Caregiving Can Wear You Down #RealTalkAboutCare

My mother, father, & I in watercolor filter

Since Thanksgiving weekend, I’ve been sick with an upper respiratory infection (URI). As an asthmatic, URI’s tend to go to my lungs. My son, too, is sick and in bed (no way for a teenager to spend the weekend). URI’s are highly contagious. We tend to share far too many illnesses in my family. Even our labradoodle Thumper is taking antibiotics for a cough.

Until my mother had a stroke November 2015, she was my father’s caregiver. Since then, caregiving has become my responsibility, as now both my parents have dementia. My father has alcohol-related dementia (alcohol is a neurotoxin). My mother now has vascular dementia with behaviorial complications (brain damage can do that) and she cannot speak.

As I live with bipolar disorder while parenting an adolescent migraineur, I couldn’t care for two aging parents with dementia without help, for doing so would likely put me in a psychiatric hospital. Finding long-term care that could address their needs proved challenging. For now, we’ve had to separate them – heartbreaking, but necessary for their health. To pay for their care, we had to sell their beloved beach house, for memory care is extremely expensive.

If my mother had more caregiving support before her stroke, perhaps she may not have had a stroke, perhaps she would have received more timely medical care. My mother was exhausted, stressed, and taking antidepressants (caregivers are at risk of depression). My father just thought that my mother was napping. His dementia interfered with his ability to respond to her stroke appropriately.

My mother, a caregiver, needed help, needed respite, needed care herself. My sister and I had been talking to our mother about downsizing and moving closer to my sister. But, my father fought the idea of moving out of their beach house, leaving our mother essentially trapped.

Thankfully they are doing well now, given their current life circumstances. Take care of yourself. Take care of your brain. Take care of your heart. Good health is a blessing.

Caregiving Resources: AARP Caregiver Resource Center

DEAR READER: Boundaries, Intimacy, and Trust

My post published today on Organic Coffee, Haphazardly.
Yes, I have boundary issues.

ORGANIC COFFEE, HAPHAZARDLY

By Kitt O’Malley

EDITOR’S NOTE: I think we all hate Facebook messenger at this point.

Email and direct messages, especially Facebook direct messages, intrude. I do not feel safe in the secretive world of chat. I need witnesses – others protecting my back. I prefer communication public – on my Facebook timeline or as comments to my blog posts.

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Back from BlogHer16

To Confer or Not to Confer

Recuperating from BlogHer16. Wondering if I want to go to NAMI California conference later this month. Prefer intimate get togethers where fellow writers support each other by sharing their knowledge. Do not get much from panel discussions. Plus, staying in hotels is expensive. Besides, I do not really want to monetize my blog. I identify as a writer and as a mental health advocate, not as a web-based entrepreneur.

Blessed to have met so many wonderful women in person, including the amazing and inspirational speaker Clementine BihigaSarah Fader – who also rocked the stage, Julie AndersonHasty Words, Renee RobbinsMarla Carlton, Courtney KeeseeGunmetal Geisha, and Ra (Rarasaur). Unfortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity to meet everyone I had hoped to connect with.

Arm’s Length

Arm's Length

My psychiatrist has asked me numerous times how my sister has handled my parents differently than I have? How has she protected herself? How has she kept herself from being so enmeshed in the family dynamic?

The answer is that my sister says no. She keeps my parents at arm’s length. She didn’t answer the phone whenever my mother called, letting it go to voicemail instead. She didn’t let my mother pry and control her. And, she never identified with them.

I, on the other hand, was a member of the first-born club. My mother, father, and I were all first-born. I was repeatedly told that I was like them in that I, too, was first-born. I, like them, was a type-A personality, an overachiever, a workaholic.

I shouldered higher expectations. I was to be a doctor or a lawyer. My goal was to be a neurosurgeon. In high school, I almost got straight A’s, ranking 3rd in a class of 450. I assumed that I would go to an Ivy League school, and was devastated when I didn’t get accepted.

My parents graduated at the top of their high school classes and were high achievers in college. My mother was captain of her college debate team. My father got two bachelor’s degrees in five years – one in chemical engineering and one in humanities. Years later, living off savings while supporting a wife and two daughters, he attended Harvard Business School.

I expected to out-achieve them. I didn’t. I failed. I fell apart. I couldn’t withstand the strain, the expectations, the speed of being a UCLA honors biochemistry major.

I wanted a well-rounded education and to have fun, so I dropped out of the second quarter of honors chemistry. Physics and biology, too, I only took one semester each. Honors calculus, though, I loved and took for the entire year. Math was always my favorite subject and I regret not continuing my math studies.

Bottom line: I must say NO. I must STOP identifying with my parents. I must learn to hold my parents at arm’s length. I must learn to be a “good enough” daughter, and not try to live up to any real or perceived expectations.