Tuesday, September 1, 2009

battle fatigue

I have spent the majority of my life tired--emotionally, physically, and literally. I don't remember a time when I didn't feel a couple thousand years old. I fortunately got to experience a few brief snippets of reckless, stupid, and heavenly youth, but they were so fleeting and always weighed down with possible consequences the entire time they were happening so I could never fully enjoy them. I never got to be a true flake because I had no safety net--I was too busy keeping myself in glasses, teeth, transportation, and by some miracle, college. Bone-tired sums up depression in two words and a hyphen, and of course there was the added FATigue, from dragging lots of extra weight around, but that has come mostly in the last half of my life. Conversely, I am chock-a-block full of humor and love--and it is very genuine (humor has been my healthiest coping mechanism; I highly recommend it)--and I can make people feel good. I've always been able to help other people laugh at and like themselves better--kind of pride myself on it as a skill, if I'm being truthful--but relaxing enough to have fun and cut myself some slack have been among the hardest things for me to do in life. Part of this is likely due to mostly growing up around people who did not welcome emotions, good or bad, and I think I had more of them than the average bear to begin with, so it was not meant to be a smooth journey. I appear to be the most laid-back, mellow person in the world, but my insides continually churn like a comet and the off switch to my brain is broken. (Nothing shuts my brain up at night other than Seroquel, and they will pry that drug out of my cold, dead hands because I am finally sleeping and not gaining weight from a pill.)

I decided a couple of years ago when it was revealed that I would never be able to have children that the rest of my life was going to be about enjoying whatever I had left, loving who I love, and that hopefully, that list would include me at some point. It helps immensely to have a partner in life like Mr. Salted and the friends I do, who love my true self. When I was thirty, I finally got to start having my own pets--cats--and that has been absolutely lovely for me. My cats not only make me laugh every single day, they give me more than I could ever give them. (Even though the traitors they all prefer Mr. Salted.)

Mr. Salted and I spent a couple of hours with Granny on Sunday. When I got there, she was dressed and sitting up in bed, but bent down holding her feet and crying. (She has horrible neuropathy and pain in her feet that nothing has been able to cure. I cannot tell you how many doctors and specialists she has seen over the years about it.) Instinctively, I swooped down and hugged her. "Oh, Granny, are you okay? What's the matter?"

She just looked at me and said, "I don't know...you're here now, and I will straighten up." She just snapped herself to. We talked with her, I brought her clothes and phone numbers and a phone card with a pin number so she could call people long-distance, and her bite-size Milky Ways, and I organized her clothes in the closet. We wrote the check for her power bill together. She tried to give us money, and Mr. Salted piped up immediately, "No, this is what we do for family." I love him more every day that I know him, and just the fact that he made that simple, definitive statement to her--he is not always one to speak up--made my heart full. That has not been my experience with how it is to be family for the majority of my life--and I don't think it has been Grandma's experience, either, but it certainly is how it should be. I would have said something similar myself, but I was glad it was him that spoke up this time. Let somebody else have a turn.

We ate lunch with her, if you could call it that--definitely institutional food, but all that matters is that she loves it. She went on and on about how good it always is. Of course, I couldn't really eat any of it and sipped at the milk. I sat in her in her room once while she ate, and that didn't bother me, but going to the dining room with her--I will find a way to avoid doing that ever again. It was one of the most depressing things I've ever seen. The staff was great--all young, energetic, sweet, running around making jokes--they could not have been kinder or served us better. Everything was clean. There were lots of open windows and natural light, and photos everywhere of activities they'd done. They had rock oldies playing, and people that didn't have family visiting sat around big tables--they tried to put the ones that did have family in their own little areas so they could visit more easily, and they did this for us. Grandma introduced me to several people she knew as we passed, and I tried to smile and wave at everyone. None of the ones she introduced me to had visitors that day.

Several people just sitting up asleep. One was singing a song only she could hear, and no one seemed to notice or care. Another had a lot of his face gone. Many of them were bent over, just trying to get in a bite or two on their own, with quite some effort being made to do so.

Living as much of my life with my grandmother as I did, I have always been around elderly people. I have seen most of the people we knew when I was growing up decline and pass away. I have visited them with her over the years, even in this same facility. She has outlived most of her friends. She made it a point to volunteer wherever they were being housed so that she could stay in touch with them as long as she could. She has always thrived on caring for people, and indeed was not happy without at least one person to care for. She has never met a stray person she didn't feed, and she even feeds this one cat that hangs around her apartment complex--and she despises cats. Many people think she is the just the nicest lady they've ever met. My response to that is, "Yes, if you are not related to her, that is likely true."

I believe one of the reasons she and I have always butted heads is because I am extremely independent and always wanted to do everything for myself. I was not enough of a project for her--she always had to find someone more broken to do for. The fact is that I was plenty broken, just not in ways she was willing to face or deal with. I also learned very early on that my life would be easier the less I needed from anyone else.

