Strange Time

ML and I have been through a lot together. We’ve suffered and battled through difficult times, and it’s made us stronger. Yes, we’ve had rare moments that very nearly tore us apart, but we’re still here and standing strong together.

But this, this strange time is different. Family illness has separated us in the past, but we got through it. We’ll get through this as well, but we are suffering.

ML is working through this pretty much on his own. I am of little to no help. I’m barely keeping my head above water. I’m shit at looking after myself properly and find myself slipping effortlessly into darkness. I’m struggling to sleep, to keep myself fed, hydrated and clean, to keep Milly fed, hydrated and clean. Such simple tasks, but my sick body and mind don’t do well on their own.

I miss him. I want to help him. I’m watching him watch his parents’ decline. I’ve been there. It’s horrible. You’re suddenly faced with parents who stop being the carers and become people who require care. You stand back and watch as the light dims just a little everyday.

We should have been better prepared. We should have had a plan in place. We’d discussed possibilities, but hadn’t put anything in motion. We failed. And now we’re scrambling.

I say we, but all I’m doing is lifting the burden of my care just enough so ML can concentrate on finding a way to keep his Mum and Dad safe and happy. All I can do is assure him I’m fine and provide emotional support.

That too has been hard. All of this has brought feelings and regrets screaming back. I didn’t handle the loss of my parents well. It was a very dark time for me, and when it was all over, I fell down a deep dark hole.

I fear the same will happen to ML. He adores his parents. My relationship with my Mom and Dad was difficult at best. Their passing filled me with regrets – years spent being angry and lonely. ML hasn’t felt that. I’m hoping the fact that there is a great deal of love between them will bring him some peace. I’m yet to find mine.

I love his parents too. They have been wonderful to me. They love me as one of their own. Watching them grow small and weak has been horrible. And there’s nothing I can do. I occasionally sit with Mum allowing ML a small window of time to run errands and attend appointments. It’s a tiny thing, but even that makes me tired. I can imagine how exhausted ML is.

I want to hold him and tell him everything will be OK. I want to let him sleep for hours and cook him good nourishing meals. I want him to not have to go through this. I’m hoping for miracles and coming up with nothing. There is no one who will take his hand and lead him through this. He’s on his own and so am I.

Will we survive this? Of course we will. Will we come through this unscathed? Probably not. It will leave a mark and it will change us. But I have enough faith in our love and commitment to each other to know we’ll be fine.

And I’m grateful.

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Hanging On – Or Hoarding

I wonder what it is that makes it so hard for me to let go of things? What makes a hoarder? Is it related to my mental illnesses? I’ve always thought of it as building walls of stuff up around me to protect myself somehow. But really, how high do the walls need to be before I see the problem?

I’m pretty sure I have a problem. It’s not “Hoarders” on TV bad, but it’s still crippling. I don’t hang onto rubbish or spoiled food. I hang onto memories. I hang onto things that made me the various “me’s” I’ve been through the years. Professional me, flirty social me, skinny me, high maintenance me, fashion plate me….they all live here around me. In cupboards, and boxes and bins and piles on the floor. They all matter. But they serve no purpose other than to make my life difficult. I can never find what I really want in the piles and piles of stuff I don’t need. It slows me down and makes me anxious.

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And the cycle continues.

But, I’m making a start. I’ve made some small dents in some corners of the house. I’ve unlocked that part of me that just couldn’t make a start because it was all just too overwhelming. We’ve reached a crisis point, and I simply had to make a move. It was hard, I shed many tears, and my body aches from the effort. I got dirty and sweaty and stirred up a lot of spiders, but it was worth it. Now, I simply have to stop collecting/buying more stuff and bringing it into the house. And I need to keep moving on.

I have often wondered if my “problem” is a result of being raised by parents who lived through the war. They kept everything. My Dad came from nothing, my Mom had everything she needed, but life was still difficult during the war in the Netherlands. You had the basics if you were lucky, and not much else.

