A Dreaded S-word!

OK, so I know what some of you might be thinking after listening to the weather report tonight but the dreaded S word is NOT SNOW!!!   Wish it was though, it would be a lot easier to handle than my S word.  STRESS!!  It’s actually got 3 S’s in it just to get the point across loud and clear!

STRESS – my main bugbear when it comes to being a caretaker of my elderly mom.  Every part of my being is stressed.  My body, my mind, my very soul.

My joints have started aching again after several years of very little pain.  I feel sick most of the time.  I have headaches nearly every day.  I clench my teeth, grind my teeth and tap my teeth together making a clicking sound.  I pace.  My restless leg syndrome is in high gear making life miserable.  I get every bug around it seems and they settle into my system for the long term just rearing their ugly head every couple of weeks or so after I think I am free of it.  Perhaps the most persistent and deep symptom is the exhaustion that permeates every part of me and never leaves.  It just gets worse or worser ( I know that is not a word but I’m going to take writer’s liberty here)- never better.  It just seeps into me like a tea bag left in a mug of hot water for ages.  It gets stronger and stronger.  I sit down to read a book or drink my tea and wake up 2 hours later.  For the life of me, I don’t even remember feeling sleepy.  Noise bothers me more,  going to the mall is too much sensory overload now. ( that’s a good thing – less spending I hope)  Smells of all kinds are overpowering and too much light overwhelms me.  People overwhelm me.  The stress of having PSW’s coming and going and the nurse coming and constant assessments being redone on Mom  just makes my head spin.

Emotionally,  the stress of looking after mom is debilitating.  It is eating away at me everyday and more and more of me is consumed by everything from remembering to give mom her pills to doing the laundry to changing appointments to even changing lightbulbs.  Tonight I came home from work to find that the light in the bathroom was out – the one that Mom uses only.  We leave the light on at night for Mom to see cause the hall light is too bright.  I panicked and immediately wanted to crumple to the floor and cry and cry.  Too much.  Too much.  After a couple of hours of thinking about it and knowing I had to do something about it before us going to bed, I went and looked in my stash of light bulbs, praying that the right kind would be there.  IT WAS!!  The bathroom light is now on and a major meltdown has been averted.

Sounds silly but that’s the effects of all the stress on me.  I guess perhaps the most costly stress is the fear of losing Mom in the future sometime.  I think I get used to the idea of losing her and am resigned to it and then some little thing like Mom having a bad day will put me into panic mode again.  One of the things that all this stress has created is a compulsion for me to buy things – anything.  I just want to buy, buy, buy.  It’s like LOSS is an actual entity creeping towards me over a hill and I see it coming and I grab every THING I can buy, find, and gather them around me to protect me from the LOSS.  Unfortunately,  this has put me in a very precarious financial situation.  But what do I do??  I can’t seem to stop.  We as those with autism love our things and for me that is what I go to instead of people.  I am stumped as to what to do and this causes just as much stress as the stress of losing Mom.

So there are layers and layers of stress all piling up on one another, weighing me down more and more till I feel I will be crushed under the weight.

And then….and then….  I noticed my cat today looking a lot thinner.  I believe he has lost quite a bit of weight.  And he is always licking himself and he goes and hides to sleep.  And he cries when I go out and even if I go upstairs and he is still downstairs.  MY CATS ARE STRESSED!  Both of my cats are showing signs of being very stressed.  What do I do about THAT?  If something happens to one of my cats that will be the last straw.  I can’t bear to lose one of them right now.

What am I doing to help with the stress??  Well, a number of things but they just seem to take the edge off for a short while just enough so I can still function each day.  I take medication, I spend lots of time rocking in my easy chair or swinging in my hammock chair in my bedroom.  I drink tea,  I go out with my friends ( one at a time).  I see my wonderful grief counselor, I talk to my psychiatrist, I sleep, I go for walks and do some photography, I cry, I scream, and most of all I rest in my great God who I know will see me through this despite all this stress.  God has an S word too.  His word is SUFFICIENT.  In the bible it says,  “My grace is SUFFICIENT for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  I read this every day.  It is my secret source of strength (SSS) and the ONLY way I get through each day.  God is my ENOUGH when everything else is lacking.  When my bank account is empty God is sufficient,  when my energy tank is empty God is sufficient,  and when my ability to handle the stress in my life is at empty God is sufficient.  God didn’t say life would be easy but he said he would be there for us.  God has given me the job of looking after my Mom so I have to believe he will give me what I need to do the job.  He promises he will and I trust in that.

