Stress and Anxiety

This says it all…

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My world has been more chaotic than usual for a variety of reasons – a seemingly minor kitchen repair that has spiraled into a mini-remodel, too much to get done and too little time to do it, unexpected schedule changes, and trying to get ready for an upcoming vacation that will be really fun when we actually get there but puts a lot of extra stuff on my already over-full plate – and my control-freak tendencies are in overdrive as a result.

Adding to the challenge is a spouse whose anxiety manifests itself in disorganization, jumping from unfinished task to unfinished task, and difficulty paying attention.  It is a bad combination!

Fortunately I am managing to carve out time to swim, but its been a tough week….

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.

 

 

Family, Friendship, Reflections

Make new friends but keep the old…

Last night as we sat by the fire and enjoyed a quiet New Year’s Eve at home Don and I were talking about the year just ending and were struck by how many connections with family and friends were rekindled throughout the year…which was truly amazing in hindsight.

Early in the year Don’s childhood friend found him on Facebook, and we have since enjoyed a couple of get-togethers with Ted and his wife, who now live only an hour or so away from us.  Don and Ted had not seen each other since they were 11 years old!  Ted’s mother was an artist and we have long had a small photocopy of a painting that she made of Gould’s Landing, the family home in Maine, displayed in our home.  Ted gifted Don with the original painting, which now has pride of place in our living room and brings Don great joy.

Then, after a gap of several years, we reconnected with Don’s maternal cousin Chuck and his wife Michelle, and then caught up with several members of Don’s extended family at Chuck’s 80th birthday celebration in May.

In June we were in Maine and spent time with several friends from Don’s young adulthood and with extended family that we had not seen in many years.  It is amazing how you can pick up without losing a beat!

By total coincidence we also bumped into the son of Don’s favorite cousin, and long-deceased cousin) when we stopped by Gould’s Landing (now a public park) on the spur of the moment, and Don struck up a conversation with two guys pulling a boat out of the water…one of whom was Rob Gould, who Don used to babysit when he was a college student! Don and Rob have since connected on Facebook, and we look forward to spending some time with him when we are next in Maine.

July saw us hosting a “mini reunion” when the sons of another of Don’s cousins visited us.  We had connected with Josh and his wife Rita several years ago (again through the miracle of Facebook), but Don had not seen Scot in several decades and I had never met him.  We had a fun afternoon of visiting and reminiscing while Josh and Rita’s kids enjoyed the beach and the pool.

We also had a visit in July from our friend Logan from Australia, who we hadn’t seen for about 10 years.

In August the sad occasion of my Aunt Lydia’s memorial service also gave me a chance to reconnect with several cousins that I had not seen in years.

In November Australian friends that we had not seen in nearly 20 years spent several days with us, and we had fun remembering good times in Australia and catching up on each other’s lives.

And as the year drew to a close we were blessed to attend a gathering of my father’s extended family hosted by my great-uncle Jerry.  All of my father’s cousins were there (although my father was not), along with many of their kids and grand-kids.   I have such fond memories of these Segar family gatherings growing up, and it is so good to see everyone still connected after all these years.

These past few years we have been blessed with new friendships that we cherish, but 2017 was a reminder of the importance of people who have known you for many years and with whom you have a shared history.  In every case it was as if we had seen each other yesterday, not years or decades ago.

While we often curse social media for its fake news and the way it isolates us from people who don’t share our views, this year we were also really grateful for the way technology can bring us together.  If not for Facebook the rekindling of so many longstanding relationships would not have been possible, and our lives would have been so much less rich as a result.

At the same time, I am very aware that social media consumed way too much of my time in 2017 as I got sucked into scrolling obsessively through Facebook, posting pictures on Instagram, and letting the political noise distract me from what is most important.  This year my goal is to put technology in its rightful place – to use it to strengthen and maintain healthy relationships and to disregard all of the noise that it generates.  Wish me luck!