Friday, September 16, 2005

Being ripped apart

One of the worst forms of torture that I could imagine would involve being forced to sit, powerless, while watching your parents suffer physically and emotionally. But, that's pretty much what I'm going through right now...

My Mom called me this morning. She's hysterical and in tears again. She doesn't know what to do, she says -but when I ask her "about what?" she doesn't know. "Everything" is her only answer. I know this is hard on her and I try to offer the only help I can by trying to get her to go see a psychologist/psychiatrist, go to a support group, or at least call one of the people she's met who've been through the caregiver roll and have offered their help and support. But she won't do it. And this conversation has been had over and over again. It's a neverending cycle. She won't listen to my advice, and she won't seek the help of others. Instead she sits alone and allows her emotions to litterally drive her crazy.

Ironically (or not) her "I don't know what to do" quickly evolves into a conversation about her being abandoned by friends and family. This time not directly, but the pointed comment was: "are you planning to visit for 5 minutes and leave or what?".

So, what do I do? I know she's under stress and that what she really needs is someone to sympathize, but that's not something that fits my personality -especially when I'm continually being blamed for abandoning her even though I visit as often as possible (at least once every other week).

Bottom line: I think she needs to break this cycle of allowing her emotions to overwhelm her -figure out what problems your facing, which ones you have control over, and create a plan for dealing with those -leave the rest behind. She won't/can't do this, apparently, so I'm lost and left torn between feeling like I've let her down by not being the daughter that she needs right now and the conculsion that her emotional state isn't my problem (since she won't take my advice) so, she needs to grow up and figure this stuff out 'cause it won't magically disappear anytime soon.

In fact, she gives momentum to these mood swings... She keeps thinking that the next medication change will magically "fix him". She gets her hopes up, brings him home without asking for resources should he get violent again (that'd mean she doubted that "this time will be different"), then crashes when Dad gets angry and violent again. At this point, after at least 4 hospitalizations because of anger/violence, I think it's time to find a place where he can be cared for until there's reasonable proof that his mood is level and he won't get violent again. But my Mom sees this as "giving up" and she's actually said "what will people think about me if I do that?" -does it matter!?!

It all makes me sick, and the bottom line is I can't change anything. She'll keep calling me in times of crisis, hysterical, and blaming me for not being there or not wanting to be there -and in turn, I'll keep answering and keep going through this self-judgement of "am I doing enough for her?" on and on until Dad gets better or Mom and I finally decide to stop talking to each other.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Expectations hold you back

The following is good advice for anyone going through crisis...
We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. -Joseph Campbell
This is an important lesson. In life, there is no telling what will happen in the next 5 minutes much less tomorrow, or a week/month/year from now. We all know that, but we fall into routines that lead us to believe that the future is predictable. And when we think that way, we begin to plan our futures out years, sometimes decades in advance. Then one day we get blindsided by something unexpected and it threatens those plans that we've made.

It could be a spouse's illness that eclipses your lifelong dream of all that you'd do when you retired together. Or, it could come much earlier when your spouse hands you divorce papers unexpectedly and the dream of raising a family together has to be given up because one of you has changed their mind. And life changing events happen outside of relationships too, of course. It can even be a positive change like winning the lottery that leads to plan changes -good or bad. We've all heard stories of the demise of lottery winners.

How many times have you muttered the words "you never know what tomorrow might bring", but do you actually live that way? The majority of us go to work each day dreaming of the weekend, the next vacation, retirement. But, there's no guarantee that the weekend will come or that you'll be able to enjoy it. The frustrating part is that we often can't really "live each day as if it were our last" because the reality is that we must work for the money to provide both our basic needs, our comforts, recreation, etc.

So what do we do? Well, finding work that you love would be the ideal, but I'm still working on this. In the meantime the plan is not to plan too far ahead; make the best out your free time and when adversity comes along, accept it. In fact, plan on it. The alternative makes us blind to reality and causes us to miss things while we sort out where our plan went wrong -while we ponder "why me?"

An example -The other day on my way to work traffic was much worse than usual. We all crept along until we saw the flashing lights ahead and everyone in the left lane knew they had to merge right to get around the mess ahead. I put on my turn signal and looked in the rearview mirror in preparation to merge and saw the guy in the right lane (behind me) speed up to block my way. I was close to the end of my lane, so I had to continue slowly edging into the lane, forcing him to slow down or get hit. When I got into the right lane I looked behind me and saw the man punch his dashboard and shake his fist, screaming at me and (I assume) the traffic, the fact that he was going to be late for work, etc. -Then we passed the accident. I looked over at a gurney in the ambulance, a sheet drapped over the person inside. The firefighters, the ambulance crew, the police -no one was rushing. A car was bent all out of shape nearby. I looked back at the man, still glaring at me, still steaming because he was going to be late for work and I cost him one more car length. How could one miss how small a problem the traffic is in comparison to someone who just died 20 feet away from you?

Dwelling on the loss of your plan, and mourning the loss of the life you expected just wastes time. You have to deal with it. Figure out what your options are, make the best of what you got, and move on. It's the only answer. Ask someone who's been through real adversity (Christopher Reeve, Aron Ralston, Lance Armstrong) and they'll tell you the same thing. Whether it's a minor inconvenience like traffic, or a major life change like illness or divorce, you need to accept the reality that life can and will change on a dime, then you just have to move on.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Dream -canoe, sinking

Last night I had one of those dreams that I could vividly remember after waking up. In fact, I spent so much time thinking about what it meant that I couldn't get back to sleep. Anyway, here it is...

