Hoarders 8.11 – Sybil, Ron

hoarders mental illness reality

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Two very different people with similar reasonings for hoarding: they’re both banking on having things other people could want. One wants them to donate, the other to sell. The big question is: is there any value in these beleaguered items?

Sybil, Gresham, OR

Sybil has lived in her home for 38 years, and it seems like everything she’s ever touched over those decades is still inside. She literally climbs over a mountain of stuff to get into the house. There is no visible floor. She believes many of her things are collectibles, particularly the $10,000 in Christmas ornaments. They’re in plastic and the original boxes, mind you. However, those bags and boxes have been tossed onto the giant mountains of stuff that have taken over everything. She was buying things to donate, and that gave her pleasure. Now, she tells us, she no longer has the money to be able to do things for others, and she begins to cry.

“It really gave me pleasure.”

David, her oldest brother, says he doesn’t have much empathy for things he can’t understand, and he finds her hoarding intolerable. Well, this won’t be the first time we’ve encountered this mindset. Candy, the younger sister, says she tiptoed around her sister, but now she is ready to get her sister help, both with her home and with her health.

The camera shows Sybil opening a bottle of what looks like floor cleaner (it’s apparently Biotene mouthwash, an alcohol-free product available over the counter but I about had a heart attack thinking that was Soft Scrub) and drinking straight from it. She tells us she has narcolepsy and that her health is failing. She has four cats and considers them her family. She had a special “cat run” built against the house so they can enjoy fresh air (whew!) but not be in danger outdoors. It’s pretty clear this screened lean-to is where she spends most of her time when home. The cats do have fairly healthy coats and move about like they’re satisfied, from what we see.

It’s probably because they have plenty of food to eat. The house is positively overrun with mice. She can’t sleep inside because of them, so sleeping in a bag and a tarp in the cat run. I had to laugh when she said, “And winter is coming,” because if you follow this site, you know I also write about Game of Thrones. Lord, let’s hope it’s not that level of winter!

The family, without knowing the depth of Sybil’s illness, know that if this doesn’t get addressed, Adult Protective Services need to be called. Dr. Melva Green arrives and meets with Candy and her daughter, Crystal. The house is so bad that they must all don biohazard gear before entering. Dr. Green points out a huge disconnect that we should all note: Sybil isn’t visibly disturbed by the family arriving in this gear, nor in her living outside with cats.

A few episodes ago we heard Mark Pfeffer mention that a hoarder simply must make these disconnected leaps in logic to survive as they are. To think clearly, to think logically means they have to acknowledge that they’re in a state of severe mental illness and they’re either not capable of making that cognitive leap or they’re not willing. (Sybil, I believe, is not capable.)

Crystal leaves the house in tears. She’s simply sad for her aunt. “Until you see it, it’s hard to describe it,” Candy says. “I was feeling claustrophobic. I was climbing through it and realized, God. There is no way out.”

Dorothy Breininger and her Got Junk team show up with a whole lot of concern (and the ability to pick their battles). The big hurdle is faced right out of the gate. Sybil’s “collectibles” are covered in mouse droppings and urine. They can’t be donated, sold, or given away. Dorothy wants her to understand that they must be tossed. Will she allow it?

She does. She gets that it must be thrown away, and it’s a blow even though Dorothy tries to be as gentle and understanding as possible. The crew gets to work, double time, but… where has Sybil gone?

Dr. Green finds her curled up with the cats, crying. She doesn’t see any point in being involved. The decision has been made for her that things must go, so why agree or disagree to it? She’s curled up with her head in her hands, visibly defeated. Dr. Green points out that Sybil simply must engage. She must take responsibility for the hoard. She must take responsibility for the health hazard she created. She must, because that’s the only way she can understand why she cannot let it happen again.

Feeling sad, uncomfortable, angry, hurt, all of those feelings will help cement the understanding of why a hoard is a bad thing, why hoarding behavior is undesirable. Those negative feelings, though, are the feelings hoarders block because again, see the comment from Mark Pfeffer about surviving and logical thought processes.

Sybil, on Day Two, is very upset. She has a list of items for the organizers to stop throwing away. She’s mad. She’s moving through the stages of grief, it seems like. But hey, she’s actually engaging. …mostly to tell her family to keep her things. Oy vey.

An exterminator has to be called in when after the first few feet of hoard are removed, it’s almost like flipping over a rock and seeing the ants and beetles scurry out. But in this case, it’s mice. Hundreds of them, if not thousands. I wish I was exaggerating. The exterminator stands in one place, both hands in his hair, unable to really take in what he’s seeing.

