Mom

She wears black slacks with a tiny white flower motif and a rose three-quarter sleeve top.  The shoes on her feet glisten with rhinestone and an array of beaded bracelets on her arm rattle as she gestures while she talks.

“I’m ninety-one-and-a-half, you know.”

“I know Mom.  It’s impressive.”

She smiles and nods.

MyMomRic is in town on business, and so I have opted to spend the day with Mom at the nursing home.  Her room is small, but cosy.  I lie on the bed, while Mom relaxes in her lazy-boy chair.

“I never lie down during the day,” she reassures me when I offer to move.  “You rest.”

I show her pictures from the trip and we talk and talk, both of us tiring, and despite the fact we acknowledge our need to rest, neither of us can stop the flow of conversation.

At lunchtime, I push her down to the cafe on the main floor of her building, and she is childlike in her lack of decisiveness, touching all the bottles of pop and unable to decide, reading all the food packages before settling on a soup and veggies with dip.  All the while she apologizing for taking so long.

We find a table and linger over lunch.  Afterwards, I get a tea, and we go outside, into the garden area and I push her around to see the flowers, but now my body is complaining, so we return to her room on the fourth floor and resume our former positions.

Ric arrives to pick me up and she is just as glad to see him as she was me.  By the time we leave, I am so tired, I can barely stay awake in the car home.

The next day, we are up at Mom’s again to sit in on her annual meeting with her care team.  Mom is hard of hearing, and forgets, so she wanted someone with her, to make sure her concerns are answered.

She wants to talk about end of life care.  She doesn’t want to suffer, nor does she want to linger on like the man in the next room to her did recently.  The doctor and nurse write it all down.

The doctor is soft-spoken, and Mom can’t hear him, so he explains it all to Ric, how they will put in a butterfly on her arm and administer more morphine (she is already on morphine for spinal stenosis) and add another if need be.

Mom is satisfied.  She complains that her spine sticks out too much and makes her uncomfortable.

I have to smile.  Mom has been bent over for some time, and lost so much weight, the problem is inevitable.

balanceAt the end she says:

“Well, I don’t plan on dying anytime soon, anyway.”

We leave after the medical team, and have one more relative to visit before I can get home and collapse.

We haven’t been home a week and already I am exhausted beyond anything I’ve felt these past six months.

Finding a balance is ever a problem.

 

A Case for Moderation

M.E. is characterized by exhaustion after exertion and is systemic in nature. While I am able to do more than I was when this post first appeared, it continues to be an issue. The line between able and dis-abled is very thin, and now that we are on the road, I am forced to re-examine expectations and reality.

One Woman's Quest

“Before illness,”  I tell my therapist, “I had things I was working on – I was engaged with life.  Now I can’t do any of that.  I feel useless.”

She nods.  “Yes, that is what illness does.”

I’d had two days of feeling better.  Two days of being able to sit up and actually do a bit of housework.  “I felt so good that I actually started to allow myself to make plans,”  I tell her, choking up.

“That is the trouble with this disease,”  she explains.  “Patients have good days, and they do things, and it sets them back.  You need to learn to enjoy the days you are feeling better, without increasing your activity.  Your body needs rest; rest is what is going to get you well again.”

I look away.  How can I tell her about the messages that have been haunting me these past days?

“I…

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Simplicity: A Noble Quest

Overcoming the trials of a confused and harmful childhood take time and the willingness to self reflect. In 1991, my mind snapped under the pressure of trying to keep up the same old role of responsibility. It turned out to be a blessing, setting me on the path of recovery:

One Woman's Quest

At thirty-one, I had to learn to change my approach to life, because the old way wasn’t working.

th-2The old way put me at the center of the family (even though I was fifth born), listening to and attempting to resolve every family issue:   Do you think your younger sister is okay living out there in isolation?  Your older sisters are not talking to each other.  I can’t talk to Mom, will you?  Why do men always leave me?  Your brother thinks I abandoned him as a child.  I can’t talk to Dad; he’ll listen to you. Your brother is coming to stay, and well, you know about his wife.   I can’t live with your Father.  And on and on.