She loved beauty. I am my Mother’s daughter. Jewellery, perfume, clothes, shoes – she loved it all and bought a lot. My father never denied her. We often lived paycheque to paycheque, but we had a lovely comfortable home, good food, and we were always well turned out. That was important.

That, and toilet paper. We always had lots of toilet paper. And sugar. Lots and lots of sugar. I don’t have a sugar problem, but if there’s less than 24 rolls of toilet paper in the house, I get anxious. It drives ML nuts. It’s a big joke for him. I insist on good food – even though I don’t eat much these days. I’ve learned where I’m comfortable cutting corners so I can still enjoy the things I love.

My parents were the same. ML’s parents are the same. ML is a much more serious hoarder than I am. But, I had an advantage. I had a “break” in my life – I left Canada to move here and left a great deal of “me” behind. I started afresh as an Aussie wife – new life, new sort of work, a new me. Downsizing and clearing out was hard for me then too, but I had a new wonderful life to look forward to with a kind, gentle, loving man.

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And now we need to start another chapter. This one is much smaller, so we need to make ourselves smaller. All these memories – with no one to leave them to. We will take the time now to savour them, laugh together, and then let it go.

I’m grateful.

Fragrance Friday…All By Myself

ML is still staying with his Mum while his Dad is rebuilding himself in Rehab in hospital. It’s all been a bit overwhelming, but worst of all, I’m alone.

ML is more than my husband, he’s my best friend. I love his company. He keeps me “even”, and makes me laugh. Not an easy task these days. So, yes, I’m lonely.

We’ve also concluded that we need to move as quickly as possible in getting Mum and Dad in assisted accommodation, and with luck, find a unit for us within the same community or nearby.

So, I’ve been filling my long lonely hours clearing out boxes and bags of “stuff”. Stuff I brought over with me from Canada. Stuff ML had collected before we met. And all the stuff we’ve collected during out 22 years together.

We’re both sentimental hoarders. We both keep everything. It’s been incredibly difficult letting go of my “things”.

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I have an extensive collection of girly stuff – clothes, shoes, boots, skin care, make up…and perfume. Lots and lots of perfume. It’s sort of everywhere at the moment. Some sits here beside me next to my chair – the ones currently in favour, and of course my precious collection of Teone Reinthal Natural Perfumes. They’re snug and happy, and won’t need moving or sorting.

It’s the rest – some in cupboards, some in storage bins, some in boxes – and not just the bottles of fragrances – oh no – storage bins of boxes for fragrances (a true collector keeps the original box I’ve learned), bins of new and sealed back up bottles of duplicate fragrances (in case a favourite is “reimagined” or, worse, discontinued). But right now it’s all a bit chaotic. As I’ve been clearing drawers and cupboards, opening old boxes, I’ve been sorting out anything fragrance related and setting it aside. Wherever I happen to be sorting at that moment.

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So now, I have a gigantic task. I need to sort out empty boxes, put them into bins ready to move, sort out the scented lotions and box them up, sort through all the backups and put them into a bin for moving, and finally sort through the remaining dozens and dozens of bottles, decide which are keepers and which are not, wrap and box up the keepers ready to move, and finally, decide what to do with the unwanted.

There will be a lot of them. We’ll have a much smaller home. No room for large collections of anything. But how do I decide which stay, and which have to go. Some are obvious – I simply love them. Others are more difficult – not loves necessarily – but attached to a time or a specific memory. Can I let these go? There are quite a few that I can let go of easily – no connection. But then I need to find a way to dispose of them.

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Facebook, Carousell, Fragrantica, EBay (blech), Gumtree. But it’s all so messy and such hard work. Photos, posting, answering never ending questions, negotiating, and finally posting. It might just be easier to donate what’s left to charity. Or do giveaways and have people pay for the postage only. One way or another, they have to go. I need to make us smaller, and I need to streamline our lives.

