I’ve run out of ‘fake.’

I’ve been called a “fake it ’til you make it” type and that’s probably accurate. I do try to look on the bright side, to laugh rather than cry. And I am able to get things done while projecting a measure of confidence—usually. Lately, however, I’ve run out of “fake.” After nearly 16 years grappling with my husband’s journey from a “mild dementia” diagnosis to “can’t rule out Alzheimer’s,” I’ve spun out.

My spin has shocked me because life has actually eased in recent months. Peter is more settled and, in fact, he’s turned into an 81-year-old version of a ten-year-old class clown. He flirts, he lays on his English accent, he entertains residents and staff alike with his antics. He’s in as good a place as he can be physically and mentally. He has his favorites amongst the ladies who he looks out for and helps when he can, although the other day I watched him guide a resident into the wrong room. She knew it wasn’t hers, but he insisted. I ended up directing her across the hall to her door.

So why have I fallen apart? I should be less stressed, but I’m not. Have I spread myself too thin?

For one thing, with Peter more comfortable I’ve turned my attention to other problems. Although he gets good care in the best facility around, I have some gripes. For one thing, his not taking his medications is at the top of my list. It is simply not acceptable that he gets away with his shenanigans to avoid taking them. Again, when I walked in Friday afternoon, his three morning pills were lying on the table in plain few!

I’ve complained about other issues and they’ve been acted upon. That’s good. So now I’m considering ways to get the large raised flower bed dug over so residents—particularly the men who crave more activity—could plant flowers and more vegetables than they are able to grow in the one small raised plot. Then too, the gazebo should be spruced up — Peter decided the other day that the ceiling should be painted a beautiful sky blue — and the outdoor furniture should be replaced. How nice it would be to have a table and chairs in the gazebo where residents could sit, have a snack, play a game. Where we could have a cup of tea without balancing it on our knees. Is that too much to ask for the amount we pay for monthly care?

I don’t think so, but at the moment I’m stalled, burned out, stuck. To aid the burn-out, I’ve been advised to stop visiting him so often, usually four to five days a week. It is wearing and since he never remembers I’ve been there, I should allow myself to take days off. That’s tough. I want to visit because sometimes, sometimes, there’s a glimmer of the man I married, and I always get a hug before I leave. I always hope that somehow—osmosis?—my visits will have made his day better.

How many times over these years have I been told that the caregiver needs to take care of herself? Well, I admit to being stuck between a rock and a hard place lately, but I’ve taken steps. I’m learning to compartmentalize, I’m exploring mindfulness, I’m breathing deeply to meditative music, I continue my every other week massages, and I continue to look for laughs every day. So far I haven’t stilled my spinning brain by much, but I’m a work in progress.

Tiny flowers thrive in crevices in long-abandoned Inishmurray, County Donegal, Ireland, 2009

Header photo: Guillemots cling to tiny ledge on Cliffs of Moher, County Clare, Ireland, 2009.

2016 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ contest finalist. 

20 thoughts on “I’ve run out of ‘fake.’

  1. Hmmm…you slow down? Where do you think we get it from!!
    Peter does know you’ve been there…if for only that moment. I feel that’s what you have to figure out.
    For that moment, you’ve made his day…you’ve made him happy, and yourself, in the process.
    Enjoy your friends, your gardens and your books. It’s okay to slow down and breathe.

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  2. Oh dear ! Carolynn would see the nurse in me because pills at the bedside is …state reportable…make waves Judy. Go right to the top ….
    I can so relate to the daily visits, hopeful they really remember.. wore me out. You have to take care of you too, it’s hard to do… I know. Hugs. Amy

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  3. SO much harder on the caregiver as you are finding out. You visit Peter as often as you want. You need and so does he those hugs and connection to your hearts. I love your ideas though for the place he is at…only problem is administration is clueless and lacking common sense! Gardening and relaxing outside far better medicine and I bet never refused! Go easy on yourself, rest and then start up the campaign again! Hugs!

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  4. Well, you go with “glass half full” for a while, but sometimes it tips over, no matter how carefully you walk —you’ll get your balance again. After years and years of very gradually accommodating the world to Peter’s growing difficulties, it’s got to be just plain weird when much of that is taken care of by others. A blessing, but it does leave a care partner sort of pedaling-in-air….
    Thanks for writing about all of this.

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  5. Now we’re on the same page, Judy. Your most telling comment is ‘now Peter is more comfortable’. Perhaps not exactly the same, but whilst I had all the renovations to keep me sane (no, that’s not an oxymoron) I survived. Now finished I’m struggling. Chose your replacement work carefully or you’ll just become frustrated, although what you have in mind will probably do it for you. Still searching for mine. All love xx

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  6. Write down the issues that are overwhelming, prioritize them and then pick your battles. They can’t all be won at once so pick the most important…Of course the first is the med issue and I would choose the garden next because while in the garden, I find a lot of answers. My Dad’s answer was “when life piles do-do on you, wash it off in the garden and watch the flowers blossom. “

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  7. Judy, I think it’s called caregiver burnout. Give yourself a break, you have every right to feel downish and more anxious. Sixteen years is a long time to have been the person who had to be responsible, to be “on” all the time, and to always be planning ahead. Whatever it is that makes you the most comfortable, that refreshes you, is what you need to do and no one can really tell you what that is. Personally, I think doing just what you’re doing, share what is going on with your daughters and friends, is the right thing to do. Everyone on here is there for you! Doesn’t have to be on here….phone works too!
    Hugs my friend,
    Karolyn

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  8. My Mom suffers from dementia, and she’s only 69. It began several years ago. Is heartbreaking as the Mom I once knew is no longer there. She and my Dad have been married for 52 years this year. He’s 75 and takes care of her. It wears on him greatly. We do have other care that she receives 3 x’s per week (someone comes in to their home). I really enjoy what you share and your perspective. I could especially identify with “…sometimes, there’s a glimmer of the man I married, and I always get a hug before I leave. I always hope that somehow—osmosis?—my visits will have made his day better.” I feel like that about Mom. But it also makes me sad. If she does sometimes “come out of it” does she really know what she’s become. I couldn’t have wished this for her in a million years, or dream it would have happened. I miss her.

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    • Thanks so much for your kind remarks, Shelley. Sixty-nine is so young, and so is 75, for that matter. (I can say that from my perspective of 80 years.) The whole thing is very tough. Peter had been going through a good stretch for some weeks, but now he’s back to packing everything up every day. Hang in there. At least the days aren’t all the same!

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