The old way was me constantly trying to run from my problems, striving to be better, to do better, and to get ahead.  I was invested in the belief…

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Out, Damn Guilt, Out

“You’re the only help I have right now, Mom!  I just feel like I’m not a priority for you.”

“When you spend all your energy on the kids, I feel as if there is never any left over for me.  I just get the dregs.”

“It would be really nice if you could spend some time with your Mother.  I am alone all day, you know.”th-3

Up until last May, I spent the better part of my days in bed, with little or no energy to do anything apart from basic self care. I required home care to help with housework, shopping, and cooking, and limited social visits so that I would not overtax myself.  It meant I was not available to meet the needs of others: a guilt-invoking reality that required therapy to wade through.

Over the summer, my energy has improved to the point where I am able to be out of bed longer, have managed some outings, and can visit more with loved ones.  In that time, one of my daughter’s had another baby, my husband had a heart attack, and my mother’s health has failed.  Guilt has reared its ugly head again.

th-1I feel torn.  The obvious answer is that my health is my first priority, as I still have a long way to go to full recovery (if that ever happens), however; the old me is feeling the pull of obligations and wants to answer to the call.

No one wants my return to health more than me, but what sets me apart from others, is that I don’t want a return to my old self: the people pleasing, excessively responsible, boundary less martyr of before.

My therapist and I have discussed this thoroughly over the years, but now is test time.  As much as I want to be there for my husband, my children, and my family, I have limited (and I mean limited) capability yet.  If I’m going to make a commitment to anyone, it has to be me first.  th-2

This is not selfish, I keep telling myself (and I know I’m sounding like a broken record); it is self-preservation.

“You are at a dangerous point in your healing process,” the psychologist warned me recently.  “You have just enough energy to be able to do a few things, but not nearly enough to be where you need to be, and the temptation is to overdo causing setbacks.  You run the risk of sliding backwards.”

Backwards is not a place I want to go.  Guess I better pull in the reins and figure it out before things get too out of hand.

 

 

Tired of Waiting

I’ve been making a conscientious effort to break free from the unhealthy patterns that hold me back in life:  an overly inflated sense of responsibility/martyr complex, lack of personal boundaries, and little self worth. thWhile change is never easy, especially when it involves looking at one’s self objectively, the awareness has been coming step by step – with the help of amazing therapist, naturally.

 

Recently, I realized that even though I am ill, and have limited energy to apply to daily living, I reserve what I do have for my children, waiting for them to tell me their needs before determining what I have left over.  Now, my children are all adults with children of their own, so what they require from me is usually child care, and what grandmother does not want to do that?  Except looking after a toddler or a baby is quite honestly a real drain on my reserves, and means I have little left for self-care or spending time with my husband.  th

It is really difficult to confess that this is an issue.  I love my granddaughters and want to spend time with them.  What I am afraid to relate to my children (and myself) is that a visit from them is about all I can manage and that an overnight commitment can set me back for days.  It sounds perfectly logical on paper, so why am I not able to express and act on it?

Waiting has been a defining theme in my life, whether it is serving others ahead of myself, putting my life on hold until something else happens, or “weighting” (a play on the word).  I am sure all definitions of this theme relate back to my opening statement.  Putting myself first feels wrong, selfish, and even unwomanly.  It also means risking the loss of others – perhaps not rationally, but to my inner child, it does.th-1

“Tell yourself it is self-preservation and not selfishness,” a friend tells me.  She is amazing at setting boundaries, also lives with a chronic illness, and has no children.

She doesn’t understand, I tell myself, although I like the idea of self-preservation.

Here’s the thing:  it is not my children’s responsibility to make sure I take care of myself.  They will naturally ask for help as long as it is available to them.  In fact, they are relying on my personal boundaries to determine when enough is enough.   No boundaries = no win for anyone.  I feel guilty saying no to them, but then they feel guilty when I overextend myself and slip backwards.