Then, in the bathroom, Crystal finds bottle after bottle of urine. Scores of them before the camera cuts away. Again, folks. This is mental illness. Every time I get a comment (that later is deleted) where people harp on “they’re fine, they’re just dirty/lazy/whatever”, I want you to think about this woman who appears lucid, who appears cognizant, who is bottling her urine and sleeping outdoors and telling herself every single day that it’s perfectly fine. That is her normal.

It is not normal. It is not perfectly fine. It is mental illness. And it needs to be addressed. This show does real, tangible good in explaining without judgment to the viewers what is happening, making us all aware that this is a thing that is happening in every city, to people who are good and kind and seemingly “regular folk”, and they need our compassion, our understanding, and most importantly, they need help.

Crystal says it best. “I thought it was about stuff. It’s not about stuff. She is mentally ill. Until she comes to grip with that, it’s just going to continue.”

The secret is out. Everyone is concerned, and they make a point of letting Sybil know they care. Fortunately, she doesn’t want to go back to the way it was. She wants an actual home. She then agrees to let them do what’s needed, and the whole group is there with hugs, love, and support.

When Sybil goes back into the cleared home, it’s basically like seeing a new place. I genuinely couldn’t believe it was the same physical location as before. It’s clean, tidy, with new furniture (because everything had to be removed for health reasons), and it’s clear her family stepped up to provide for her.

“There’s still some work to be done, but that’s where family comes in.” Can we all just give all the awards to Crystal for compassion? Love that lady.

Candy says, “She has a space to live and can start doing some of the things she’d like to do.” Doesn’t that sound marvelous? What a complete change in living for Sybil. Because she’ll be able to live.

AFTER THE SHOW

Sybil now has functional plumbing and a heater for the first time in four years thanks to her awesome family. She’s seeing a therapist who specializes in hoarding, and we’re all happy to report there are no more mice in the house.

 

Ron, Miami, FL

Ron runs a camera shop, and with the influx of hipsters wanting 8mm cameras and such, I’d like to imagine that he has a thriving business. (I think he likes to imagine that, too). He clearly loves what he does and has funny add-in products, like constipation tea. Hey, the cameras aren’t working, so he figures neither are the owners. Well, it’s good to laugh. There’s a real scattershot method to his business handling, which doesn’t speak well to the overall effectiveness.

If the camera ever existed, this guy probably has it. He’s all smiles and jokes, and has people in his life who adore him, like his friend Lisa and Rene, who he considers a son. They all have a level of awareness of the hoarding, but I think due to Ron’s affable nature, they let him get away with a lot of “quirkiness.” Trish is Ron’s wife. Their house is hoarded out. Her attempts to get rid of things were met with heavy emotional manipulation. Trish had enough of being made to feel bad about it, so she moved in with her mom. It clearly still hurts her and she feels her husband is choosing his stuff over her. They’re nearing an ultimatum, it seems.

Mark Pfeffer and Rene show up at the shop. Rene seems to be a man of extremes. The problem is that Rene is, well, rather melodramatic. So it seems that him being there as a support flies out the window when he sees that Ron has a snake in a terrarium in the back office. Well… thanks for the short show of support, I guess? I mean, I have extreme arachnophobia, but I would just leave the room, have someone make sure it couldn’t get out, have a shake and a cry, and then burn the place down with napalm.

Too much? Okay, fine, I would just skirt that area. Oh god, I might leave. Rene, I owe you an apology. Big spiders? No, I might leave, too. Ha ha ha. Mark Pfeffer thinks this is about way more than a snake. Mark thinks that this is too huge a cleanup for Rene. Oh.

Standolyn Robertson shows up, and I just adore her. She’s a no-nonsense organizer (a good fit to work with both Mark Pfeffer and Ron) and seems to be able to work miracles in these large, particularly-focused hoards like this camera shop. She immediately has to ask Ron to make hard decisions, which is clearly his weak spot. He’s a man of “maybes”, maybe he’ll keep this, maybe he’ll sell that, maybe he’ll get his life sorted.

Standolyn does not work with “maybe”. After all, that’s what got him in the mess he’s in.

Another problem is that Lisa and Linda, Ron’s sister from up north, are constantly having a pissing contest of “Who is the most important woman in Ron’s life.” Ladies? Take a knee. You’re not helping. You’re not experts. You’re burning energy, and from the looks of this hoard, you’re going to need all the energy you can muster. Let the experts deal with pushing Ron.

Mark tells them to cut it out and take five, but these ladies keep going at it. Let’s all acknowledge how much the cast and crew of this show have to deal with beyond just the hoard, because it’s a lot. Speaking of, Standolyn and her team are left twiddling their thumbs as Ron continues to “maybe” his way through discontinued catalogs, manuals, and a pair of old speakers. “Put them in the back.”

