Sunday, September 02, 2012
A Very Sad Day And A Big Decision
I was so, so intensely sad on Friday. Not a normal feeling for me. I'm generally a very optimistic, positive person. But I guess we all have blue days from time to time. I guess what was so different about this was how so badly I felt like crying and how intense the sadness was. I've not felt anything like that for years, and I thought to myself, "Oh, my gosh, this is how people who suffer from depression must feel all the time," and it really made me feel empathy. Certainly, my momentary fit of sadness, which has now subsided, is nothing compared to true depression, but it was such a deep feeling, it actually scared me a bit. It was the kind of sadness that were I to feel it all the time, I would seriously consider seeking therapy. Fortunately for me, I don't feel such intense sadness very often.
I actually have few reasons to have even felt so sad. My relationship with Jonah is great, I'm actively employed in a career I love, I've been able to spend time with my family, I have some great opportunities coming up. Things are good.
I actually think my sadness was a combination of many things. I've been away from Jonah for a while now because of my job, and we miss one another terribly. I've been helping care for my mom, who has dementia, and that can get stressful at times. And even though I am acting, I'm ready to close the show I'm currently doing and spend a couple of weeks with Jonah before my next gig.
I think Mom's dementia is the real culprit. She's actually not doing terribly, although she's certainly not at her best, either. And, really, nothing specific happened on Friday to plummet me into this deep sadness. But I am aware that when it comes to my mom's illness, I am generally a pretty stoic rock who's able to handle her issues with grace and humor. I was bound to have a mini-breakdown some time, and I guess Friday was the day.
My siblings and their families are great in dealing with Mom. We all try to take part in caring for her so that one person isn't burdened with the load. But I am kind of her primary caretaker when I am here working, and for some reason she seems to respond best to me. My siblings jokingly (or not-so-jokingly) call me the "golden child." As such, Mom has grown quite dependent on me and has actually become a bit needy, and there are days when it overwhelms me.
Because I am with her probably the most often, I see first-hand how bad she is becoming, and I guess I am mourning the loss of who my mom once was. Of course, I love her and still enjoy spending time with her, but I do miss the person she was before dementia took hold of her. I miss the deep talks we no longer seem to be able to have. I miss how sharp she once was. And I mourn the loss of independence she is losing day by day. Like me, Mom has always been very independent, and it saddens me that probably within a year or two, she will probably lose some of the ability to manage her own life and affairs.
I am thankful she no longer drives because I think she would be a danger to both herself and others if she did still drive, and I know she would get lost. She sometimes has gotten lost even on foot in areas that were once familiar to her.
Her short term memory is shot. She repeats the same questions and stories over and over, often within seconds of when she last asked or told them. She gets disoriented or confused by things, and he awareness and judgment are often questionable. Even her long-term memory has been compromised. She mis-remembers events or creates events that never happened at all. In the last year, she's told me stories of how she's been skydiving or on trips to India, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, and Africa (none of which is true). She's told me that her mother died in a cemetery and that her ashes are scattered there or that her dad died when she was a teenager (neither of which are true) or how she lived in an apartment with a friend after my dad died (not true) and she thought my father died when I was a little kid (I was 21). Her memory, in general, has become unreliable.
Without my constant watching out for her, she would likely forget to take her pills, measure her blood sugar level, pay some of her bills, eat, and she would likely go out and about on adventures and get lost and eat all sorts of unhealthy things and send money to every charity on the planet.
I worry about her. And maybe that's what's part of what was making me sad. I assume that eventually she will be unable to care for herself. Maybe that will be in ten years. Maybe five. Maybe one. But eventually she will be unable to manage her affairs without help. As it stands, I don't think Mom can ever live alone again. In any case, I don't relish the idea that one day Mom will probably have to leave her home and live in some assisted-care facility. It may be a ways off, but unless she dies unexpectedly, I think it is in her future, and she will not understand why we think she can't take care of herself, and I do not relish that day or that conversation.