If I am going to change this cycle I have to be willing to take the risk and say ‘no’.  Even typing this makes me feel sick to my stomach.  What if my daughters decide that they want nothing more to do with me if I can’t babysit? (See how irrational fear is!)th-2

The thought of it makes me want to eat something, fast: shove those emotions back down before they become real.  Egads, more “weighting”!

Sigh!  If change wasn’t so worth it we’d all be stuck in our own filth piles.  Oh, the work I have left to do….

 

Cutting the Psychic Ties

There is a woman following me around, stabbing me in the chest every time I go near my husband, so I go off on my own.  The pain is too much to bear.  th

“Why are you alone?” someone asks me.

It’s just easier that way.”

“Why don’t you stab her back?”

“She only wounds me, chances are I’ll kill her.”

***

“When are you going to cut the ties with your Mother?” my psychologist asks when I tell her this dream.

Of course, the woman attacking me is my mother.  She does it all the time concerning my relationships, especially since I’ve become ill:  You’re not cooking for your husband?  He has to do the shopping?  He’s going to get tired of looking after you! A man needs a wife looking after him….and so on.

Losing my independence was difficult; being told everyday that I’m not a good enough wife just rubs salt in the wounds, (or as in the dream, stabs).

“How do I do that? I’ve felt responsible for my Mom forever.  That umbilical cord is tough to break through.”

“Try putting her in a chair (figuratively speaking) and have a dialogue.  Imagine cutting the threads.”

Okay, here goes:th-2

Me:  Mom we need to talk about your continual criticism of me; it has to stop.

Mom:  What criticism?  I admire you greatly. When have I ever criticized you?  If I did, I certainly didn’t mean to.

Me:  Maybe you don’t hear yourself, Mom, but you question me regularly about my role as a wife.

Mom:  Well, I just worry that Ric will stay interested – he has to do a lot to look after you.  Men get restless, you know.

Me:  Do you know what Ric’s reaction is when you say these things?  He says:  “Tell your Mom, she is not speaking for me.  I’m not like that.”

Mom:  Well good for him; he’s a rare man.  You’re very lucky.

Me:  You are missing the point, Mom.  When you make statements like that you are projecting your own experience – and I know it hasn’t been easy for you – but not all men are like your husbands were.

Mom:  Do you really think so?

Me:  I know so!  Do you know that all my life you’ve told me I’m not good enough.

Mom:  Well…you’re different.  I just worry about you getting hurt.

Me (wanting to throw my arms up in exasperation):  The thing is that your words hurt more than any man’s can.  You’re my mom!  I need your support.  I don’t need you to agree with me on everything, I just need you to believe in me.

Mom:  (nodding, biting her lip):  You have made some poor choices…

Me:  We’ve both made bad decisions, Mom.  I am trying to break through those patterns – make a better life for myself, for my kids.

Mom:  You’ve always been smarter than me.

Me:  I am sorry about what you have been through, Mom.  You didn’t deserve any of that.  And I am amazed at how you kept going through it all.  You are an incredible woman.

Mom:  Obviously, the choices that I made hurt my children, even though I never wanted that.th

Me:  It’s inevitable Mom…and I hurt my children.  Blame doesn’t get us anywhere.  I just want you to know that I am no longer going to accept the negative comments from you.  When you tell me what I’m doing wrong, I will kindly turn it back on you:  “That’s your experience, Mom; not mine.”

Mom;  (nods in agreement).

Me:  And another thing, Mom.  I know that you feel loyal to your family, and want us all to be one big, happy extended bunch, but I am not going to fulfill that wish for you.  I am choosing to protect myself and my girls from them.

Mom:  I read some of your work, and it appears to me that you think you were abused.  You don’t really think that do you?

Me (insert exasperation again):  We were abused, Mom.  All of us were abused.  That was what it looked like.  Abuse happens when one person exerts power over another, be it physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological.  My whole life we lived in fear of Dad; none of us could breathe, least of all you.  That wasn’t love, Mom, it was control and manipulation.