Truth be told, it’s actually a wonderful feeling. Getting rid of the “stuff” excess to requirement. Once my girlie stuff is gone, it’s time the hit the kitchen and what’s left in the shed.

Then it’s ML’s turn. He works a lot more slowly than I do. When doing this sort of thing, you need to act swiftly. Spend too much time on single items, and nothing gets thrown away. Every piece of paper holds a special meaning. Every little thing carries a story. And although I’m sure they do, we have no more room in our lives for pieces of paper with special meaning. Hang on to the memory, smile, and move on.

After all, we are so much more than our “stuff”. We are a very lucky couple who love each other unconditionally. And as our memories fade, we’ll help each other remember those special moments and make each other smile.

I’m grateful.

Surviving…All By Myself

Yep, I’m doing it. I’m surviving. I’m remembering to take my meds. I’m remembering to feed Milly, keep her box clean, and making sure she has clean water. I’m keeping myself clean and hydrated and trying to get as much rest as I can.

I am lonely. I miss ML desperately. He tries to spend a couple of hours here everyday, bringing his Mum along of course. He looks pale and exhausted. It’s all too much for him. He’s trying to keep everything organized and make plans for the near future and the future future. We don’t have a lot of options.

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to keep on top of things here. I’ve managed to get the laundry done, I’ve kept up with keeping the kitchen clean, and I’ve started a major clear out.

Whatever happens, we will need to downsize. We’re both sentimental hoarders. I shipped a load of crap with me when I moved here – birthday cards, school records, art work (I use that term loosely – it was from Kindy), and old love letters. From old lovers.

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Thaaat’s right, I’ve been sitting on a box full of memories from my exes. No, I don’t know why. I don’t think I’ve ever pulled them out and read through them, but I brought them here with me. Nuts. So, I spent the morning today going through all that crap – I’ve hung onto a few “non ex related” things, but I’ve been ruthless. It’s all gone, and oddly, I feel lighter and free.

Dragging all that negativity around must have taken a toll. From Canada to Port Pirie, to Mount Gambier to the half dozen houses here in Adelaide – kept pulling all that garbage around with me. Now it’s gone. I have found the most wonderful love, and I don’t know why I hung onto that hurtful history. It makes no sense.

I’m sure to find a lot of other odd things through this clearout. I’m always amazed by the things I keep. The issue will be getting ML to actually go through with his clearout as well. He’s promised he will, but when he actually finds the time to sit down and do it, I know it will be painful.

I keep reminding him that we have no one to leave all this crap too. It’s only going to be a huge problem when we have to move (again), and heaven help the person that has to clear out our crap when we’re gone. No, I’d rather have control over how we’re remembered. I don’t want strangers reading bad poetry and love letters full of drama and angst.

So, I’ll enjoy them one last time. I’ve shed some tears, I’ve had some laughs, and now it’s gone. Time to look to the future without all that baggage. We have a lot to do. We are looking at making a lot of changes to out lives.

And once we’re done with our crap – ML’s Mum and Dad have a much larger house full of even more crap. But, I can’t think about that now. I’ll just concentrate on what I can do today, stay busy and healthy and wait for ML to come home.

I’m surviving. I’m grateful.

 

Honour Thy Father and Thy Mother

I married a man who loves his parents. I married a man whose parents love him unconditionally.

When he was 11, he had a stroke. It took away everything he had learned. He had to learn how to walk, talk, eat, read – everything – all over again.

His parents sat at his bedside the entire time he was in hospital. They watched as he was poked and prodded, tested and tutted over. In the beginning, no one really knew what had happened to him. They cried together and waited for him to be the son they knew again.

When they finally discovered he’d had a stroke, he required open heart surgery. At 11. He had a faulty heart valve that needed repair. Waiting while your son is being cut into, and while he healed must have been devastating. No parent wants to see their child suffer. And he suffered.

Rehab was long and exhausting. They were patient and persistent. It took a long time before he was ML again. It brought them closer. A loving unit of three.

