Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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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.


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Sudden loss

One of my friends died suddenly yesterday, on the golf course in New Mexico while traveling with a group from our community. Although death is always a reality when you live in a place that has mostly 55+ residents, this one hit extra hard because it was so unexpected, because of where he was at the time, but mostly because he was so beloved by all. He had been a leader in the community and the church, but was also just a fun person who brought a smile to our faces.

We have a lot of memorial services here over the course of a year but most come after a lingering illness or simply from complications of age. This death was different and has made us stop in our tracks. Bob was a member of the choir and last night, instead of rehearsal, we spent time talking out the facts and reactions, and praying together.

It’s too soon to know anything else now. Logistics get complicated when a body needs to be moved across state lines and there are too many unknowns. What we do know is that we lost someone who mattered.


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Pity Party for One

Herons at Emerald BayMoving to Texas was my idea and I have no regrets about the decision. But I must confess that it’s hard to once again give up everything I know – even more than usual this time because there’s no new job at the other end. I found myself in tears yesterday, realizing that there’s no one coming with me who shares any memories of life and working days from Virginia to Connecticut with stops in Maine and Boston.

I’ve done this before. I’ve moved to places where I didn’t know anyone in the whole state. Certainly I’m not the only person who’s done this.

But I’m feeling vulnerable today, quiet and sad. And fat, but that’s not anything new. I have 10 work days left and three weeks from today we leave on the big road trip to Texas. Lots to do and think and plan – but I also need to give myself permission to feel and grieve and let go. I’ve been holding on by my fingernails in some ways and that’s not sustainable or healthy. Good thing I’m starting the day with a therapy appointment!


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Too Independent For My Own Good

I’m independent and proud of it, and it sure is necessary since I live alone.  Rather than whine about being too short to change lights, I got a taller step stool.  I sign legal documents, shovel out my car, meet deadlines, clean up the cat hairballs, pay the bills, and go “make the donuts” to pay for it all.

But one side effect of being so independent is that it’s very difficult to ask for help when it would make it easier or even possible.  At work I’m expected to run my own ship and consult with colleagues and staff, but even there I tend to take on more than my share and have trouble delegating some tasks even when it’s appropriate.

I hate asking people if they could take me somewhere, even the airport or the hospital.  In fact, I took myself to the hospital for all but one of my many surgeries (three knee ops, two carpal tunnels, two sinus, and the lapband) and except for getting a ride home, managed on my own at home because I’d done all the prep to make it work.

This time is different.  I’m taking myself to the surgical center a week from Wed. for plastic surgery.  The operation will take 4-5 hours (they’re doing a tummy tuck and tidying up my upper arms) and in some magic way, I’ll be transported from the outpatient surgery center to the university health infirmary, where I’ll stay for 3-4 nights.

I already asked a friend if she could come to see me that night and bring a small bag that I would bring to her house over the weekend, with some toiletries, a book, netbook, and chargers for the netbook and cell phone.  Although she’s a good friend, it felt like an imposition to ask.  I don’t want to put anyone out or have them go to any trouble for me.

But I need them to.  I need someone to bring me stuff, to take me home after my few days there.  I can’t lift anything heavier than 5 lbs for at least 4-6 weeks, plus I won’t be able to bend easily with my incision and compression binder on.  Which means I’ll need help with bagging and dumping trash, changing the litter box, clearing snow, stuff I don’t even know about yet.

It’s time to stop being so damned stubborn about it.  To let go of the tight hold on making sure everything is in place.  No matter what, there will be things left undone and help needed.  I’m hoping to be able to do with humility and grace, knowing that people are happy to help if asked and if the task is reasonable & achievable.

Just in case I haven’t said it lately – thank you for the help you all have already given me.  For your friendship and advice, listening ears, gentle nudges, recipes and food ideas, comfort when things are hard.  I’ll let you know how things go.


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My Upstairs Neighbor: Stressed or Disturbed?

A new neighbor moved into our building just before New Year’s.   She’s divorced, half Italian and half Portuguese, with a cat and a 10 year old daughter who lives with her father.  And a broken foot.  She was taken away in an ambulance on Jan. 2 and came back with a big cast on her right foot.

Let’s face it, it’s hard to get around with a foot cast when you live upstairs and when the snow doesn’t seem to stop.   C had no phone or internet yet, since Comcast hadn’t arrived yet.  So I found myself offering to help with little things.  On the first day we emerged after the 2+ feet of snow, I took her to Walmart to get some groceries, then visited her in her apartment, met the cat, helped out a bit.