I Give Myself Permission…

I am what you might call a driven person.  I have to be doing something, I have to be achieving something,  I have to see progress, I have to see results.  I am a person who lives with lists of to do items.  My world is formless, and empty unless I make a list every morning.  Then my day has substance and boundaries around it that I can see and understand.  I don’t always have to cross everything off the list – I just have to have the list.  But…. I am driven to get as much off the list as I can.

I feel like I can’t waste a moment of time.  Watching TV ( I mostly watch the news) has to be watched while doing something like flipping through a magazine, or updating my budget, or writing another list.  I love reading but I have a terrible time reading fiction.  I can’t allow myself the luxury of just reading for the joy of it.  I mostly read non-fiction where I will learn something.  Then I feel I am being productive.  I am working on this.

I worked in the school system for 33 years as an Educational assistant with special needs kids.  I worked all day, then often did things in the evenings, on weekends and holidays.  I go overboard with almost everything.  I love it this way,  I feel productive, worthwhile and accomplished.  When I retired 2 years ago, the first year was hell.  Not having the routine of going to work every day was so disruptive for me and foreign to my way of life for so long.  I had lost a big part of myself.  My saving grace was getting a job at the public library and at a Teacher’s Resource Centre.  I also  took over the library at my church.  These things kept me busy and feeling like I was still productive.  I also delved into doing projects around the house.  Anything to keep me going.

Of course, looking after my Mom was a huge part of my daily routine.  As she started failing more and more,  my stress level went higher and higher.  The physical duties of looking after her were not as overwhelming as the emotional stress of dealing with the fact she was failing and could leave me at any time.  I got more and more exhausted.  I tried to ignore the exhaustion and keep up a rigorous schedule.  I became more and more anxious and depressed and the exhaustion deepened.  I fought back with just upping the ante.  More jobs to do, more tasks to carry out.  Stay up late, get up early.

About a month ago,  I had an issue where I spiraled downward emotionally.  I withdrew from everyone, locked the front door, closed the curtains and did not answer the phone.  I basically curled up in my rocker-recliner with a blanket over me and hid from the world.  This went on for over a week when I finally surfaced and felt I might just be able to face the world again.  The curious thing though that happened was that even though I was back being with people and engaging in the world around me again I still found myself curled up in my easy chair a lot of the time.  When I wasn’t directly involved in looking after Mom or having to go out to work or run errands, I would retreat to my chair with a cup of tea and just rest.  At first I thought I was maybe getting depressed and I was worried but then I realized that I was actually feeling better.  I wasn’t zooming around at top speed and I didn’t seem to be distraught about it.  I was seeking out my chair more and more and relishing the time spent doing nothing.  This was so foreign to me but a relief somehow.

I know that I am totally exhausted both physically and emotionally.  I know I am in a critical state of overload.   I know that if I am to continue to care for Mom something drastic has to happen or else I will not make it.  Yesterday while talking to a friend about my resting so much in my chair I blurted out words I never thought I would hear myself saying.  I said to my friend, ” I am giving myself permission to do nothing!”  I think I shocked myself as much as I shocked her.  I have never voluntarily given myself permission to do nothing without dealing with the fallout of anxiety and self- hatred.  But when you are at the end of your rope,  your world view can change drastically in order to survive.  And for me to survive looking after Mom, I need to do a lot of NOTHING.  It’s very freeing to give yourself permission to do something even if that something is nothing!

I feel a bit like an earthquake just hit my world view.  Things are shaken up for sure.  This is new territory for me and certainly not completely comfortable yet.  But I want desperately to be able to continue to look after Mom in a healthy way  so as the dust settles, I am going to continue to settle into my easy chair or my hammock chair, sip on a cup of tea, maybe flip through a magazine or enjoy one of my cats on my lap and I am just going to rest.  And maybe, just maybe I can get through this time in my life without disintegrating or collapsing.

I challenge you to say those words, ” I give myself permission…..” and fill in the blank with something in your own life.  It will be a challenge but I believe it will be a positive experience for you, a ticket to move ahead in your life and leave negative patterns behind.  What could be better than that?

I look at my cats and see how they live without a care ( except when their next meal is coming and are they going to get their treats today?)  I want some of that serenity and bliss I see as they snooze in a patch of afternoon sunlight.  I want that ability to give myself completely over to relaxation and rest.  I wanna be a cat, but since I’m not – I will take a lesson from them and do my best to find a way to enter into a rest that will keep me going on this difficult and exhausting  journey with Mom.