Since about the age of nine or ten, I have never been able to interact with her without a shield up and a sword at the ready. When I was growing up, she called me names, implied I was a burden, a liar, a slut. She constantly haranged me about my weight. She told me only whores wore tampons and that I never had an original idea. Nothing was ever good enough--ever. She allowed me no privacy and no grief. If I was ever ill or injured, it was a major inconvenience and she had to be sicker and more injured. My father raped me as a child and she does not believe me, and he is not even her son. They continue to have a relationship to this day, even though they have not seen in each other in over twenty years, and she mentions it to me nearly every time we speak, despite the fact I have repeatedly asked her not to. It is like being raped again every time I have to hear about it. At eleven years old, I dealt with it completely on my own so she would not have to; around that time, she had been hospitalized for her depression and received electroshock. I did try to tell her after the last incident, when I was sixteen, and these were her exact words: "Shut up. I'm watching 'Name That Tune'." Many years later, when I tried to discuss it with her, she said I must have wanted it and followed up with articles in the mail about false memory syndrome. My friends, the people who love me more fiercely than anyone on Earth, are amazed I still speak to her at all and are cautious in their support of my relationship with her. She has suffered a difficult and abuse-filled life and battled mental illness for much of it. I have a great deal of empathy for her, knowing from my own experiences that those things not only shaped her, but left plenty of poison behind, more than enough to share. But it is also a fine line between self-preservation and having to lie down in a quiet, dark room for a few days.

This is the most difficult part for me: whatever medication they have her on, she is incredibly sweet, and extremely open emotionally. She talked about what a good, smart kid I always was, how I was the prettiest baby, all the awards I won in school, the National Spelling Bees I competed in. "I want you to write a book," she kept saying. (Oh, I'll write at least one book, believe you me.) At another point she said, "You were perfect, but I couldn't tell you that." (Inside, I was screaming, "Oh REALLY? Well, why the @#$% not?" I thought--no, knew--I was the most disgusting, unwanted piece of crap on the planet. I literally thought about suicide every day until I was in my thirties, finally got health insurance and could get some help.) Maybe my mom's spirit entered my body for a minute and took over, because I heard a level voice I did not quite recognize as my own reply, "Well, that would have been nice to hear. But it's also nice to hear now." It made me, quite simply, crazy. Part of me quietly left the building. This is that tried-and-true abuse-survivor tool: dissociation. It comes at a price, but it also protects. I did not know what to do with any of it and simply refused to react. Later, I asked Mr. Salted about the positive things she had said toward me. "Is that what a mother is like?" I demanded to know. "Did your mom say things like that to you?" He nodded yes.

My first husband's mother is also that lovely brand of sweet mom. She looked at me the first time we met twelve years ago, opened her arms, and said "Welcome to the family." And she meant it--her son and I have been divorced for seven years, and I am still part of her family. When I met this beautiful woman, I was stunned, wracked with immediate, all-encompassing, nearly uncontrollable grief. It was a three-plus hour drive home from their house and I cried the entire way, as best as I can remember. I hadn't known that kind of love existed in real life, and in that moment, I realized on every level what I had lost at two years old when my mother died. I knew a few moms as a child, mothers of my friends who had shown me much more kindness than they needed to, and they helped me through, I had to be older to really get it. You want your mom to encourage you to stay with college when you're having a rough patch. You want your mom when you fall in love, get married. You want your mom when you have a baby, or try to. You just want your mom.

So, on Sunday, Granny told me there was a big garbage bag in her front room that had a mattress cover that the ulcer in her toe had bled on before she went to the hospital. I thought I had done all the laundry, but I went back and got it, took it home, and did it. It took about a bottle and a half of Shout and a lot of bleach. The considerable time it took to lay the groundwork to get this blood out, I got furious, so completely and deeply angry that the anger felt ancient, like it came from the core of the Earth and could control the weather. It had nothing to do with the actual laundry, but it also felt like the ultimate metaphor. "Why has it ALWAYS BEEN ME, scrubbing out the @#$%ing blood ALONE? I'm supposed to be so selfish and ungrateful! Such a burden! I didn't get to have a mother and I shouldn't have to take care of a mother."

I have spoken with the COPES caseworker the last couple of days and it sounds as though they will try to have Granny returning to her apartment within 30 days of her being in the care center. She is coming along well--her mobility improves every time I see her. I tried to take care of a credit card issue--someone charged $800 on a closed credit card of hers--and since there is no financial power of attorney in place, they wouldn't tell me anything. I am going to have to sit with her in the care center and hand the phone back and forth and hope we can do it that way.

I don't mind helping her like this right now, but something has to give. I am still recovering from a MAJOR surgery and have a reconstructive ankle surgery taking place one month from today. I will have to be off my ankle FOR A MONTH. No one seems to really remember this but me. My stamina is so nonexistent that it's not even funny. I need to return to work but just haven't had it in me to make it there and deal with all this alone. At this rate, I just hope I will still have a job; things cannot continue in this vein. My uncle is due to arrive a week from today; something else is going to have to happen. For my stomach lining (or what's left of it) and for my sanity, other arrangements need to be made.

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Seattle, WA, United States
This blog focuses largely on a personal journey to and through weight-loss surgery. It's also about reading, writing, animals, photography, love, humor, music, thinking out loud, and memes. In other words...life.
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