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ASK AMY: Pandemic experience has triggered food hoarding

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Dear Amy: My life is in a good place. My kids are out of the house, and I retired early.

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Before COVID-19 hit, I went to Broadway shows and movies, out to eat with friends, and travelled alone.

Obviously, the pandemic threw a wrench into things. I have tried to reframe my life during a time when I’ve been scared to go out, despite being vaxxed and boosted.

Early on during the pandemic, it was hard to get certain foods, but I’ve found that even after things settled down, I was still overstocking.

I have two full fridges, two freezers, and find myself ordering food for various relatives and having it shipped to them.

I don’t have an eating problem, as I don’t over-consume food, but I can’t stop buying it.

I finally cancelled my Costco membership and limit my trips to the store, but I still find myself at midnight shopping at online food sources.

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I’ve tried everything to stop, and yet I keep buying. Not clothes, not knick-knacks, not home furnishings. Just food.

Events like the Ukraine invasion seem to trigger me buying more food.

I have a freezer with sliced and frozen vegetables, sauces and soups. The other freezer contains nothing but meat. I know this is a control issue, but I can’t shake the fear of running out of food.

Can you help?

– Worried

Dear Worried: You are describing a hoarding disorder. This can be brought on by trauma and triggered by stress.

People who have survived extreme food shortages will sometimes emerge from the experience with the impulse to hoard food. Your early experiences of the pandemic (experiencing some shortages and fearing that there would be more) has triggered this in you.

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Hoarding disorders are linked to anxiety and can be treated with a combination of medication and behaviour therapy, which focuses on recognizing the triggers, the feelings, and the behaviour you seek to change.

Many people are experiencing mental health challenges as the result of the pandemic, and I give you so much credit for recognizing that your behaviour presents an extreme problem for you, and for being brave in your inquiry.

I believe your question will help a lot of people who are also struggling.

I urge you to take the next very brave step to seek professional help.

You can recover from this, emerge into the world, and enjoy your experiences and relationships.

There are many ways to find a therapist. I like the database offered by psychologytoday.com. You can search based on location and specialty and read through profiles of therapists.

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Dear Amy: I went to a birthday party in my expatriate community in a small Latin American town and saw folks I hadn’t seen in a long time (thanks to COVID).

As usual in social gatherings, I ask people about things I know about them: How are your elderly parents? How is your partner doing post-surgery? How was your trip to wherever? How are your kids doing?

I like these people a lot and have missed their company. I was happy to see them. But not one of these people inquired about me!

I am a good listener, but it would be really nice if someone expressed an interest in me.

I am not the kind of person who readily turns the conversation to myself, yet it would be nice if someone actually asked.

I see precious little of that in general anymore.

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Is it that people have lost their social skill or is it that they just want a friendly ear? I do have good social skills and I do care, but the longer I am on the listening end of a monologue, the more cynical I become. I welcome more authentic engagement, but maybe it’s just not possible?

Help!

– Unheard Expat

Dear Expat: I am running your question as a public service announcement. This is one of several I’ve received recently from people who feel completely disregarded and unheard, because no one asks – or listens.

I don’t think this is a recent phenomenon, but surely the pandemic has made it more pronounced.

I’ll explore this in future columns.

Dear Amy: Regarding your answer to “Sad Mad Daughter,” who was providing care for her abusive and elderly mother – you failed to mention an important aspect of this: Her own children are watching.

She is modelling compassion. Surely this will be returned to her.

– Been There

Dear Been There: Compassion begets compassion. And even if it doesn’t – it is its own reward.

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