And I worry about how Mom will manage when I am gone. As I said, my siblings are great, but Mom has become very dependent on me and gets very pouty and sullen when I leave (even if it's just to go to work; but when I go back home to Jonah, it's even harder). I am also not good at delegating, and even though I know my siblings will take care of her, there is always this feeling that if I'm not here to do it, it won't get done or get done right. That isn't true, but it's how I think, and so I feel guilty when I leave Mom. But I also feel guilty for leaving Jonah months on end as well. And, again, that's probably where a lot of this sadness I was feeling came from.
I guess there's this very selfish feeling of "Who will take care of her when I'm gone? Who will watch out for her? How will she manage without me?, etc." The fact is, my siblings and nephew and niece can help her, and if the time comes, some facility can help her. But I do have these weird feelings that no one can take care of her quite the way I can or that she won't respond to others the way she responds to me. That sounds so self-centered. I don't mean it to sound that way, but that's what I've conditioned myself to believe because of how she behaves around me.
And then there's the other part of me: the worn-out, frustrated, exhausted, overwhelmed part of me that feels like he's caring for an overgrown child - a child he loves, but a child nonetheless. Mom gets so distracted and she's so slow and unaware at times. Sometimes it really feels like I'm taking care of a kid or a drunk person. It's hard sometimes and emotionally draining. There are times when I retreat to my room like some hermit to get away from it, and there are times, too, when I admit I have wished my mother an early death just so she and her family don't have to go through the pain of watching her mentally deteriorate or lose her independence.
And I know these are natural thoughts for a caretaker. I've read lots of literature about it. I'm certainly not the first to feel that way, and I won't be the least. But of course, it still makes me feel guilty. Anybody who knows me knows I love and adore my mother, and it's because I do love her so deeply that caring for her and watching her "disappear" is so incredibly trying at times.
And maybe that's why I had my mini-breakdown on Friday. At my show, a close actress friend could tell I was having a difficult die, and when she asked me about it, I just started crying, and later when I talked to Jonah on the phone about the feelings I was experiencing, I was sobbing. I'm not the most emotional person, but I guess it all just came to a head.
But, really, what can I do? I love my mom and will continue to help and care for her as long as I can and as long as it is possible to do so. And, really, she's not much trouble. She's grown needy and dependent, but she's still able to do so much on her own still, and as long as she can, I will let her.
I followed her to Sam's Club the other day to give her the illusion of independence, but also to make sure she didn't get lost. She had no idea I had been following her. She doesn't know that I throw away all her junk mail so she won't donate more money to charities than she is able. She doesn't know that I go through her pill box and fix it when she puts in the wrong doses of medicines. She doesn't know how stringently I keep track of her fiances to make sure she isn't overspending and that she is paying her bills. In her mind, everything is hunky-dory, and I guess it's nice that she thinks that.
But thinks aren't hunky-dory. She is extremely forgetful and her judgment and awareness are impaired. I'm glad my siblings and I are so honest because it would be so easy to take advantage of her if we weren't, and I think about the other senior citizens out there suffering from health issues who maybe have children that aren't so honest or truly looking out for their parents' well-being, and it makes me sad.
I have made a huge decision. Jonah and I have been apart more during our relationship than we have been together. I have worked successfully as an actor out-of-state for some time now, and I have finally decided to come home for a while even if it means putting my acting career on hold for a bit (although ideally, I hope to have both Jonah and a good career at the same time). After my next gig ends the first week of November, I will go back home to Jonah for a while, and this will be the first Thanksgiving we have spent together in quite some time.
I do not know what will happen career-wise, and there is also a chance Jonah and I will both be unemployed at the same time, so it will be a little scary (although we have enough in savings to last us a few months), and leaving Mom will be hard, too. But I have prayed a lot about it, and I need to go home for a while. It feels like the right thing to do. I hope my siblings and niece and nephew can keep my mom safe and happy while I am gone. It's a hard thing to leave her, and maybe that, too, is why I was so, so sad. But my husband needs me, and I need him, and this is the right time to go home for a while.