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"Cut! Take Two…"

In the early days of my journey as an MS Caregiver, Lynn would fall, or we would get into a situation that was difficult and we would look at each other and laugh. We coped with a lot of our hardships by laughing at how bizzare the situation would become as compared to our lives pre-MS.  A friend of mine reminded me this week that when Lynn used to fall, I would pause for just a moment and listen, then call out to the back of the house where he usually hung out and say, “anything broken or bleeding?”  If the answer was, “no,”  I would just keep on with what I was doing and never miss a beat. 
I remember how difficult that was at the time–that is, to just let him fall and not immediately go to help.  That took a lot of will power on my part.  Now I find the opposite happening.  He will let me do almost everything for him if I don’t remind him to try it himself first.  I was wondering when that change occurred and I think it happened when he was in ICU for so long.  He couldn’t do anything for himself and got used to me doing everything for him.  Then when he came home, he was still too  weak to do much on his own so I continued giving maximum care.  Gradually over time it became a habit so that now, we have to consciously stop and determine when should I move his arm for him and when should he do it himself?  That was also when I began to tell myself that he was taking advantage of my being helpful.  Or I would say to myself, “he could do it himself if he would just try”…I think that’s also when we began to laugh less.
For example:
I got upset with Lynn this week over something that was absolutely not his fault. I was trying to take some type of device that cuts circles out of wood out of the electric drill.  It was in there very tight and now that my arthritis is so bad in my thumb joints, I have no strength in my hands.  So as I was struggling to get it out, it cut my finger. Just a small cut–didn’t really hurt much, but when Lynn tried to reassure me that it couldn’t cut me if I held it right, my feelings got hurt and I almost cried. I also got aggravated and curt in my comments and with an edge of hysteria to my voice, threw my hands in the air and said, “I just can’t do it.  Can’t you see that I just can’t do it?  I cut myself!  See? Right here. Why do I even try to do work with tools, etc. etc. etc.”  Lynn’s reaction then was to try to do it himself…which he can’t and I’m annoyed that he feels like he has to try and I know that he’s feeling bad because I’m feeling bad and downward we spiral….
Finally, I stop the spiral and explain.  “All I wanted you to say when I got cut was, ‘I’m sorry. Are you okay?'”  His response to that was, “Oh.  Why didn’t you say so?”  UGH! 
Later, I thought about what happened and why and here’s my insight….
When I got cut, the following thoughts went through my mind in rapid succession.

  • “Oops, I cut myself.
  • Oh, no.  Now I have a cut which will burn when I have to wash clothes and dishes in a few minutes.
  • Why do I have to clean up after his friends when they use his tools?  That’s just more work for me.
  • I’m stupid when it comes to tools. If I knew how to work with tools better, none of this would have happened.  I know how to use a drill.  What’s wrong with me?
  • He (Lynn) just expects me to do everything.  He expects me to do everything he used to do plus everything I need to do for him plus everything that needs to be done around the house and work full-time and do it all perfectly.  He doesn’t ever think about what I need.
  • He doesn’t care that I got hurt.
  • He doesn’t appreciate what I do.
  • My life is miserable and it will never be any better.”

All those thoughts went through my head in a matter of seconds.  Based on what I told myself, I went from a simple, “oops, I cut my finger and need a bandaid,” to, “my life is miserable and it will never be any better.”  Now if I had put the brakes on my internal conversation after the first bullet, I would have gotten the bandaid and moved on.  Instead I sulked for a while and made both myself and Lynn miserable for a while. 
None of those things I said to myself other than, “I cut my finger,” were true.  All the rest was just me feeling sorry for myself and telling myself a story to reinforce my self-pity. What a waste of precious time.  If I had instead just laughed and said, “what a klutz,” or “looks like the drill is working,”  I would have felt better in the long run, Lynn would have felt better, and we could have had a fun moment to share rather than sadness and emotional pain. 
So the morale of this blog is, “watch the stories you tell yourself.” 
I’ve got to get back to looking at the funny side of life more often. “Hey, did you hear the one about….”

