening with Dr. David Tolin (remember this from last season? I believe that’s what we’re seeing, is the follow-through). Richard says he’s ready to accept help when asked, but Connie doesn’t know if he’s capable of caring for himself on even the basic levels. What’s good about Dr. Tolin is that he’s a guy, a man’s man without the toxic machismo, and that’s something I think Richard will really respond to.
Harold, Richard’s brother, shows up and is shaken to the core. Richard is clearly ashamed and upset, and Dr. Tolin says that this is important that Richard sees rock-bottom… and then makes the right choice.
Richard breaks my heart by immediately telling his brother that he’s sorry. “I’m a loser.” No, buddy, you’re ill. Brains (and hearts and souls) get sick, just like lungs and lymph. Harold’s heart is broken, too. He wants his brother to come out of this on the right side.
Matt and his Service Master Clean team arrives, and yet another great match-up. Matt has a background in not only grief hoarding, but has been very open about his own battles with addiction (you’ll see). He also fits the type of guy Dr. Tolin is, and someone I think will be hard for Richard to fight. I mean, Richard’s obviously going to fight. We all know this. But I think there will be some inherent respect. I’m rambling, but this is something about the show I find fascinating, the chemistry between doctor, organizer and hoarder.
Dr. Tolin reminds us that you can’t just clean out a house. It’s not about the stuff. It is. But it’s really about what the stuff is a replacement for in the hoarder’s life. If you don’t address that, you don’t address the problem and the house will fill right back up.
From the start, Richard is doing great. He’s letting stuff go with an ease that’s great for everyone to see. Until they get to stuff that has a sentimental value. Richard was in construction, so tools are his identity. There’s potential in them, which means there is still potential in him. If the tools get tossed, maybe he’ll be tossed.
He begins to sulk. It is straight up childish sulking, lip pooched out and everything after his daughter tries to explain that he doesn’t need all those tools. Here’s how he’s managed to hoard for decades. He goes off and sulks and everyone leaves him alone.
Matt pulls him aside to look at how much has been tossed, and it’s a positive reinforcement that gets Richard back on task. Once they move into the kitchen, Richard starts to get nervous about some missing whiskey bottles. Well, Richard really shouldn’t be drinking given the medications he’s on, Dr. Tolin points out.
“When I pay for something, I want it,” Richard says.
“You could gift it to someone,” Connie suggests. (Connie, that was a brilliant thought. I liked that redirect. Smart, smart, smart.)
“Yeah, I could. But guess what? I’m not going to.” He then shuts down when anyone tries to talk to him, telling them to leave him alone. It’s pretty clear an alcohol intervention needs to happen.
Richard is actually doing well in clearing the house, letting a lot go. Matt did find the missing hootch, and this becomes a perfect time to address the drinking with meds that are contraindicated.
“How often do you drink?”
“Almost every 20 minutes,” Richard replies, a defiant tilt to his chin. Oh. Oh, dear. Dr. Tolin wants to know if he thinks he has a drinking problem? “Nope.” He’s instantly defensive and visibly has shut down. He won’t tell Dr. Tolin anything. But… why?
“Because I’m sick. In my head.”
Dr. Tolin asks, “Meaning mental illness?”
“Mmm hmm.” Richard looks terrified and trapped as he says this. Dr. Tolin knows that by law he must call Elder Protective Services, and Richard visibly crumples; you can actually see the fight-or-flight response kick in. He’s getting out of there, and he’s doing it now. This is just heartbreaking.
Matt takes it all in stride; he’s clearly on a mission for Richard’s health, beyond just the home. As an APS agent talks to Richard, Matt brings in the family to show them how bad the home is. There is a rainbow of mold on every visible surface. The house is probably not salvageable. It’s a “gut to the studs” situation, if the studs can still hold the roof. No one can enter the house without their eyes stinging and nausea rising, so it’s no surprise when the county slaps an “Uninhabitable” sticker on it. It’s not safe. Rats shouldn’t live in there, let alone a person. Everyone is disappointed. Where can Richard go?
The hoard clear-out is shut down and now the focus is on strictly finding resources for Richard. It’s a real kindness, and just one of the many ways in which the team that makes up the cast and crew of this show go above and beyond basic reality TV. They genuinely care for these families and do all they can. (I believe Matt stayed out there for a week, in fact. Matt, correct me if I’m wrong.) Matt says this is the first time he’s ever stopped cleaning. That’s how little was salvageable.
Connie agrees to take her dad in temporarily, so he’s not going to be out on the street. In fact, by air date, he’s in an assisted living facility and making do. The family is cleaning the house and will sell it “as is” and use the funds to support their dad.
While it’s a shame about the house, it’s a real relief to see Richard being cared for, his basic needs (and beyond) being addressed.
After the show:
Oh, man. Jackie had all the bears brought back. All three dumpsters. She’s seeing a therapist for the hoarding, but refuses to admit paranoia is an issue. I’m genuinely devastated about that. Poor, sweet Judy, Nichole and Gerald. You guys gave it your all, you really did.
Remember to be mindful in how you talk about Richard and Jackie–they’re real people, and their families deserve our respect. How are you feeling about this new season? I’m really appreciating the fine-tuning done behind the scenes, and the dedication to honest discourse about mental illness, personally. You?