Joy Comes in the Mourning

I’d like to introduce you to my little “JOYBOY”.   His name is Gus Gus.  I adopted him a year ago this month shortly after I lost my beloved Zacky who I had for 15 years.  As you might suspect, I am a cat person – in and out, through and through – period.  I could not live without a kitty in my life.  I have 2 cats – Gus Gus who is pictured here and my beloved gentle soul Oreo who is about 7 years old.  I will tell you more about him at a later date.

For this blog I would like to tell you more about Gus Gus because I feel he has a very special purpose in the journey I am going through right now.  Gus Gus looks very docile in this picture but in real life he is full of boundless energy and doubly full of mischief!  My days are forever filled with his antics and adventures.  He is so curious that nothing gets by him without a full inspection and often naughty consequence.  He digs in my flower pots, not only digs but dumps them completely out and then proceeds to madly spread the dirt all around.  He made a nest in the Christmas tree.  He takes flying leaps across my table and counters and everything goes flying in his path including an antique dish,  and numerous other breakable objects.  He tries to eat my Mom’s flowers and loves to rummage through any array of items he can find.  He even helped me paint.  I have his colourful footyprints on my black computer chair to prove it.

By now I think you get the picture of what this little guy is like.  But there is something else about this little guy that is not visible to the human eye but is only visible to my human heart.  For some uncanny reason,  Gus Gus makes me laugh.  And I don’t just mean when he is doing something funny.  He makes me laugh when he is sleeping, when he is being naughty, and even when I just think of him.  JOY inside of me just  bubbles up like my favourite Perrier water.   He douses my grieving soul with pure JOY.  It is inexplicable in human or cat terms.  I have never had a cat or any animal that has had this effect on me.  Sometimes I am telling Mom something about what he has done and I am doubled over in fits of laughter till tears run down my face.   I can be on the bus going somewhere and I think of him and  I start to chuckle.  I can be having a truly horrible day and Gus Gus will just make me start to laugh.

Even when I don’t want to laugh.  Most days I don’t feel like laughing.  I am exhausted, overwhelmed, depressed, highly anxious, full of fear, full of uncertainty and I just want release.  I love my Mom so dearly, but it is so hard.  This care taking job is so hard.

I have always related to animals better than I have related to people and I suspect that has something to do with my autism.  My cats are my LIFE.  But what has happened this past year with Gus Gus just confounds me.  It is something beyond the norm, even beyond my loving my cats.  I believe Gus Gus is a gift to me to help me through this very difficult time.  The joy he give me is a gift that lifts me above the despair I often feel as I look after Mom.  I believe that without him in my life this past year, I may not have made it.

There is a verse in the bible that says that “Weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning”  Psalm 30:5.   I know we shouldn’t change God’s word but I am going to take a bit of  liberty and do a spelling change.  I am going to say, “Weeping may endure for the night but JOY comes in the MOURNING.  I believe God has given me my little Gus Gus as my JOY to help me through the mourning.  He is my JOY in the mourning and grief I feel as I look after Mom.  You can’t put God in a box.  He is a creative God who knows what each of us individually needs and He knows I love my cats.  He knows I need JOY.  And he gave me both in a very unique way.  His own special touch!  (speaking of putting God in a box – I have a card and on the front a man is talking to a cat and looking at the litter box.  He says to the cat, ” And don’t ever think outside the box!!”

Another thing about Gus Gus that makes me know he is a special gift from God has to do with hearts.   My cat Zacky who died had a beautiful heart in his fur.  I was worried after he died that I wouldn’t know how to  pick the right kitty for me.  I’m not sure you’re supposed to dictate to God your demands but I told God that if a kitty had a heart on him I would know it was the right kitty for me.  I saw Gus Gus on the Humane Society website.  I went to see him at a local pet store where he was.  I was drawn to him but as I  tried to inconspicuously  find a heart on him I could find none.  What to do??  The lady at the store kept saying to me, “Just try him out, you can bring him back.”  So with my own heart thumping in my chest, I brought him home.  Well, in the next week I found not 1 heart on him, not 2 but 5 hearts on his little furry body.  He is definitely my cat, my JOYBOY,  my heart throb, and my lifesaver.  If you could see me right now I am smiling from ear to ear at the thoughts of this little guy.

One thing I have learned.  There can definitely be JOY in the mourning.  I am experiencing it firsthand everyday through one furry little crazy cat called Gus Gus.