From an early age our son has been a ‘collector.’ On any given day, especially when joining me while running errands, I would have to pat him down, removing bits and pieces of debris from his pockets that he had found in parking lots, grocery store aisles, beneath clothing racks.
When I’d break down and do a thorough cleaning of his room, I would remove bags… plural… of junk. Often times I had to do this while I could get him out of the house to avoid melt-downs and arguments over why I was throwing away his ‘treasures.’ Treasures being rusty bolts, broken ink pens, metal washers, smooth or shiny rocks.
After years of behavioral problems in school, of having toys taken away, for folding paper clips into other shapes, of being a distraction to other classmates, our son was tentatively determined to have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder tendencies. At 12 he was too young to be given a definitive diagnosis. He is 18 now, and has that official label.
The collecting, the having to have an object to focus on like the paperclips in class, were all manifestations of his disorder.
Unlike how television stereotypes OCD, our son isn’t fixated on rituals, or at least not ones like washing his hands, or touching objects a certain number of time, or checking locks. His compulsions have always been, and remain, collecting. Where once it could be anything and everything, in the last few years, we’ve been able to limit it to die-cast toys.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say he has well in excess of 4,000 cars, air planes, and other military vehicles… all different in some way. He can tell you if one is missing. He can peruse the toy aisle and tell you which ones he already owns and which ones are new. Lately he has been further limiting his collection to Redline Hot Wheels. Vintage toys from the 1960s and 70s, bidding for different cars online and trading them through collector forums.
Through these forums he’s also been trading custom cars. Collectors will take a standard car, and modify it. It’s like adding after-market body kits to a street car.
For a kid who was once believed to be severely ADHD, watching him spend hours sanding, fabricating new body parts, painting and trading these cars, it’s both a source of pride and one of frustration.
Keeping him from his hobby, especially when he is feeling particularly anxious can trigger a full-blown panic attack. (he has also been diagnosed with Panic/Anxiety Disorder). We walk a fine line between enabling his obsessions and encouraging his coping skills.
My kitchen table has become his ‘garage.’ This is where he does the bulk of his custom work. Where he builds his models, where he goes when he needs to work off his anxious energy.
it’s been more than a year since we’ve sat at this table as a family, more than a year since we’ve shared a meal here. More than a year since we’ve been able to invited friends or family over for dinner.
I’m not gonna lie… having all this clutter taking over my dining room is a little embarrassing. But it’s the clutter, not what creates it that’s embarrassing. It’s also a sacrifice I’m willing to make if it helps my son in any way. We’re making progress in moving a lot of his projects to a work table in our actual garage. He can use power tools outside and it’s a space all his own. Baby steps…
Day 9 – 30 Days of Shamelessness: expose something messy you’d usually hide