Mom:  Yeah, yeah, I got that.  But he didn’t hurt you girls.

Me (saddened now):  He did Mom.  He hurt all of us.  I’m working through that, though.  Dad’s gone.  I just want you to know that I will not be seeing my cousin again, or go visit a creepy uncle.  You may okay with lewd behaviour but I identify that as abuse also.

Mom:  They don’t mean anything by it; they’re just being boys.

Me (steam rising out of my head):  No, Mom; they are inappropriate.  (What I want to say is that if they tried any of their behaviours around my girls, I would physically remove them from our presence; not to mention what Ric would do.)  I now you don’t get that – I tried to speak to your last husband about it –  but I am not going to put myself or my daughters in any situation that makes us feel degraded.

Mom:  When did Don ever make you feel that way?  He was just trying to be funny.  He liked you girls.

Me:  He also made highly inappropriate sexual comments!  (I can see I’m getting no where with her.  Denial is her pattern.)  Mom, I can’t change your viewpoint; it is what it is.  I am just letting you know that I am drawing a line.

Mom:  Ok.  I’ll try to do better.

****th-1

I can see why this exercise needs to be done without my mother present.  What I have to say could fatally wound her, and that is not the desired result.  I just need to be really clear that what she says to me is often a projection of her own agenda, and stop taking it so personally.

Hard to do though, when the child in me is still looking for the warmth and affection she missed out on.

Denial Is a Poor Example

“Your homework for this week is to write about the things your mother taught you,” my psychologist advised at the end of our session.

Memories have been resurfacing and along with them rage.  I am incensed that I was never protected from some of the things that happened to me.th

“Well, she taught me that I needed to sell myself out for love.”

“That’s a good place to start; see what else comes up.”

I mention it to my husband.

“Well, I could name a few off the top of my head.  I’ve tried to retrain you on a couple of things, like that you don’t have to ask me every time you want to buy something.”

“Well, I always thought that only the breadwinners hold the power (except that I have an income too, so that doesn’t make sense).  Do you mean that I don’t think women have rights in a relationship?”

“She is a good martyr, your mom.”

There’s all the things she’s said to me about not being loveable; and that I should have stayed with my cheating husband, because any husband is no better than no husband; and all those insinuations that I can’t possibly keep a man with the way I behave.

“She’s taught me that love is very conditional, and that if I assert myself, I may very well lose what I have.”

“I keep telling you I’m not that shallow,” my husband chides.

He keeps proving it to me too. domesticv1

Really, what she has been suggesting is that I am nothing without a man.  I have no social value, no reason for being without a ring on my finger.  Holy cow, that is warped.  And sad.

It’s not that I blame my mother for any of this.  She grew up in poverty, was raised to get married, have children, be subservient.  She didn’t know any different.  I, on the other hand, grew up in a time of more opportunity for women.  So why am I still so impacted by her?

Mom has always made excuses for the bad behaviour of men in our lives, as if they are beyond reproach.   She has denial down to a fine art.  When confronted about my father’s abuse, she’d say it didn’t bother her, he was just under a lot of stress.  When my uncles and cousins would drink too much, she’d say that their wandering hands and tongues were just them being boys. When I told her I broke up with a boyfriend because he almost raped me, she accused me of being a prude and told me he was a good catch.

Not once did she say:  “You don’t have to put up with that behaviour!  Value yourself!  What you have is sacred.  Your love and your trust have to be earned.”

Or any other bit of advice that might have set me up with healthy boundaries.

I am angry because I didn’t know I had the right to say “no”; was confused about where the line between love and abuse existed;  was grateful for the scraps I received; and set myself up for failure time and again.494705515e82363e8d2b1b8d10122ff9

I am fifty-eight-years-old, and only just now realizing that all this.  I guess better late than never.

Sure hope I haven’t neglected to teach my daughters right from wrong where their self-worth is concerned.