Yesterday I had my first occasion of burnout since Mom came to live here three weeks and four days ago. I was upstairs cleaning one of the bathrooms when I both heard and felt the final straw snap. (She was downstairs reading, which is the way she spends most of her days; Hubby was at the dining room table working on a report he has to have ready by Monday.) I walked downstairs, poured what for me was an enormous glass of wine, and went outside to sit on the tail-end of the pickup truck until the wine was gone. I watched the birds and squirrels and rabbits and let my brain flat-line for a time. After awhile, Hubby came outside to see what had become of me. I glanced at him. “Burnout,” was the only word I said. He nodded. He understands.
There was no big explosion, no monumental event that made my brain finally throw up its hands and yell, “Enough!” I just suddenly HAD IT with…well, everything. Taking care of Mom, responding to her oft-repeated questions, doing laundry/cleaning/cooking, dealing with legal issues, dealing with a sister’s illness (could be stress, could be the return of the Big C), and getting precious little writing done in the process. (Please, don’t anyone say “You must prioritize your writing” because I will hurt you.)
I knew this was coming, I just didn’t expect it to be so insidious. I didn’t feel its arrival, there was no building up of emotion or stress; the sense of burnout was just, suddenly, THERE. So I acted on it in the best way I knew how — I removed myself from the situation for a while. Am I better now? Hard to say. I still feel a bit well-done, as if I’ve been left on the grill too long. I’ll get over it. Things will return to what passes for normal (HAHHAHHAHHAHHAHHAHHAHAHA!) around here, and life will go on until the next time my brain takes a spin.
This is such an odd situation. I can’t say I enjoy becoming my mother’s full-time caretaker. I’m used to having my time be my own (well, mostly; it hasn’t really been entirely my own since my folks began to decline). I had my routine, which of course is now shot to heck in many respects. Still, I do manage to get up early (way too early, some days, when the brain won’t let me sleep), walk the dog in the woods and breathe deep before returning to the house to help Mom through her morning routine. I am working out how to find that necessary time to write (and it is necessary; it’s water to my personal Sahara). I’m learning a patience I never knew I possessed. And, in truth, this isn’t all bad. Funny as it seems in dealing with a woman whose short-term memory is practically nonexistent, there is a lot about this that is good. There are moments of true kinship and bonding, incidents that I can honestly call “quality time” with my mother, which is a gift I had not looked for or expected. Plus, she is so damn happy to be here. She can’t remember how long she’s been here or how she got her. She has little recollection of the nursing home or the three hour drive to Connecticut, but by God she’s grateful to be here.
Just so you don’t think I’m entirely alone in this, know that my husband has been terrific throughout the whole thing. He’s so kind to Mom, so willing to sit and talk with her and treat her like she’s still here mentally (which is something the nursing home didn’t seem inclined to do). Several friends have offered their help, but often that isn’t possible because it involves bringing her to them and that just won’t work, it would rock her world. Two dear friends are willing to come here, but right now their lives are a bit in turmoil with the need to move a divorcing relative north from Florida and (oh, yeah) they’re getting married next weekend. Maybe by November, I’ll have a bit more back up. I can last until then.
So, as always, it’s one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, one moment at a time, and have the good sense to take a break when I need it. The formula really isn’t that hard. I’ll get the important things done and the not-so-important…well, they just might have to take care of themselves for a while.