Dirty Little Secrets is about a girl who gets cornered by circumstance and has to think her way out. It's a fascinating, quick read that unfurls over a very short span of time, and the chapters give an hour by hour account of Lucy's ordeal.
The author does a marvelous job of portraying the heartbreak that comes along with having a parent who loves possessions more than her child. It's pitch perfect developmentally. Lucy's reached a stage where she realizes she's so far from being the center of her mother's world that she's practically a speck on the horizon, dwarfed by her mother's obsession with junk. She's carved out a little space in the house for herself. She avoids her mother--and wishes she felt more affection for her. But here are her thoughts when her mother accuses her of misplacing a pair of scissors:
It always came down to trying to find the right answer in a game where I didn't know any of the rules. If I didn't help look for the thing I supposedly lost, she'd be mad. If I touched any of her stuff, she'd be mad. It was just a question of what was going to make her less mad at any given moment. The exhaustion I always felt in these situations began creeping into my bones.Hoarding Disorder isn't actually in the DSM-IV, the diagnostic manual of mental disorders. However, it might be included in the DSM V, which is slated to come out in 2013 (there has to be sufficient research to justify Hoarding as a disorder separate from OCD). The proposed criteria for Hoarding Disorder pretty much nail the behavioral profile of Lucy's mother:
- Persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of the value others may attribute to these possessions.
- This difficulty is due to strong urges to save items and/or distress associated with discarding.
- The symptoms result in the accumulation of a large number of possessions that fill up and clutter active living areas of the home or workplace to the extent that their intended use is no longer possible. If all living areas are uncluttered, it is only because of the interventions of third parties (e.g., family members, cleaners, authorities).
- The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (including maintaining a safe environment for self and others).
And wow, are they problematic.
I often talk with parents about their relationship with their children. We talk about how the conflict and behaviors on either side have actually damaged that parent-child bond, and we strategize about how to repair it. In Dirty Little Secrets, the author paints a picture of what it's like when that bond is almost completely corroded. Lucy feels its absence; she knows it should be there. But her mother's mental illness has eaten holes all the way through it, worn it away until there's nothing really there except a few good memories.
This is the story of a girl who feels utterly trapped, both physically and emotionally. How she gets herself untrapped is quite a ride. Some of Lucy's decisions seem extreme, maybe even controversial--but they make complete sense because the author delves so deeply into her perspective.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Have you read other books that included a parent with a severe mental illness? How was it handled?