One of the many things I love about ML is the way he loves his parents. He treats them with incredible respect. If you want to know how a man will love you and treat you, look at how he treats his Mum. It’s a very good indicator.

I didn’t have that sort of relationship with my parents. It was difficult and bumpy. We went through long periods of anger and silence. If I fell slightly below their “perfection” bar, I was not loved. I was tolerated. It was hurtful and left scars.

When ML and I met we compared scars. His were physical, mine were mental and emotional. The fit was perfect. He had grown into a tender caring man – in part I suppose as a result of what he went through, and being loved and loving his family. I could sense it in all that he did, in the way he cared for me. I hit the jackpot.

When I left Canada for Australia, I sat down and told my parents of my plan. It all happened rather quickly and I expected some concern. Something to indicate they would miss me and that they would try to talk me out of it. Nothing. I was 32. I was a grown up. Best of luck. Safe journey.

And yet, when I lost them, I was devastated. I wept for what I wished we could had been.

ML is facing the same devastation. The difference is that he adores his parents. Watching him go through this is excruciating. We all know it will happen one day, but when the light begins to go out, it’s always shocking. These people who supported him, held him up, loved him without question – always. He’s in charge now.

He’s scrambling to find them care. He’s sitting at his mother’s side, trying to make her understand what is happening. No Mum, Dad will probably not be coming home. Your lives will change completely. Dad can no longer care for you. You both need care. You can’t stay in your home. You have to go somewhere where you will no longer be in charge of your own lives.

He sits at his Dad’s bedside. His Dad can’t speak properly, and we’re not sure if he truly understands what’s happening. ML tries to make him understand. He’s now in charge. He’s the grown up. Every decision he makes affects them both tremendously.

I wish I were stronger. I wish I could do more. I wish I could share the load. I’m trying. I’m looking after myself as much as I can. We’re both scared.

And yet, through all this, even though I’m not very useful, he loves me.

I’m grateful.

Failing

It’s really hard to be friends with a person with a mental illness.

I’m painfully aware of this. What do you say? Do you stay away? Do you check in? I can’t do anything to help. I can’t say anything to help.

Add to that a shopping list of physical ailments, and it’s suddenly so much harder.

I don’t lie anymore. When someone asks how I am, I tell the truth. I’m sad, life is hard at the moment, and I’m in a lot of pain.

What sort of a friend would I be if I lied and said I was “fine”. Probably a better one. One who would be easier to maintain a friendship with.

So, I tread a fine line. Somewhere between “fine” and “failing”. If I told the whole truth each time someone checked in for a chat, I’d have nothing left.

I’ve been alone with Milly for a couple of days now. I’ve had too much time to think. Too much time in my head. Too much time to feel lonely and sorry for myself.

ML needs to be with his parents right now, and I’m OK with that. His Dad has had a mini stroke, but will need weeks of rehab to regain some degree of normalcy. He will no longer be able to be Mum’s primary carer. ML is trying to stay afloat on a sea of confusion on a paper plate. He doesn’t know where to turn. Add the sudden awareness that he may well lose both of his parents sooner rather than later, and he’s a mess.

I can’t help. There is nothing I can do. When he checks in, I’m “fine”. I’m not fine. I’m “failing”. This is not the time to fail. This is not the time to fall. But I am. I know what’s in store for ML. I need to be here to hold him up, to hold his hand, and hold him when he falls. We’re a desperate pair.

I’ve been ill for quite a few years now, and in that time, friends fell away. I was unable to socialize, and ML felt his place was at my side caring for me. I’m high maintenance. As much as I’ve encouraged him to maintain his friendships, he’s made the choice to stand by me. I love him for it, but it has meant that we’ve lost contact with almost all of our “couple” friends. Some have divorced, some have moved on. Some have realised that we’re too hard to be friends with. Fair enough. I completely understand. Friendship has to work both ways, and I am no longer able to hold up my end.

