Monday, April 20, 2009

A Fine Line..

There is a fine line between giving and giving away.
It's taken me all this time to awaken to this realization.

For the past few years, I have been struggling with needs. Hubby’s and mine.
I am now learning to value myself and honour my needs.
Blogging has helped me with this.

However, I could never come to the point where I put myself first. How could I? Why should I? I was taught to put others before me.

"Be polite. Don't be so selfish. Let others go before you. Take the smallest portion. Stop thinking about yourself" are words that echo down through the years from a distant childhood.

To care for someone is to make sure they are comfortable and safe. And then the mother/caregiver/wife can turn her attention to her own needs.

Not so hard to understand on the surface, is it?

But let's take another look. A little deeper one. At some point, the lines blur. The boundaries between Patient and Caregiver become entangled, or fade into each other.

Caregiver doesn't recognize her (most of the time it's a female caregiver and I'm talking about myself here anyway) own needs anymore. His needs take precedence, since they are life-threatening, or he just can't carry them out anymore. So Hers either cease to exist or His become Hers.

I had been feeling depressed because of our loooong winter. Cooped up inside away from the sunshine and garden. Happens to a lot of people during the cold, dark months. But there was more. I felt like my life was not going anywhere. Every day I’d have symptoms of anxiety; feelings like I wanted to run away. Feeling "stuck" here.
Life was starting to feel hopeless. I had nowhere to go.

I wished with all my heart that Hubby and I were back in that delirously happy time when we first met. We lived our lives with passion, energy, fun, travel, and joy. It was a dream come true.

I woke up one morning recently with no energy. Picked up a broom and swept the back deck clean. Not such a strenuous chore, but then I had to go and rest. Something is very wrong. Where is my energy? I can't let myself down like this. I have to get back on track.

Then something snapped or clicked. I realized just how tired I am of giving. But what can I do? I can’t leave Hubby. I won’t. I need to care for him.
“Ahhhh,” said a little voice somewhere in my head, “it’s not the giving you are tired of, it’s the "giving away little bits and pieces of yourself.”

Giving and Receiving are a natural part of life. We need to give to someone who is dependent on us. We receive their love and support in return. But we don't give up our own needs. There is a fine line. A distinction between the two.

That’s when I made the connection. I have been giving up my own life. I no longer work. Go to tai chi classes. Ride horses. Socialize (except for my family) Travel. Take singing lessons. I had been giving away or giving up too much of myself in the role of Caregiver. I had been living Hubby’s life. Not mine.

No wonder my body had been sending me signals. Fatigue, depression, painful muscles, anxiety, insomnia. Did I listen? Of course not. But you can't ignore your body's signals for very long. They have a nasty habit of persisting. What you resist....persists!

It hit me that my whole day consists of caring and pleasing hubby.

I look to him for advice. I am vigilant for every little nuance in his speech, his tone of voice, so I could capture the real meaning behind the words. Did he want me to cook rice? Or spaghetti? Just because he said rice did not mean he really wanted rice. Perhaps he was trying to please me.
How convoluted. How ridiculous. We never had that kind of relationship before. We used to be such a happy, outgoing, active couple. We'd each be at our chosen professions and then come home and share our day. We valued and respected each other's point of view. Nobody tried to overly please the other person. We did the normal things of course (candles, chocolates, flowers, checking the oil in my car - yes hubby took great pleasure in doing that little thing for me, which I grew to appreciate)

So when did the balance tip? When did I become an extension of him? When did I lose my own life and take on his?
Three years ago I stopped travelling. Simply because I couldn't leave him alone. Now with my new understanding, I know that my life can't stop because of his illness. I long to travel. I need to see the ocean, feel sand under my toes. Breathe the soft ocean air. Shop 'til I drop. So I will.
I need to work part-time. So I will.
It's enough that I plan my day around his schedule. That I do with love and patience.

But I can't keep giving myself and my life away.
I can and I will give - but not "give away."

It has been a long road to this discovery. A long voyage. And blogging has helped me tremendously, to arrive here.

I have finally, finally booked a trip.
Hubby's son will arrive next week to look after him.

It is time I looked after myself.

It is time I began to disentangle my energy, my boundaries, my life force from Hubby. I know he will feel this, and I feel sorry. To feel your loved one detach (however slight) is painful. But I think it's time I walked my own path - in my own shoes.


Celia said...

How wise you are. You can't give someone something you haven't got. You need to fill that cup up as well as empty it. Reading about the relationship you two had and have,I suspect Hubby will know it's vital that you fill that cup and he will miss you while your gone too. His son will have an opportunity to be with his Dad in a special way.

Wendy said...

You're right about that Celia. Hubby has always lamented to me that he's holding me back from life. And I always said "it's o.k." He does understand. I had to get over the guilt of being the healthy one, of being able to fly free when the time comes.
And yes, I think it will be very good for Son to visit with Hubby.
Thanks for stopping by.

Maggie May said...