Ed and I were in a canoe. To be precise, it was my Dad's canoe, the "August Lee". As we started paddling, the canoe was sinking. Ed was in front, I was in back (my Dad's screaming "bow and stern" in my head). When the canoe was completely submerged, I told Ed to get out to see if that helped. Now, I didn't feel that it had anything to do with his weight. I feel I have to mention that 'cause he's back on a semi-diet and may be feeling sensitive about that... It was more of a surreal "you're bad luck" kinda thing (although that sounds bad too, doesn't it?).

So, Ed got out and was swimming beside the canoe, and that was working out much better. The canoe was only about half submerged, and may have been continuing to float more and more. I'm not sure though, because all of a sudden I was the one outside of the canoe, floating in the water, and at the top of a particularly rocky waterfall. The waterfall wasn't straight down, and I felt that I had seen it before -I knew it was in Starved Rock (although I can't say as I've ever seen this waterfall in real life). Anyway, it was sloped, but very rocky and dangerous to be going down. I felt panic about going over the edge, then found myself floating feet-first (like my Dad taught me, but I didn't do it on purpose or out of knowledge in the dream). I was unharmed at the bottom, and Ed was on shore to help me out of the water, but I woke up there at the bottom of the falls.

So... Meaning? Water, I'm told symbolizes the unconscious and/or emotion. I buy that and it seems to fit with the whole Ed thing as well. He's great at sometimes talking me into exploring the reasoning behind my thoughts/feelings/actions/beliefs. The big emotional thing in my life right now is my Mom and Dad (mostly my Mom dealing with my Dad) and Ed's been good at getting me to see the problem more objectively and making decisions logically rather than reacting to my Mom's drama.

When dreams involve being in a car, it's said that the occupants of the car all have a relationship. Well, Ed and I obviously have a relationship. Curious that I made him get out of the canoe, and that when I did I started floating out of the water more (became less emotional, more stable?).

It is also said about dreams about cars that whoever's driving is the leader of that relationship, the one who's perceived to be in control of it. Since I was in the stern, that's me. That's a good sign, although not suprising -I am a control freak after all.

The waterfall -the danger of loosing control of my emotions? Getting carried away by them? I am very afraid of loosing my temper with my Mom...

As for being at the bottom, seemingly unharmed, with Ed there (on shore -no longer emotional?) to help me out. I'm thinking that might be confirmation that I believe he'll always be there for me.

Any other observations or interpretations will have to wait. It's bedtime now.

Dad's stroke, a review.

This may be helpful to others going through something similar:

On June 8, 2005 my Dad had a stroke in the left side of his brain. It was not a hemorrhage (or a bleed in the brain), but an ischaemic stroke (blockage). The symptoms were slurred speech, confusion, and weakness on the right side. Prior to this he was brought to the hospital with similar symptoms, although more mild, and since they subsided before they got in to see a doctor, he was released. No one ever mentioned that these little episodes could have been transient ischemic attacks (or TIAs).

Lesson #1: If you have any stroke-like symptoms no matter how short-lived or mild, demand that they are looked into. Getting on medication early can prevent a stroke that will most likely cause brain damage!

The day of the stroke and the day after it my Dad was still having trouble with his speech. With some effort he could get a few words out and a short phrase here and there. His right side was weak, but he was able to feed himself and walk just fine (he'd stray to the right a little when he walked, though).

The day after the stroke my Dad was scheduled for an MRI and a swallow test, but both tests kept being delayed. The hospital had not allowed him any food or water in over 24 hours and my Dad started getting very angry. By noon he was shaking his fist at my Mom and saying "never again". As time went on he got more and more angry. Eventually they did the swallow test brought him some food, but it didn't help. He was still very angry and he began throwing things. Security had to be called. It was obvious that my Mom was getting the brunt of his anger, so she had to go wait down the hall while they tried to get him to take a tranquilizer.

The tranquilizer didn't help. He was pacing and my Mom was frantic. My Dad wanted to go home, and nothing we could do could convince him to stay. We begged the staff at the hospital to keep him, but since he was determined to be of sound mind, he was allowed to sign himself out. We asked the staff and his doctor what to do if he was to get violent, seeing how angry he was, but no one had any answers for us. So, we brought my Dad home.

Throughout this day (the day after the stroke) my Dad's speech grew more and more garbled. At the end of the day and for the next 3 months (so far) he hasn't been able to get any words out unless they're automatic responses like "Hi" when he sees me or 4 letter words when he drops something -stuff like that. The doctors say that after a stroke the brain swells, and it takes up to 6 months for the swelling to go down, so it can be awhile before you see the stroke victim regain speech, movement, etc. The movement on his right side grew worse in the days after the stroke as well. A couple days after it he was unable to eat using his right hand. Now, 3 months later he's able to again and he has good stregth in his arm and leg as well, but he's not 100% yet.

Lesson #2: Expect things to get worse before they get better.

Months later we're still having our ups and downs, but we're learning to ride out the bad times in anticipation of the good times to come. They always do. It's just a matter of time.