Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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My Life is So Different Now

Three years ago this week I made the decision to retire from Yale and move to Texas to live with and care for my dad. I don’t regret the decision but my life is so totally different; sometimes I feel disconnected, because there is no one here who has any connection to the professional life I led for so many years. Married people, people with children, usually have at least someone who has shared those experiences with them. I don’t even have my cat anymore.

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Yale Law Library Reading Room

I worked on college campuses for almost 40 years and there is an energy there that keeps things hopping. I started working in general university libraries right after getting my M.L.S. and moved to law school libraries three years later, never looking back. My career was in Technical Services, which started out as cataloging and evolved into management of all of the specialties under the Tech Services banner: acquisitions, serials, binding, cataloging, electronic resources, integrated library systems. I worked long hours at challenging work – You want a book from Singapore that was published today? And you want it when?  Okay, let me see what I can do. I lived in Virginia, in Maine, in Boston, and Connecticut, sometimes moving without knowing anyone else in the state. Moving was hard but I did it – and by myself.

My organizations allowed me time to be active in my profession, going to national and specialty conference such as the Innovative Users Group for users of the system I worked with for almost 30 years. Of course, that meant working late and on weekends to get my regular work accomplished, but it was a good trade off for keeping my brain stretched and making wonderful contacts across the country and around the world.  I spent five years on the IUG Steering Committee, including being education chair for a national conference, followed immediately by three years on the Executive Board of the American Association of Law Libraries. And three years later, I was education chair for the AALL conference, too. Exhilarating, challenging, hard, creative, fun.

I loved working out the bibliographic puzzles that went with my job. Figuring out what happened to serial publications that stopped coming or morphed into other titles without warning. Finding books requested by colleagues and faculty that came with incomplete or wrong titles. Resolving systems problems. Dreaming up new ways to explain old things to staff.

Ah, staff. I hated supervising. That was the only really hard thing about my job to me. I want to work in a collegial relationship with people who act like adults and pull their weight. Supervising people, and especially those in a tough union shop, made that difficult at times. And it was exhausting. I do not miss that one bit, though I do miss some of the people. Okay, not many of them, but some.

12108756_10208073611423764_1885628941810349569_n (1)I thoughtfully planned my departure from Yale, working to transition tasks and responsibilites to new people and writing endless documentation to explain how to do it. One week after I retired from Yale, I got in the car with the cat and my sister-in-law and drove to Texas. There was no time to process or grieve because new things were coming. I almost never hear from the people I worked with and it’s as though who I was and what I did there doesn’t matter to anyone except me. I’m forgotten and left behind. Which is appropriate; I don’t want them mourning me, either, but people I thought were friends apparently were just passing in the hallways instead. And that’s hard.

So I have a new life now. Instead of being an experienced, senior person, I’m a youngster in a retirement community. I work part-time as a church secretary, making bulletins, writing documentation, maintaining the website. I sing in the choir, play Mah Jongg, and have friends. I’m also primary caregiver for my 90 year old father, who is increasingly fragile and forgetful. Never having had children, I have one now in many ways, and it’s difficult. It’s hard to know how to take time away when I have to be at the church at 8:00 a.m. six days a week, plus care for my dad. I don’t regret being here but I haven’t adjusted.

I miss my friends and am grateful to Facebook, with all its problems, for helping me stay in touch with people who knew me in my other life. I miss my cat, who died last May. I need a hug.

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Coming Back to Writing

TessieI haven’t written here in a full year. I’ve missed it and at the same time, I’ve been busy. But things are going on in my heart and head and it helps to articulate, even to myself.

My beloved cat Tessie crossed the Rainbow Bridge three weeks ago. She hadn’t been really herself for six months and was having increasing problems until the end, when I held her in my arms as she passed. She was my constant loving companion for 10 years, and it was just the two of us for most of them. I have a hole in my heart – and at the same time, I’m relieved not to have to worry about whether she’s eating or pooping or why she’s crying. Then I feel guilty to be relieved, because I miss her so.

She is my only experience of being a caregiver, and let’s face it, a cat is not a person. I have no practice taking care of a person, young or old, so it’s been a pretty steep learning curve to take care of my dad. At age 89, his general health is good but his memory is getting spotty. He loops and retells stories that I’ve heard a million times, and every day we talk about what heaven is like and how wonderful Mom was and whether she will be there waiting for him.

I’ve not found a good balance to living with him. I care too much and do too much, and have lost myself in the process. I work part-time as a church secretary in the mornings and in the afternoons and evenings, mostly do nothing or do things with Dad. I know lots of people but haven’t taken advantage of things like line dancing classes or Pokeno nights because I don’t know how to do them and feel stupid, and because I felt like I needed to be there for Dad.

But really, the best way to take care of him is to take care of myself first. So after a brief meltdown the other night and the time that followed for thinking and prayer, I’ve decided a bunch of things:

  • Manage my food in healthy ways
  • Go to the gym for a fitness assessment and start going 2-3 times/week (I’ve been a member for 18 months but haven’t entered since I signed up)
  • Go out at least one day a week for a meal or activity with friends
  • Start planning a vacation and at least one monthly outing
  • Start working with a spiritual director

Things slow down here in the summer; with the high heat and humidity, lots of people go away for long stretches. So most of the social things will go by the wayside until fall. But that will give me time to feel better physically and get into a better more balanced routine. I do play Mah Jongg once a week and love the interaction with my friends there, even if I’m not winning much these days.

But it’s time for an attitude adjustment. No one can do it for me, I have to just do it for myself. I’m making decisions to be healthier physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I start today.


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Taking a Break from Caregiving

13256291_10209796703980001_3438453961952806348_nFortunately for me, I now live only 2 hours from my brother, rather than half way across the country. Visits no longer require advance planning, plane tickets, and scheduled vacation time away from the office. Instead, it’s just a short hop on a lot of 2-lane roads.

After 7 months of living with my dad, I was ready for a break. I lived alone for my entire professional life and it’s not always easy to have someone around all the time. I prepared food, wrote out menus, did laundry and took care of house things. Then I made our family coffee cake traditionally made for gatherings, loaded up Tessie (who was none too happy about it), and headed out for two days off.

My niece and her two small children were visiting from Colorado and won’t be back until Christmas, so this was a chance to see them. Children change so quickly and the little guy is already starting to pull himself up. His big sister is smart as a whip and I so enjoyed making cookies and playing with her.

But I also really needed the time alone out on the front porch in the quiet of a rainy day, watching deer out in the pasture and grateful for the solitude. It can be lonely, being on your own, but for me, it’s restorative. My brother and I had some good conversations about Dad’s health and future planning. He’s in good shape now but at 88, anything could happen at any time. I’m glad that my brother and I see eye to eye on next steps.

Coming home was difficult. Tessie meowed almost the whole way, which is seriously annoying. Dad’s first comment was, “How many phones do we have? I can only find 3.” Gee, nice to see you, too. I’ve been impatient and stressed, and yesterday ended up with a wicked full-blown cold/sinus problem and feel as though an elephant is sitting on my chest. Okay, maybe just a cat. But still.

I want more space than I can have here, emotional space. It’s clear to me that taking time off for myself, including having Dad spend time away so I can be alone, is imperative to my long-term health and sanity. I don’t regret my decision to move here but sometimes I’m just losing who I am.