That was a powerful post and I think you are so wise. You do need to think of yourself too otherwise you will feel resentful and husband will feel guilty.
Strike a balance...... that's the way to do it.
Well done for recognizing the need. I wouldn't be able to cope without getting out of the house, even if it was for a walk of a day trip. You also need to meet other people outside the family.
I expect others will give you some respite.

Cheryl said...

My dear are indeed one of life givers. For some of us that is just what we do. But we all have needs.........we start to lose ourselves if we constantly give little bits and pieces of our soul away.....I believe that is what we do when we look after others, and forget about ourselves.
You, without doubt, deserve this holiday Wendy.....I hope you have the most wonderful time....enjoy my friend, I shall be with you in spirit.......

Shammickite said...

What a meaningful post, I am so glad that you were able to write this and get your true thoughts down on paper, so to speak. You are correct, you need to care for yourself too, as well as caring for those who need you. And also, your stepson will realise just how much you have been doing for his father.... and perhaps will appreciate you all the more!
You deserve a holiday... I wonder where you are off to? Wherever it is, I hope you enjoy every single minute of it. Hugs!

Wendy said...

Hi Maggie May, thank you. I also need to get out once a day at least. Go for a walk or even just to the grocery store.

Hi Cheryl, thank you for understanding. And being with me on my trip. I will send a seagull your way (no maybe not a seagull, how about a lovely warm breeze, just right for butterflies and bees to fly into your garden).

Hi Shammickite, thanks for your wise words. I'm off to Florida to bask in the sun, walk in the sand and swim in the ocean. Hurray!

Anonymous said...

This is a very powerful post Wendy. I admire you for sharing your internal struggle and the lessons you learned. And I am so happy that you are going to take a trip!!!! Good for you. In the long run it will be good for both of you I think. I know that I can't do the active things that hubby and I used to, but I encourage him to keep up at the activities and he has. I think that helps him handle the fact that I may be more help than I used to. I would never want him to lose You should write this up for caregivers and to those who get cared for....well done... Michelle

Ruth said...

I admire your ability to analyze and express your feelings on this subject. I see burnt out caregivers frequently and often they do not realize what they have given up and cannot see their own needs. They are consumed with guilt, anger and fear. I would like to print this post and share it with our psychologist at the hospital who counsels families in situations like you describe. I know if people heard your words, they may identify something within themselves.
Thanks so much for sharing from your heart, and have a wonderful vacation.

amelia said...

My commenting problem is fixed!! My son did it for me yesterday!

If you don't take care of yourself you won't be able to take care of your hubby. It's quite simple really. You discovered that already and it's so good to know that you did.

I am trying to do the same things with mother...

Rose said...

Every book and every magazine article about motherhood and caregiving always tells us that we need to take care of "ourselves" first. But that isn't easy, is it? I've never--thankfully--been in the position of caregiver, but having raised four kids I know that "me" always came last. Women have been trained since motherhood at least to always put the needs of others first.

I know this whole process of reflection and reaching a decision must have been very difficult for you, Wendy. But you've made the right choice! Spending some time attending your own needs should rejuvenate you. I'm so happy you're going to get away for awhile--enjoy your trip!

peppylady said...

As a caregiver who takes care of anther person and is assign certain hours per week.
I have a break. I learn a lot in taking care of others.
If their a chance to have someone come in and help some how. It will be a great for you.
I know here in the united states under medicaid/health and welfare. The government pays people for home care.

Take care with {{{Hugs}}}}and the coffee is on.

It hard to ask for help but at time it necessary

Wendy said...

Hi Michelle, I am glad you encourage your hubby to stay tuned into his own life. It must be hard for you, in a way, to watch him go off to work while you stay at home. But, I admire your courage. And thanks for your kind words. Blogging, sharing my feelings helps me to process my feelings.

Hi Ruth, you may certainly print up anything I've written. I feel honoured. If I can help anybody else try to untangle this web of emotions I will. Thank you.

Hi Amelia, glad your computer's fixed. I hope things are going well with your mom.

Hi Rose, I was going to make that comparison to motherhood, but felt it made the post too long. And it's long enough. But you're 100% right. We mothers always put ourselves last. And that's o.k. while our children are very young. But not forever. I don't like feeling angry, guilty, sad (who does?), so I look for the reason behind these feelings. It's almost an obsession, this why? why is this happening? why? or what can I do to change it?

Hi Peppylady, thanks for your wise words. Actually, I was thinking of when I was nursing. I'd wake up in the morning, take my shower, eat breakfast, drink coffee and then go and care for the patients in the hospital. I thought "hmmm, as a nurse I always looked after myself first." Even though it's a different situation and nursing is a job with different shifts, we still look to our own needs and then go to work. That helped me chase away the guilt feelings in this whole soup of emotions.
I'll have a cappuchino with cinnamon please. LOL!

Grammy said...

