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.