Reaching my Saturation Point – at least today

I guess I think that I can do whatever I sit my mind to and that my body and abilities will fall in line to make sure it happens.  So I strive to be the best manager, employee, mother, wife, caregiver, and friend, I can be. I want to take care of everyone’s needs and solve all their problems and still have energy afterwards to take care of our home and personal affairs.  Well, today I reached my saturation point and had a melt down…and so did Lynn….
If you follow my blog, you know that I offered to start an online “virtual” support group.  The plan was for those who were interested to call-in and we would have a conference call support group. I announced that if there was any interest, I would get it started.  I had a few interested responses so I created a Skype account and ordered a webcam.  The only problem is, I didn’t have time to learn how to use them properly.  I got everything loaded in advance but hadn’t had time to do a test drive, so, I was a little nervous about having the conference call today. 
What also didn’t help was that I was up till 2 a.m. after working till midnight on some reports for work and then getting Lynn and I ready for bed. I slept-in till 10 a.m., but I still should have had time plenty of time to see to the test before 2 p.m. when the call was scheduled.
Only it didn’t work out that way.
Each time I would sit down to pull up the program, Lynn would need something.  Then just as I was going to lay him down for  a nap, my son and his girlfriend came over to see him for father’s day. I haven’t seen either of them in a while and my son had been out of work for a week due to eye problems so I wanted to spend time with them.  While they were here, I put Lynn to bed for a short rest.  Suddenly I realized it was getting close to conference call time.  I put my conversation on hold with my son and went to get Lynn up.  Realizing I was most likely going to be late for the call, I sent an email to the other participant (I ended up with only one person interested in attending the conference call) to say I might be running late before going to get him up.  Sure enough, I was about 15 minutes late getting back to my computer after he finished with all his requests. By that point, the other party was not answering the call (I’m sure she had given up by then and if she’s reading this, I apologize for being so late!)
Since I could not get though on the call, I decided to test the connection and see how well the webcam worked.  I called to the computer in the back room where Lynn was and tried to talk to him.  The audio didn’t work well at all and he could not see the video.  So I tried to figure out how to make the equipment work properly for about thirty minutes, getting more and more frustrated as I did because the instruction book was so difficult to figure out.  Before long, I was ready to through the little camera away. 
Then Lynn needed me to turn off his camera because when he closed down Skype, the camera stayed on.  Well, it didn’t have an off button and I couldn’t find an exit menu for his software.  After spending ten minutes pushing more button, I finally decided to just unplug it.
By that point, I was in tears.
When I get upset, Lynn gets upset because he knows I’m so overwhelmed with all I have to do.  He tries to encourage me but all I want to do is cry.  So, I do, and I feel better, but that’s hard for him to understand. 
Then it’s Lynn’s turn to have a melt down…
Afterwards, I get him settled in his peddler, go fix some lunch, and go dig up some tomato plants that grow naturally near our house and transplant them into a pot on the deck.   I come inside and start to cook Lynn’s dinner when I hear something hit the floor hard in the bedroom.  Doesn’t sound big enough to be him but something obviously hit the floor.  I take off for his room and he’s heading my way in an obvious “mood.”  He looks like a thunder-cloud rolling in from the west. (Remember, I left him attached to his peddler which is obviously not attached now.) 
“What’s wrong?” I say.  He bellows back, “This !%##$%$% seat cushion is tearing up my @### and I have to get off it.”  Then he adds, as he rolls over some of the things he has knocked onto the floor, “I’m so #$%^ tired of being sick and feeling like %^&*(!” Then as he pushes his way to the bed so I can take him off the chair, he runs into the bed, knocks it off the blocks it sits on, and out rolls the knob to this wheelchair I knocked off earlier in the week and couldn’t find after searching for an hour! I yell at him, he growls, …. and then we fix the disrupted room …and our tension deflates.
It was bound to happen.  Being sick for long periods and being confined to being with someone who is sick for long periods takes a serious toll on one’s emotional stability.  Our relationship is like a see-saw.  If one is down and the other is up, we keep moving forward and it works. But when both of us are down, we’re not at a standstill, we’re broken.  Something has to give to take away some of the pressure pushing us down.  For me it was tears and for him it was banging into things and cussing. He needs a punching bag but he can’t punch so his chair and his mouth are his only outlets.  All that pent-up energy has to go somewhere!
So right now we both feel better.  We both “blew” in our own way  or got  our pent-up emotions “wrung out” of us by situations so we’re stable again….and everything’s good.
P.S.
Back to the conference call.  I’ll try it again on July 14 at 2 p.m. eastern standard time.  Send me your Skype contact information in advance if you want to be on the call.  I have some concerns about whether this is actually going to work or not.  I realized today that Lynn’s needs can’t be put on hold while I talk on the computer so being able to set aside a particular time might be a challenge.  Plus I’m a little concerned he might over hear my comments and I don’t want him to do that….Just some nagging concerns I’ve been having.  Let me know what you think, too, about it–honestly.
Till next week,
Donna