Acceptance, Change, Mild Cognitive Impairment, Retirement, Stress and Anxiety

Downshifting

It’s been a bit of a rough re-entry after our wonderful vacation.  Work stresses and the stress of having to the unplanned purchase of a new car just weeks before I retire have put me on edge, and my schedule is still way too packed so I feel like I am rushing from commitment to commitment without any breathing space.

I know that when I am stressed and rushing, Don gets anxious, and that kicks off a vicious cycle where his anxiety makes his memory and cognitive issues worse, which slows him down, which makes me more stressed and more likely to snap at him, which makes him more anxious, which makes the cognitive issues worse…and then we both end up feeling badly – him because he feels like he is letting me down, and me because I get upset and short-tempered.

We’ve been in that cycle too many times in the past week.

Yesterday we had “Memory Club” – a great 7 week program for people experiencing early-stage short term memory loss and their care partners.  Each week we hear from an expert on some aspect of cognitive impairment/dementia and how to manage it, and then we split up so the people experiencing memory and cognitive issues have time together facilitated by a social worker, and the care partners have time together with a psychologist.  It has been really helpful to have a community of people experiencing similar challenges, and the psychologist’s insights have been particularly helpful to me.

Yesterday when the care partners met, the psychologist talked about the difficulty that care partners have in “downshifting” as they move into the care partner role. He said we are used to driving along at 70 miles per hour on a relatively open highway, where we have known where we are going and the milestones and landmarks are familiar.  Now we need to go onto a road that is unfamiliar, where the destination is unknown, and that is marked by twists and hairpin turns and if we and our loved ones are to navigate this road successfully, we need to learn to downshift.

That concept really spoke to me, as I think it is at the heart of what I have been struggling with lately.  It is obvious that when I don’t downshift by building more space into our schedule so that we can match the pace of our activities to Don’s pace and abilities the wheels start to fall off…and yet I am finding it really difficult to do.  It’s also obvious that I need to downshift for my own well-being, not just Don’s.

I think we will probably struggle with this for the next six weeks until my retirement as I deal with some stressful issues at work, we have family visitors staying with us for all but a couple of days of the next month (we love them all, but they can be high maintenance!), there is a string of retirement events for me (stressful in their own right!), and we still have to fit in medical appointments, Memory Club, sessions with our counselor, exercise, and important time with friends.

Once I retire I will feel more able to take my foot off the gas and downshift, but I suspect that it won’t be that easy for someone with my driven personality to make this shift after nearly 40 years of a fast-paced, intense, and fully scheduled life, and I expect a steep learning curve.  Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

Change, Reflections, Retirement, Uncategorized

Rooted

As my retirement date nears one of the most common questions I get is “Are you moving?”  The answer is absolutely not!

It is true that we live in one of the highest cost areas of the country, and our retirement income and savings would stretch a lot further elsewhere, but there are many reasons we are staying put –

  • We love living three blocks from the beach, seeing whales spouting and dolphins frolicking on our morning walks, and our gorgeous ocean sunsets.
  • We love our home, yard, and neighbors.
  • Our family and friends are scattered around North America and the world, and we love that they want to come visit us and that our proximity to LAX makes it convenient for them to do so.
  •  We love our Mediterranean climate and have no desire to move anywhere hotter, or colder.
  • We love that pretty much everything we really need (restaurants, grocery stores, bank, shops) is in walking distance, or at most a very short drive away.

All of these things are nice, but the most important thing is that after moving 7 times over the course of our marriage, this is where we have put down roots.

We live in a home that my grandparents bought over 80 years ago.  It’s not where I grew up, but I spent many happy vacations and holidays here, and it is a place of good memories for several generations of may family.  For me, it represents home.

We’ve also established routines, found service providers that we like (doctors, dentist, tradespeople, garage…), learned which grocery stores have the best deals on which items, gotten to know the vendors at the Farmers’ Market and the morning walkers on the Esplanade, watched the trees we’ve planted grow, and most importantly, we’ve made friends.  In short, this has become our community.

Simone Weil once wrote “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”

We are rooted here.

