Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chipmunk Face

After Kelsey died, I spent quite a few posts ruminating over our history with her eating disorder and trying to look at the mistakes we made as parents.  After I exhausted that topic, I have spent a lot of my energy of just stepping through the processes of surviving a deep, shocking grief and the daily challenges we've faced trying to square ourselves with what happened and what happens next.  But now I'd like to step back into the past a bit once more and look at an aspect of the whole thing that I didn't address, which is taking care of yourself as parents in the process.  This is unabashedly meant as a cautionary tale for anyone who is a caretaker of another individual:  young child, ill family member, aging parent, etc.  And the lesson is simple:  don't do as I do, do as I say.

Going back to the body image issues I'm struggling with and blogged about recently, there are some other issues I'm contending with that are directly related to how the last few years of my life played out.  And, after a while, the hole you dig for yourself is so deep that it is hard to climb back out.   What brought it to mind was that I woke up yesterday morning with half a chipmunk face.  I've got a bad tooth that I've had for a while and it causes me issues.  It got that way because I grind my teeth at night, which I've been doing a lot lately for some reason.  Finally, I just aggravated it so badly it is swollen to the point where it looks like I'm storing nuts for the winter in half my face.  If you try and touch me, bad things are likely to happen.  To both of us.  My body seems to be screaming at me that I need to go back to the dentist, but I am fairly adept at turning a deaf ear to my body's messages, so I'm trying to ignore this and hope it goes away before Saturday when Marissa and I are supposed to go to the ballet.  That would be fun - I'll scare all of the rich socialites.

The biggest issue I have is my own fear.  Not of doctors or needles or even pain.  It's the fear of walking in to a dentist or doctor and having to say to them I haven't had a check-up in ____ years and not being judged.  Because I tried to right the ship after Kelsey died and went to a dentist.  Let me just say it was not a good experience.  And what am I supposed to say?  Look, I took care of two daughters through their troubled teenage years and then my mother in her final years, so back the [bleep] off?  I know they mean well.  But I don't need their sanctimonious humiliation.  I need their help.  If I can't get the one without the other, I can't deal.

I am not alone.  Far from it.  I found this on http://www.nfcacares.org/:

Nearly three quarters (72%) of family caregivers report not going to the doctor as often as they should and 55% say they skip doctor appointments for themselves. 63% of caregivers report having poor eating habits than non-caregivers and 58% indicate worse exercise habits than before caregiving responsibilities.
Evercare Study of Caregivers in Decline: A Close-Up Look at Health Risks of Caring for a Loved One.
National Alliance for Caregiving and Evercare. 2006.

I could be their poster child.  And it happens without your really realizing it.  It's not necessarily because you're being a martyr (although I have that personality), but it's because this is rarely how you envision your life going, so you don't have a life plan that includes handling a family in crisis while finding time to go to the gym each morning and get your hair and nails done each week.  Instead, it comes upon you like a Tsunami that lasts for years and you're so busy trying not to drown in it, you don't think about anything else.

Speaking just for me, there were days where we'd have as many as three doctor's appointments in one day.  There was never a week where they weren't at least a few.  Doctors, therapists, nutritionists.  Inpatient treatment.  Outpatient treatment.  I spent so much time in various waiting rooms that I just sort of lost sight of the fact that none of those appointments were for me.  And, had I really thought about it, I would have said that I could not take the time to go.

When it does suddenly hit you that it's been a while - like when you wake up with a face that's twice the size it was the night before - you really don't know what to do about it.

I may have said this before, but one of the things a therapist said to me early on is, "It's not about you."  And it's not.  But, I probably took that a little too far.  Because at some point, the tide turns and someone will have to take care of the wreck that I could potentially become, and that is not my intent:  for myself or for whomever is unlucky enough to have to deal with my adult diapers.

The moral to the story is two-fold:  taking care of yourself while taking care of others will benefit your eventual caregivers, so remember to take some time out to change your own oil occasionally.  Secondly, don't touch my face!

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