Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind

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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!


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.


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.


Seeing Myself Through My Brother’s Eyes

Heart shaped glassesThe other night I had a long phone visit with my brother in Texas.  We only see each other once a year or more but we stay in touch regularly through phone calls, usually ones he makes while driving somewhere in his truck.  It’s the most private time he has and although I make fun of the fact that all the calls happen that way, I cherish that he makes them – and tell him so.

We were catching up on stuff and he asked me how my knee was doing.  I  almost started to cry when I said that it hurt a lot and that the doctors didn’t want to operate because of my weight – not as a surgical risk but because a replacement wouldn’t last as long in a heavy person as in someone who is lighter.  I was feeling once again like a fat failure.  I almost didn’t hear what he said next, but it was important.

He said that he, his wife, and the kids (he named them all, in birth order – maybe in case I’d forgotten) all loved me exactly how I am right this minute.  That if I didn’t lose a single pound for the rest of my life, they would love me and want to spend time with me because of who I am as a person.  They want me to be happy because I make them happy. They didn’t want me to hurt but they didn’t want me to feel inadequate or insufficient in any way because to them, I am neither.

Knowing that is one thing, and I did know it.  But hearing it right that minute mattered so much.  It was heartfelt and honest – and was a balm to my heart and wounded spirit.  Obviously being smaller is better physically and medically.  But knowing that I am loved unconditionally by people who mean the world to me – well, that helps give me strength to work on hard things and know that I’m not a failure even when things don’t work out.

So on this Valentine’s Day, where we hand out chocolate and candy and little cards to virtual strangers, please take a minute to think of someone you care about and tell them how you feel.  Not necessarily your spouse – maybe a friend, a neighbor, a sister, a colleague.   Heartfelt words carry truth and power and you have no idea what positive energy those words might create in someone else’s life.