Caregivers: The Problem With Being Strong

That is who I am, a lifeline, a caregiver. That's not love, that is need; a very unfulfilling one-way street. The past five months have seen surgery after surgery and the care and feeding of a very grumpy man who growls about everything.
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My sister showed me this meme of a lion with the words: The problem with being strong is, no one ever asks you how you are.. She also gave me the opportunity to feel the truth of that in every cell. 2016-04-09-1460238987-2694553-Lion.jpg

I am a caregiver
I am in a relationship where I am the caretaker for everything -- business, bills, medical, insurance, everything. No one held a gun to my head, it was my choice and it is reality. I fought ID fraud for him for eight years, until I found out it was not ID fraud, but his own negligence that caused the problem. Almost none of our values mesh. Maybe a forgotten agreement is being fulfilled? Since I was born in California, I guess I can say, it's, like, totally karmic.

The situation will get worse
Health wise, the trend is not good and since a 2005 double bypass, things are headed downhill. I have become his mother. I asked him to go for a walk and he declined. I went out and walked toward a small industrial center where trucks delivered goods. All of a sudden I saw him coming toward me.

"Oh, great, you decided to join me."

"No, no, I had to rush and come get you. You could be kidnapped. "

My heart swelled with tenderness, until he added, "If you are kidnapped what would happen to me? What would happen to poor me?" He didn't say it with any malice. It was honest and simple. Even a year ago, I would've been angry or cried. Now I simply thought, I always ask for clarity, I got it. We kept walking.

That is who I am -- a lifeline, a caregiver. That's not love, that is need; a very unfulfilling one-way street. The past five months have seen surgery after surgery and the care and feeding of a very grumpy man who growls about everything.

I can't plan anything
I can't plan anything and I'm having a hard time just doing household chores let alone, work. It's the end of the semester and my students at the university are in high anxiety mode. Even now, as I try to write, every minute I am peppered with questions. My favorite answer lately (and I highly advise you use it) is, I don't know.

But I digress, let me get back to the lion and my sister.

I was overwhelmed. I was doing errands, picking up his newest meds and I was sitting in my car, eating an ice cream cone with a mini hot fudge sundae on the seat beside me as a just-in-case-the-cone-wasn't-enough backup. The rain was pelting the windows, and it was my first alone time in days.

I called my sister but she was working with a friend on something. I told her I would call another time. But she said, "You know, Adria, you have never taken care of anyone but yourself." I suppose she meant taking care of anyone physically, but I was so surprised I didn't ask. "You only had to take care of yourself," she continued, "you were traveling." (I was an opera singer and was on the road for 6 to 10 months per year). "You have never done this before. You will find a way." It's true. I have managed many lives and businesses. Of course I will find a way. I always do, but that isn't what I needed to hear.

This lion just needed a pat on the head. The rain continued crying: I have forgotten how. The years of caregiving felt like a 1000-pound weight on my shoulders. It all seemed too much.

I ate the hot fudge sundae.

Some rules for caregivers' friends and family:

1. Ask a lion how they are, even if they are the strongest lion you know.
2. If the lion is roaring, don't give solutions, a sympathetic, listening ear will suffice.
3. If the lion whimpers too much, leave. But before you do, say gently, very gently, there are support groups for this sort of thing.

Get help
For those of you who are caregivers, I feel your pain. Get help. It's not a luxury. It is a vital necessity. I found a counselor who has compassion and understanding and practical solutions. There are support groups for caregivers and I intend to go to one. You must find precious time every day for yourself, even if it's a few minutes at a time. That time is sacred. It is every bit as sacred as pulling on a coat and driving someone to the ER at 5 a.m. -- again and again.

My counselor also shared something I never considered. A chronic condition can be even more debilitating for the caregiver. There is no end in sight, it is a relentless continuum. Often, those we care for are stuck in the swamp of self-pity and can't, or won't, find their way out.

There is no deus ex machina: no one is going to save us. We are the 'god in the machine' and self-care is our responsibility. We are worthy of all the care in the world. Only a portion of that worth is our care giving. We must put the oxygen mask on our own face first and sometimes when it's raining, and you feel like you've hit a wall, have a hot fudge sundae.