Q. A close friend, “Jenna,” has a mental illness: She hoards. Her house would be condemned if the health administration were to go there.
I can start tracing this behavior back to when she first became a mother and discovered that raising children requires more than just buying them new clothes and getting pictures taken. She worked and had trouble juggling everything. Fortunately, her mother lived next door and helped out a lot – did her laundry and fixed meals for the kids. But then her mother died, and Jenna’s personality began to change even more. She could not keep up with the daily needs of her family. Then her husband died, only 10 months after her mother.
Long story short, her life has continued spiraling downward. Her house is a disaster, with holes in the walls that let the outside air in, mice, snakes and cat urine and feces everywhere because the litter box never gets changed.
She’s met a man who lives out of state. He will never be invited to her home, yet she’s talking of marrying him and moving to his location. Her kids are well-adjusted to their hometown. The older one will be a senior in high school next year, and the younger one will be a sophomore. These kids don’t want to move, but with her illness, she can only think of herself and getting a new start. She’s not being totally honest with her new mate. Others close to her need to know how to help her and her kids. Any help? – Stressed Out in Middle America
A. Start with Jenna. Express your concerns about her mental health, and encourage her to seek professional counseling. Then expand to her circle of family and close friends. Make sure everyone is aware of the problem. If she’s been preventing people from coming into the house, it’s possible they have no idea how severe the situation is.
Visit the International OCD Foundation’s hoarding website at https://hoarding.iocdf.org for more resources.
Dear Annie: I read your column every day. I’ve never sent a letter, but I had to respond to “Ex In or Ex Out.” I married my second husband 29 wonderful years ago and met his ex a few months later at his daughter’s high school graduation. I was so pleased to find out how friendly and outgoing she was toward me. I was a little jealous because he still cared for her, as he had two children with her. She wrote me a beautiful, kind, generous letter saying how happy she was with our marriage and how he deserved the best. From then on, she invited us to Christmas and Thanksgiving in Florida to stay with her and see the children. We each bonded as close friends from then on and have taken several trips together by ourselves and with others, separate from my husband. I came to know her as the most honest and caring woman I know and think of her as my best friend. She dubbed us “wife-in-laws”!
The children and grandchildren were the important thing. They have all of us! I suggest that “Ex In or Ex Out’s” fiancee, “Beth,” grow up and think about what’s really important. Jealousy doesn’t become her, and it really complicates matters for her husband and her in-laws. “Ex In or Ex Out” shouldn’t make his family members choose between his ex and Beth, or Beth might lose. – Friends With the Ex
Dear Friends With the Ex: Your example is a reminder that women can often find so much common ground if they just look for it. Thanks for sharing.
Send your questions for Annie Lane to email@example.com.