Oh Wendy,You are going to see the Ocean TOO! Yea! Take a loaf of bread with you, It is beyond awesome to feed the sea gulls. Throw the bread in the air and watch them catch it. So much fun. Wish you could have went with me.
I found to be away from each other for a bit was great medicine for me.

marmee said...

there is so much to say but to be have to nuture yourself if you are to be able to nuture others. that is something i learned a long time ago with 6 children and when my hubby was burned and had years of recovery. it can make you feel guilty but it shouldn' have to recharge and also getting away will give you a fresh prespective on things and new ideas on how to help your hubby and yourself better. i pray you will have a wonderful time of replenishing.

Abba's Girl said...

I pray you are mentally, physically, and spiritually refreshed on your trip and enjoy every minute of it.


Kanak Hagjer said...

Hi Wendy, this is a post I'll have to read again and again. I'm back from seeing my father struggling for life in a hospital. You and your posts have been constantly on my mind.

My mother has been a caregiver for thirteen years. At times she says that she needs to be away from my father. I'm glad you'll be on a trip. Make the most of it! We'll catch up...

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Good for you, Wendy...I have always known that the caregiver's job is MUCH MUCH harder than the patient...

You are right... Giving away your own life is what many caregivers do. BUT--then something wakes them up.

You do need your own life. You MUST take care of yourself FIRST. Get whatever help you can with your hubby ---and start living YOUR life again, my friend.

God Bless YOU!!!!

We are glad to be home.. It was a wonderful trip --just getting to see my son and family. BUT--the weather was horrible. Oh Well!!!!

I'm going to check through some of your older blog posts.

Wendy said...

Hi Grammy, thanks for your good wishes. I will have fun at the ocean. And come back more rested, I hope.

Hi Marmee, thank you for sharing such details of your own experience. Sounds like you had a lot on your hands, and I'm glad that part is over for you. I am learning to nurture myself. Something that should be easy, really isn't.

Hi Annette, thank you for your good wishes.

Hi Kanak, I am sorry to hear about your father. I hope your mother is smarter than I was and learned a long time ago to tend to her own needs. Glad you're back. We will catch up.

Hi Betsy, that's funny. Well strange, I mean. I never gave the caregiver's role a thought. Always thought it would be much harder for the patient. Well it is to a degree. They are the ones suffering day in and day out, but you've seen the Caregiver's side of things too. Now, I am experiencing it. Thanks for your kind words. Glad you're back from your trip. Oh, too bad about the weather, but what can you do?

JeanMac said...

I understand - touching post. Go and have a wonderful break. Sending love.

Abba's Girl said...

My area had winds, rain, hail, and was under a tornado warning Fri and Sat. Been beautiful here since Sunday. Had water come into 1 room. Not because of floods, but because we had 2 inches of rain in 30 min and it didn't flpw out of the back yard quickly enough. No big deal, but a mess to clean up. I need to bleach the baseboards one more time.


Mark said...

This is a great lesson you have learned and shared! There is a difference between being giving and giving yourself away.

Beverly said...

such a raw, honest post. I admire your process you went through to get to the answers. I hope you can spend some time with you, do what you want, eat what you want, and fill yourself back up. I feel like you, only I am caring for no one. I feel I have lost me somewhere, but, have no idea where?
Enjoy your to you when you get home.

Jean said...

This is a wonderful post! I'm so glad you are taking some time for yourself. I believe that when you return everything will go better because you will be rested and happy. Hubby may not know you but he will feel that you are in a better place. Just don't forget to read this post over if you find yourself falling into the old way again. Have a super trip! Jean

Q said...

Dear Wendy,
I am so proud of you!
It is a hard and long time to learn lesson, self care for care givers is never easy. Some of us cared for children and parents. That is draining! Caring for your life mate must be extreamly difficult. I admire you and respect you.
May you enjoy each monemt of vacation. May you feel refreshed, renewed and restored. May you continue to walk in your own beautiful shoes when you return home. I will hold you in my heart.
Happy You!

Wendy said...

HI Jeanmac, thank you.

Hi Annette, I'm glad you're o.k. Bleaching the baseboards does not sound like fun!

Hi Mark, thanks for stopping by. Yes, this was an "aha moment" for me.

Hi Beverly, I need to put my feelings down on paper. Maybe you just need a break from work or your routine. I hope you find yourself. I know how weird that feels.

Hi Jean, thanks for your good wishes. How wise you are. I was already falling back because of some little incidents lately. You are right, sometimes we need to reinforce our decisions or lessons.

Hi Sherry, how sweet you are. Thank you for your lovely and kind words.

white_lilly said...

My heart goes out to you Wendy, you have have had to make many hard decisions and travel a difficult journey. You know what is best for your own health and happiness and you have made wise decisions. How can you look after your hubby if your own physical and mental health suffers.A holiday will uplift and refresh you. Besides your hubby will have quality time with his son.

Take care

karin said...

This post has truly blessed me! I work in long-term care and counsel family members who have been and still are caregiver. This is exactly the advice I give them. You've just told your story exceptionally well and I'd like to use it in my ministry as a pastoral care assistant.