So, we find ourselves treading water on our own. I don’t think anyone knows what’s happening at the moment, and I know ML will not reach out and ask for help. He has tried to hang onto a few friends on his own, but so much has changed, and the amount of time between contacts has stretched out more and more as the years have gone by.

They were never really my friends. I walked in from the blue – a total stranger with no shared history. We had so little in common from the start, and our relationships felt forced and awkward. We didn’t have kids, we lived in a “late in life love bubble”, neither of us drink, and we’ve never had the money to travel with our couple friends. Fancy restaurants were not a part of our life. We’ve never had a big house for holding get togethers or dinner parties. We lived just outside the “couple friends” circle.

I had “work friends”, but after so many years, they’ve moved on. ML works with a very small group of people, and sees very little of them day to day. He’s generally on his own, so there’s no time to develop relationships. Volunteers come and go.

We’ve always been “too hard”. I’m way “too hard”.

It happened so gradually. I think we’ve both just opened our eyes and found ourselves quite alone. Just when we need support, there’s none to be found. Mum and Dad have outlived most of their friends. All of their extended family are in the UK. All of mine are in Canada, The Netherlands, South Africa – pretty much everywhere but here.

ML and I got so comfortable in our bubble, and then so busy trying to make me well, that we didn’t notice we were alone. Illness is isolating.

So now, ML is last man standing. The burden is overwhelming. I want to find the right words to make it OK. I want to kiss it better. But I can’t.

We’re way past that.

All By Myself

I lived many years on my own. I left home at 18, and didn’t marry until I was 32. I had relationships and “sleepovers”, but I never had a live in relationship in all those years.

I didn’t mind being alone. Honestly. I don’t mind my own company. I was always able to stay busy.

But now, after being happily married for almost 22 years, I no longer like being on my own.

ML has moved in with his Mum temporarily. His Dad is in hospital. We don’t know what’s wrong with him, but he can’t speak properly, and can’t walk. He’s not really sure what’s happening, and we’re waiting on test results.

His Mum is in the early stages of dementia. She can’t be left on her own. Our home is too small to have her stay here, plus the extra strain on me would be overwhelming. I’m anxious and depressed as it is, fell unwell all the time, and in pain most of the time.

ML is my primary carer. I don’t leave the house unless I absolutely have to. Right now, his Mum needs him more, so it’s just me and Milly for now.

I thought I’d be OK. But this could go on for a while. At this point, it doesn’t look like ML’s Dad will be going home for quite some time, and even when he does, he will not be able to care for ML’s Mum as he has been.

Until we have some answers, we’re not sure where to go from here. We had made a plan to move into a retirement community – ML’s parents in one unit and ML and I in another nearby. In doing so, Mum and Dad could get the extra care they require, and so could I. It would take a lot of pressure off of ML. He’s tired. It’s too much. But that’s all been put on hold for now.

In the meantime, I’m on my own. And I’m stuck. I have a wonderful neighbour I know I can call on for help in an emergency, but I’m alone. Miss Milly doesn’t leave my side, and we’re muddling through together, but she doesn’t remind me to take my meds. She can’t help me shower. She doesn’t nag at me to drink enough fluids and try to eat something.

So, stupidly, I’ve written a daily to do list. Feed Milly, change her water, take meds….etc. And I check off each task as I complete them. I double check the doors are locked. I keep the lights and TV on all night. It’s too quiet in the dark.

But more than this, I miss my husband. I never take him for granted, but being without him has made me realise just how much I adore this man. He’s my best friend. He always manages to squeeze out a laugh, or a smile at least. He’s comforting and strong – he makes me feel loved and safe.

He’s only twenty minutes away – a phone call away – but he may as well be on the moon. I feel stupid and childish, but selfishly, I want him here where he belongs.

Right now his parents need him more. I will have to suck it up and carry on. I know I can do this, I don’t want to. But I will.

And I am grateful for being reminded of just how much I love my husband.