 

 

Aging, Change, Grief, Letting Go, Love

Letting go of expectations

After a holiday break that was both restful and productive I have had a tough re-entry to work…but it is not the job itself that has been tough.  The holiday lull in professional activity has lingered longer than usual, there aren’t any big issues to be dealt with, and overall things are running really smoothly…and yet I’ve been stressed and out of sorts.

Some of it is just that I really am ready to move on to the next phase of my life, so being at work feels a bit like wearing clothes that don’t quite fit any more.

A bigger part is that I am feeling really torn between work and my responsibilities at home.  Don’s overall health and attitude have been good, but there is no denying that he has mild cognitive impairment and memory loss and that is shifting more responsibility to me.  I’ve always managed our finances, and done pretty much all of the planning activities (from meal planning to travel planning to retirement planning) since that has never been a strength.  He has done a lot of the cleaning, yard chores, and meal cleanup and he still does help with those things, but now I make a weekly and daily schedule and daily to do lists, remind him where he is supposed to be and when he is supposed to be there, follow up on tasks to make sure they have been done and respond to multiple texts and calls each day when he needs has lost something and needs me to talk him through retracing his steps to find it, needs technical help with his devices, or just wants reassurances.  I also find myself redoing things he has done, putting things away that he has left out, hunting down things he has put in the wrong place, and answering the same question multiple times…not to mention being constantly interrupted.  It can be frustrating and exhausting.

I also find that increasingly, doing the things that I need to maintain my sanity (swimming, learning all I can about memory disorders and dementia so that I can prepare myself for what the future might hold, spending time alone, journalling, blogging, counselling) and even doing the things I need to maintain our household (grocery shopping, managing our finances, contacting tradespeople about home maintenance, going with Don to doctor’s appointments) are carved out of work time…and that makes me feel guilty and resentful on top of tired and exhausted.

This morning I snapped.  We woke up to the sound of rain which meant we wouldn’t be able to take our usual 3 mile walk before breakfast, and I know that without that early morning exercise my whole day is usually off kilter.  I decided that instead of a long walk I would go to the gym on my way to work.  I told Don this and asked him to cut up our morning fruit and get the breakfast stuff out while I walked the dog around the block  so that I could grab breakfast and get going.  When I got back he was sitting on the john looking at his phone, and nothing had been prepared for breakfast except two eggs were sitting on the counter.

The trigger of Don’s slowness in preparing breakfast seems so insignificant, and yet it meant I would either have to leave without eating, or skip the morning workout because there was no way I could incur even a 15 minute delay and make it to work on time.

I flipped out, and then we were into our usual vicious cycle.  Don got flustered in the face of my anger, which made him even slower and more disorganized, and when I asked him to just go in the other room so I could cool down while cooking and eating breakfast he would not leave me alone but kept coming back to try to apologize or do things in the kitchen which just made me angrier, and my anger was exacerbated by his apparent refusal to listen to what I was asking of him.

In the end I left angry and upset, with myself as much as with him.  I was cranky all morning and knew I needed to do something to work out my stress, so I made plans to leave work after a lunchtime meeting so I could have a long swim, and then have some time to myself by working in a coffee shop for a couple of hours.  It was the right plan to make given my mental and emotional state and the lack of anything that really required my attention at work, and yet I feel guilty because it is another afternoon when I am not in the office and available for face time with my staff.

I also feel guilty for how I reacted to Don.  No matter how many times I tell myself that he can’t help that he has some kind of (as yet undiagnosed) brain disease and that I need to be understanding and patient and respond with love not anger, I still get triggered way too often.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why this is.  I’ve also been thinking about a question our therapist asked me last week when I got teary when talking about the weight of my responsibilities, which the more I think about it the more I realize is related to why I get triggered by Don’s lapses.  The question that got me thinking was whether the weight of my responsibilities is really any different than if I were single and living on my own.

The short but superficial answer is no, it isn’t much different.  If I were single I would be doing all of the financial management, cooking, cleaning, and household chores.

