One of the reasons I started this blog was to help me process all of the changes that I am navigating right now – my husband’s retirement last year and its impact on our lives, my upcoming retirement, and the challenges of having an older, and aging, spouse.
My husband, Don, is physically healthy and active, but last year started to show some signs of mild cognitive impairment – not major, and seemingly pretty stable over at least the past year – but enough to worry both of us. The cause is unknown, although we suspect a concussion that he got at work in early 2016 has played a role. He’s also long-struggled with anxiety, so there is a bit of a vicious cycle at play as the more anxious he is the worse his short-term memory and the more disorganized his thinking, which in turn makes him more anxious.
We’ve been working on creating systems and building habits to help overcome the memory glitches, but there is no doubt this has added a level of added responsibility, stress, and complexity to my life.
This stress is on top of the fact that my job is demanding and stressful with hours that are frequently long, and I carry pretty much all of the “planning” load at home – from short term, simple things like making appointments, creating our weekly schedules, meal planning, and making shopping lists to longer term, more complex things like managing every aspect of our personal finances, planning every aspect of our travels, and keeping track of home maintenance needs.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I am stressed and weary most of the time, which in turn makes me cranky, short-tempered, and worse. I can hide this part of me while I am at work or with friends, but my worst self comes out at home. I find myself nagging, pointing out every little mistake Don makes, getting upset when something is not done the way I would have done it or to my standards, and having frequent meltdowns. The more stressed I am the more I crave order, but my behavior increases his anxiety so he gets even more disorganized….another vicious cycle.
I’ve also come to realize that I have been experiencing a kind of mourning – for the professional work life that I am ready to leave but that has been a huge part of my identity, for the things that Don used to do easily but now struggles with, for the things he has always struggled with (depression, anxiety, disorganization, difficulty demonstrating his love in the ways that I crave) that may not get better or may even get worse, for his diminished ability to support and nurture me while I try to support and nurture him, and for long-dreamed-of retirement activities and adventures that may not be possible as he ages. All of this creates both sadness and fear.
We need help! After dancing around this realization for several months I finally made an appointment with a therapist. I met with her yesterday by myself, and Don and I will be seeing her together tomorrow.
For me that is a really big deal. I grew up in a family that was reluctant to accept the reality of mental health issues and to get help from mental health professionals. I was raised to tough it out and power through stress and anxiety even though our family dealt with major stresses and issues and even though (with hindsight) I showed clear signs of mental health distress in my childhood and adolescence.
The first session was hard. I struggled to articulate my thoughts and feelings, we pretty quickly touched on some raw nerves, and I know that I am still scared to reveal the darkest parts of me. I also worry about the expense given our retirement budgets – a worry that is not helped by my familial legacy belief that therapy is self-indulgent and unnecessary.
At the same time it is a relief to have someone independent to give perspective, and the therapist gave me some homework that is providing a framework for processing some of what is going on and led to one of the most open and meaningful conversations Don and I have had in a long time.
I keep reminding myself that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. I do know that we can’t keep going on this way, and am cautiously hopeful that I’ve found a way to get it…but we’ll see what tomorrow brings.