Standonlyn closes her eyes, then says, “Why would you put them in the back?”

“Because I want to sell them,” Ron replies.

“Then why would you put them in the back?”

(Ah, because he doesn’t want to sell them, we viewers know. He just wants them. It’s exciting to have them, to know there’s a possible sale, there’s always a possible “Ah ha!’ moment for someone looking for a thing, and he has it. That’s the rush. And that, as we know, is the problem.)

To help speed up the process, an auctioneer is brought in on the next day to offer a flat rate for a particular volume of parts and items. Hey, it’s a business, right? The goal is to sell products? We’ll see if Ron remembers that he runs a store. The problem is that so many of these items aren’t worth the big dollars he’d imagined. That’s almost always the heartbreaking realization for these folks. They bank on potential, their entire life wrapped up in “maybe” when their present life–and all the people in it–slips past them. They want a bird in the hand and two in the bush.

It’s a blow, but it feels like Ron is able to make some good decisions after this realization. In the end, they manage to move 30% of the merchandise that he just won’t manage to sell, most likely. Three trucks of donations and recycling move out, as well.

And seriously, Standolyn and her crew are miracle workers. They organize and straighten up the store so that you can actually see items, customers can move about and hopefully buy things, and Ron is moved to tears. I imagine it finally looks like he’d envisioned but didn’t have the ability to achieve on his own.

“I can actually function like a normal person again.” And the #1 goal for the show, cast and crew (and Ron’s family and friends) has been met. Mazel!

AFTER THE SHOW

Customers are noting how great the store looks, Ron is thrilled with the results and is utilizing the help of an organizer. He’s chosen not to seek therapy. Rene has not returned, by the way. No report on his wife, either, but baby steps. It took decades to get to the breaking point; it won’t be fixed in a week.

Best of luck to both Ron and Sybil. (And cheers to awesome family stepping up.)

Please like & share:
  • Jyl Romain

    It seems that so many of these people start hoarding after a traumatic loss…Mom died or husband walked out. I’ve often thought that it can’t be fixed by just cleaning up. I’d love for the season finales to be a revisit of hoarders from the previous season so we can see how they are doing. You have to feel sorry for most of them but sometimes I feel more sorry for the children, of any age, who feel they are being tossed aside for “stuff.”

    • There definitely is a type of hoarding brought on from grief or trauma. Matt Paxton’s book about Hoarding goes into that, actually! There was a “where are they now” show that aired last week, and we’ll have that here on HDJM shortly. They do that every year. Not for every hoarder, because some slip back into bad habits and don’t want the public attention to it, which I completely understand.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  • KyPerson

    It’s interesting how people cope. Last year I lost my father and mother and my boyfriend dumped me very unexpectedly. I didn’t hoard, I got rid of and decluttered. Sometimes I think I tossed out too much, but after watching some episodes of Hoarders, I don’t think so.

    • One thing I love about the professionals on the show is how they continue to hammer home the point that hoarding is under the OCD umbrella, along with gambling, kleptomania, addictions, etc. No one knows why someone would go to hoarding or drugs, to sex addiction or gambling, but that there is a correlation.

      Hopefuly more people will be able to empathize with folks who react to extreme situations with these damaging survival behaviors.

      (And my deepest sympathies on your loss!)

  • Amanda

    It’s so heartbreaking when the family and friends get the realization of how much their loved ones are suffering, are sick and hurt- it’s just so sad to see. You’re so right when you emphasis that it’s a mental illness, and the show and it’s good work has made me try and educate more people who are dismissive about the show and those who suffer from hoarding. My heart just hurts for them all, and I can’t believe how much love and compassion all of the people who work on the show must have to do this day in and day out.

    • I appreciate this comment so much, Amanda, thank you. I’ve had many conversations with the amazing cast and crew of the show, and there is no question that they are in this to help people and to educate the public. Hearts as big as you can imagine.

      I won’t lie — i came into this show not getting it, but over the course of the past 8 seasons, have learned how to empathize with my fellow man so much more. I love the folks behind this show and what they’re here for.

      <3

  • I also giggled when Sybil said “And winter is coming”. Cannot help it – every time I hear that now that’s right where my brain goes too. I was glad that the cats appeared healthy.

    I also had some sympathy for the store cleanout because I could tell that most of those items would take some specialized knowledge to organize. Although they could have focused on things like camera bags, paperworks, etc, and let Ron deal with the cameras and parts. In the end, they got it organized so something good happened regardless.