Thursday, September 16, 2010

Do what I say, not what I do.

"A good, real, unrestrained, hearty laugh
is a sort of glorified internal massage,
performed rapidly and automatically.
It manipulates and revitalizes corners
and unexplored crannies of the system
that are unresponsive to most other exercise methods. *

Not sure I can write down exactly what I'm feeling but need to try.

I'm reading this book, Passages in Caregiving by Gail Sheehy. [More about this later] I know it's kind of crazy to spend my day and part of my night in the act of caregiving, then go to bed and read more about it before I go to sleep.

I'm near the end of the book, which you can imagine is near the end of Sheehy's caregiving story. I'm reading about Medicare, Medicaid, Hospice, Palliative Care, Visiting nurses and the Catch 22 that an untold number of caregivers like me are dealing with on a daily basis. I'm feeling both appalled at a system that is so screwed up and somehow grateful that there is a system at all. I think that's a good thing.

I'm learning that I'm not alone. That the tiredness I'm feeling down in my bones is known as "burnout". That I need to step away for an hour, a day, a week. (Hahahaha, she laughed with a tinge of hysteria in her voice that even she could hear.) That stepping away feels like abandoning my father, letting him (and my mother) down somehow, means I'm not committed enough, that I'm a wimp ......

I've been thinking for weeks that if I hear one more person say, "you need to take care of yourself" or "put on your own oxygen mask first" I'm going to scream. Do they (the proverbial they) think I (caregivers in general) don't know how necessary this is.

BUT (Sorry Sweetie) the taking care of oneself is sometimes so much harder than taking care of the care-ee that the very act of attempting it feels way too demanding. Remember when your kids were little and you were going somewhere for R&R and by the time you got the bags packed, then packed into the car, then the dogs to the kennel and left food out for the cat, and stopped the mail and the newspaper, and strapped the fussy children into car seats and you get in the car then you realize you left the cassette tapes and snacks (or worse, the baby) on the kitchen counter and know you won't get far before someone needs to pee even though you made sure every last one of them peed before getting in the car and your husband sat behind the wheel thumbing a let's-get-on-with-it tune on the steering wheel, and you finally get in the car, fasten your own seatbelt as the car moves slowly out of the driveway and you dare to take a breath when a voice in the backseat shrieks something like "he touched me" and your head starts spinning around, your eyes turn red like lit up from hell and green vomit comes spewing out of your mouth, and your husband suggests you chill out because you are officially on vacation and you know in your heart the vacation won't start until the last chorus of Old Mac Donald had a farm is finished and the children are asleep and there are a few blessed minutes of silence. It's just plain hard to get psyched up about taking time off even if you know that its good for you. And then there are the paybacks.

But I digress.

So I've been reading this book, becoming aware. I read a blog by a woman whose husband is very sick. She relates a story that makes me crazy. But more than that my heart hurts for them in a way that it doesn't hurt for me. I'm able to take myself out of myself and reach across the blogosphere and do for her what I can't do for myself. But, in reality I am doing it for myself. Does that make any sense? I hear my gentle words, feel the hug I send her, smell the flowers, or hear the laugh at the other end of my reaching out and I feel better, less tired.

Now I'm not saying practice random acts of kindness to be self-serving. Do for others because they need doing for. And when you do, let yourself feel how the act doubles back to you.

Yeh, I need a break. I'm going to the doctor tomorrow as a first step in taking care of myself. I know what he's going to say. Eat less. Exercise more. Add fruit to my diet, not chocolate ice cream. Take a break. Blah, blah blah. It's not that I'm not listening. It's that I've kind of forgotten how to think of ME. I'm not alone. Caregivers like me are all around you. They are the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters somehow making it through each day.

I'm asking you to put down your Blackberry or Ipad and reach out to someone in some small way. In this cold, hard, technological world, people need human contact. There is no way of knowing what impact you'll have on others. But maybe, just maybe, you'll be the one who triggers a laugh. And that laugh could very easily be the sound of angels singing to someone in need.

I needed to get that off my chest. Thanks for listening.
Wishing for you a belly laugh when you least expect it,
Merry ME

*Author unknown, from an editorial in New York Tribune, quoted in Quotations for Special Occasions by Maud van Buren

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