She was very emotional and demonstrative, which I attributed to her Italian/Portuguese family.  But things started to emerge that didn’t make a lot of sense and my radar was up, especially when she went back to the hospital the following week after a visit from the police & ambulance.   She had the cast redone but another neighbor and I were wondering about the loud arguing we’d heard before and then while the cops were there.

I’ve been the single woman physically limited because of surgery and knew what it was like to depend on friends and neighbors to help with things.  As a new resident, she really didn’t know anyone here – and the mounds of snow everywhere made it difficult for people to come visit.  So I picked up some groceries, came up to visit, even gave her some extra chili when my pot had enough for everyone.

But I was noticing that when she was emotional, in addition to being loud and over the top, her voice was slurring and I thought I smelled alcohol.  She talked about me as this wonderful friend who was helping her so much.  I began to resent her wanting to spend so much time – I really do relish my privacy and quiet time.  And I felt uncomfortable listening to her tell me about her family.  Every story was more over the top than the last, and she would cry at the drop of a hat.

I don’t want to enable someone in behaving in self-destructive ways.  And that’s the fine line for me:  what is helping someone who’s down, and what is enabling?

I hit my limit today.  I’d gone up in the morning to feed her cat while she was with her family (her uncle is dying of leukemia), and this evening I got a call from a friend of hers that I met the other day, asking if I could come up and help comfort C.  My first reaction was to roll my eyes and wonder was up with her NOW.  When I got there, she was dressed in a satin sleep shirt, and was bewailing how no one in her family loved her, how she couldn’t trust anyone, how much she hated the cast, that she’d moved here for a fresh start and everything was horrible, etc.

Her friend met my eyes, and we both clearly knew this wasn’t good.  She was also glaring at us to not call the police and send her to the hospital – which is exactly where I thought she needed to be.  He got out in the hall and called 911, and she followed him out crying, “please don’t leave me.” When she figured out he had called them, she threw us out.  I was happy to go, even though I felt slightly guilty for not staying to try to help.  But I knew it was beyond me and I didn’t want to get sucked into something I couldn’t handle.

When the cops came, I met them at the door and explained what had happened before they went up to her apartment, and when they left, they told me that she was going to bed and in their evaluation, she didn’t need to go to the hospital.  That she clearly had problems but we all do.

I half expected her to come down and bang on my door yelling at me, but I guess she really did go to sleep.  Or is ignoring me.  I hope she gets some help and, selfishly, that I can have some peace.


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My Head is Too Full of Words

Were you shocked by the Tucson shootings last Saturday?  I wasn’t.  I’ve been expecting some kind of violent eruption since the last election and to be honest, I thought it would be Obama who was shot first.  He’s gotten more than the usual share of death threats because he is Black, because the economy tanked and jobs lost – and because so many people are angry at the world and he is the president and epitomizes The Powers That Be.

The Tucson shootings captured and emotionally entangled me. I was obsessive in looking at more information, more analysis, more ideas to explain what I saw and heard.  It actually reminded me of my reactions to 9/11, and not in a healthy way.

All of the articles, stories, reports, videos, analysis, and prostrations didn’t help.  One article quotes another until they go in a single giant chain of links connecting one to the other.  And they didn’t change the innocent people who were dead, and the assassination attempt on Gabrielle Giffords.   The left blamed the right, the right blamed the left, and talk show hosts decried any responsibility for anything.  Sarah Palin – well, don’t get me started there.

The problem is way bigger than why that particular mentally disturbed armed man managed to kill so many people at the grocery store – and there is plenty going on with THAT that will be dissected as we move on from here, hopefully not just with one party blaming the other.

Politicians and journalists analyzed and told us every single word, phrase, action, reaction, turn of the head, tone of voice, things done and things left undone until my head was full of words swimming in a big stew.  Our country is deeply angry at just about everything and looking for people to punish, and I’m afraid there will be a lot more violence and destruction before we get to a different place.

I don’t know how to change it and find that I isolate and just take care of myself (food, exercise, sleep).  More seems too much to deal with.  It’s not depression; I know what that feels like.  It’s more like chaos that’s too big to break down into pieces small enough to grab.  Though if my congresswoman has a meet and greet event in my area, I’ll definitely be there.

And in the meantime, I shovel.  We got over 2 feet of snow today.

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Obama spoke at the memorial service in Tucson not long after I wrote this, and I listened with tears in my eyes and a sense of peace and calm.  His words were Big and not Inflammatory or Partisan.  That’s what needed to be said, and what I needed to hear.  Thank you, Mr. President.