But the longer, more truthful answer is… I think it is a lot different.  If I were single I would only have myself to worry about and be responsible for.  I wouldn’t worry about getting a nourishing and balanced meal on the table every night and could just eat an egg on toast if I felt like it.  I wouldn’t be responsible for helping plan someone else’s days or weeks, for making schedules and to do lists for someone else, for scheduling medical appointments for someone else and then having to find time to go with them and to follow up afterwards.  I wouldn’t feel guilty for needing time to myself.  So yeah, it’s different and yeah, I often feel that it is unfair that I have to do so much more, which makes me both sad and sometimes angry.

The other reason thinking about all of the responsibilities I am shouldering makes me sad, and sometimes angry, comes down to that old bugaboo – expectations.  I got married because I wanted a partner.  Someone who would share the responsibilities of daily living, who would lift me up when I needed it as I would do for him, who would be my co-adventurer, who would participate in planning our lives and our adventures.

The reality has been somewhat different.  I love Don dearly, and he has been my co-adventurer and partner in fun and my best friend for over 30 years, but he has never really been an equal partner in planning and managing our lives.  His inability to meet my expectations in this area has a source of tension throughout our marriage…and secretly, I kept hoping that if I just nagged and noodged him enough, he would change.

 

I’ve always known in my head that trying to change someone else is a fool’s errand, but my heart kept hoping and I kept trying.  His cognitive impairment has made absolutely clear what my head has always known.  Not only is he not going to miraculously become a planner and organizer, he is almost certainly going to get worse in this area.

When I get sad about this it is because I am mourning the loss of a vision of life that only ever really existed in my head.  I need to let myself mourn…but I also need to remember that the life we do have and will have is pretty darned good.  Don is still able to travel and we have several trips on the horizon.  We live in a beautiful place, so when travel becomes too difficult we will enjoy our home, the beach and ocean, the ability be outside all year.  We have friends and family that will stand by us even when things get tough.  We still laugh together.  We still like spending time together.  We still desire each other.  As our therapist keeps telling us, it is obvious that we have a deep love for each other. We are blessed in so many ways, and these blessings will not disappear no matter what the future brings.

I think I am ready to start letting go of my expectations of what my life should be like.  What I need to work on is accepting the life I have and not letting Don’s every lapse trigger my hurt and anger.  I can’t have another morning like this morning…and the ball is in my court.

 

 

Change, Retirement

Wanting better

Last August I announced that I will be retiring when my current employment contract ends on June 30, 2018.  Late last month our Board hired a recruiter, so the process of finding my replacement is well underway.

I am definitely ready to move on to the next phase of my life, but I also know that the prospect of a new leader and the inevitable change to come is causing some anxiety for our staff and volunteers which leaves me feeling a bit guilty.  And if I am honest, even though I am excited about what my future holds and looking forward to a happy retirement, the prospect of change makes me a bit anxious too.

On Friday night one of our long-time volunteers (who has also become a friend) hosted her annual holiday potluck for the staff and volunteers at the branch where she volunteers, and we had a funny conversation about the changes to come. She asked if I would come to the party next year, and I told her that I probably would not as I don’t want to usurp the new Director, but it would depend on who the Director was and my relationship with that person.  She then said she wished the Board would just promote our current Deputy Director because everyone likes her and that would result in the least amount of change.  I explained that as public officials the Board has an obligation to conduct a thorough and transparent search for my replacement, and said that things will probably be even better with someone new at the helm.  Her response  – “I don’t like change, and I don’t want better.”

At the time I thought her comment was funny, but the more I think about it the more it  makes me sad.  I wonder how many people are so anxious about change that they don’t want it at all, even when it is for the better?  I see many people who are unwilling to leave or change situations that are clearly making them unhappy, even when they have opportunities to do something better, so I think that it is probably a lot.

I hope that I do not become one of those people.  If I am unhappy with a situation or circumstance I want to be open to making the changes, whether in my attitude and approach or in the situation itself, that will make things better.  And when change is thrust upon me, I want to be the kind of person who is open to the lessons and opportunities that it brings.  I don’t always like change, but I do “want better.”