I split my day yesterday between handling a Saturday conference call for work, and going to see a friend in the hospital who may be dying. It really wasn’t fair. To anyone.
The phone call happened at 8 a.m., when a co-worker called to ask me if I was going to join the conference bridge. Sh*t! I knew the call was scheduled. I’d been talking about it all week. But Friday night, my spouse got news that our friend needed to see us soon, so we gathered that they were doing poorly and we needed to see them one last time before they passed away.
Their whole situation has really sucked. They have an aggressive and rare form of cancer, and their numbers have been up and down over the past year. They underwent a last round of treatment — a last-ditch effort — and the results were not what the doctors hoped for. So, they’re preparing for the memorial service, getting their affairs in order, and seeing people one last time before they go.
That’s where my head was, yesterday morning. And it took my mind off my regularly scheduled activities, which included the conference call. That wasn’t fair to my co-workers, because I had promised them I’d be on the call at 7:00 a.m., but I didn’t show up till 8:15. I felt terrible about it, but we just had to dig in and take care of what needed taking care of. It sort of happened, sort of didn’t.
We’ll try again on Monday.
The trip down to the hospital, which is in the next state, also wasn’t fair to me. I was really worn out, in general, and pushing myself to help my spouse get their act together, while they struggled with all the emotional baggage, really over-taxed me. It was nothing new — that’s how things have been in my life, as long as I can remember. I’m just getting more clear about how unfair that really is to me. Avoidable or not, whether I want to do it or not, stuff will need to get done, of course. So, I can’t expect life to be fair to me, the way I’d like it to be.
The important thing is that I’m actually thinking about how it works for or against me. And I’m getting clearer on how to better care for myself in the face of life’s inherent unfairness.
And then there’s our friend. Their dire, extremely mortal situation is completely unfair. They’ve lived a good life full of compassion and service… and then thishappens? Bizarre. Tragic. Unfair. And the financial burden on their kids, who have to pay for all the hospital bills (for a journey that isn’t ending up where anybody wants it to), is also deeply unfair. They should only have to pay for what works, but of course, they’ll have to pay for everything. And they’ll still have a massive hole left in their lives.
The whole thing really pisses me off. But that really only impacts me. It doesn’t change anything about life.
The one thing it does impact, is how I live my own life, how I know I have to take care of myself and make my own provisions and line up my own help in the way that I need, because my spouse really isn’t in any shape to come to my aid, if something really bad happens to me and I become incapacitated. This whole experience of watching our friend struggle through so much just re-emphasizes how important it is for me to take excellent care of myself. Because nobody else really can, the way I need them to.
And life isn’t fair.
So I have to adjust to that fact. I have to do everything in my power to keep myself in good stead… and also put supports in place that will help me, should I end up on my own and/or get into a situation where I’m no longer self-sufficient and need assistance.
I actually am pretty much on my own, anyway. But things could get worse for me. So much worse.
Plan accordingly, I tell myself. Plan accordingly.
So, last night I was fixing supper, and I messed something up. My spouse was in the kitchen with me, and they started saying things that sounded critical to me, like they can do better than me. I got really agitated and frustrated, and I had a bit of a blow-up at them. I was really angry over them finding fault with what I was doing and comparing their own performance to mine. It was a double put-down. 1) I screwed up, 2) they can do so much better than me.
It really pissed me off, and I got so angry, and then they went into their usual behavioral “repertoire” of acting like I was a bad person for getting angry and yelling — like I was threatening them and being abusive. Oh Lord, oh Lord, oh Lord… I was upset and trying to express myself, and all they could do was make me look like I was the one at fault, and my anger was a threat to them.
I got pretty angry — not over the top, throwing-things angry, but so frustrated and agitated that I almost couldn’t see. And then POP, something in my head felt like it snapped, and I had this sensation of my brain locking up and slowing down to a crawl. It was like someone cracked open a smelling salts capsule — but it had the exact opposite effect. I instantly felt dull and numb, with my face numb and tingling, and my hands tingling. I could physically feel it in my head. I turned into an instant idiot — it was hard for me to understand what was being said, and I couldn’t put words together. My head felt like it had filled up with cotton, and I was suddenly so dull.
I didn’t think it was a stroke, because I haven’t been impaired on one side of my body or the other — and I stuck out my tongue to see if it bent from one side or the other, and it didn’t.
Then again, according to the National Stroke Association, here are the signs of stroke:
Stroke symptoms include:
SUDDEN numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg – especially on one side of the body.
SUDDEN confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
SUDDEN trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
SUDDEN trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
SUDDEN severe headache with no known cause.
So, maybe it was one. I don’t know. One side of my body wasn’t weaker than the other, which is what I usually associate with stroke. I have a meeting with my neuropsych this afternoon, so I’ll check with them. I’m hesitant, because I don’t want trouble from all this. Plus, it has happened to me before — about 3 weeks ago after a meeting when I got really upset with the behavior of some of the folks in the meeting. It was very similar to that time — I felt something “pop” in my head, and I turned into an instant idiot — couldn’t put words together, had trouble speaking, felt slow, and had a low-grade headache.
This time I didn’t get nearly as angry. But the feeling was the same, and now I’m dense and dull and I’m having trouble putting words together. Three weeks ago, it passed. And it didn’t seem like a big enough deal to investigate. It was not much worse than other “episodes” I’ve had in the past, and when I tried to investigate them before, nobody seemed to think they were that big of a deal, and I felt like an idiot for even bringing them up.
I know I’m supposed to go to the ER as soon as I suspect I’m having a stroke, but how would that work, exactly? I can’t miss work, because then I don’t get paid. And my mortgage won’t wait. I’m the only one who’s supporting my household, and if I’m out of work, we’re all pretty much screwed.
I started to get a headache after a while, last night, and I took some Advil, but it didn’t really help. I still have that headache in the front and top of my head, and also towards the back where I hit my head on Saturday.
Seizure? Stroke? Whatever. I’m sounding a little nonchalant about this, I guess, but my feeling is that this kind of stuff has happened with me so often over the years, it’s just one more thing. And even if I did have a stroke, I know how to fix my brain, and manage my issues, so I’m not all that worried. Hell, even if I do become really hampered by my brain, I know how to live my life in a way that brings me happiness and joy. I know how to bounce back and keep going, so I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing.
I am reminded of a number of things I need to do is stay vigilant about:
Remember that my spouse is actually mentally ill. Their panic/anxiety disorder has wreaked havoc, and it is a genuine mental illness. They seem to believe that their anxiety is keeping them “safe” from whatever dangers may be out there, and the “help” they are getting from friends and their therapist seems to only reinforce their fears and their devotion to their “precautions”. They are so absolutely imprisoned by their fear about every conceivable thing on the planet, that anyone around them has to abide by their brittle rules or bear the brunt of their wrath. They feel safe when everything is going their way, but it’s absolutely smothering and restrictive for anyone who does not share their view.
Underlying all this anxiety is a handful of neurological issues which are screwing with their thought process. It’s not something I can take personally, when they go off on me. I love and adore my spouse and would love to spend more time with them. Still, it’s really hard to be around them. The other thing that makes it all hard, is that I’m just about the only one who can spend any extended time around them — they’ve chased off just about everyone else with their anxious control. And they don’t understand why that is. Explaining won’t make any difference, because to them, their fears all make perfect sense — and it’s neurological. So there’s only so much explaining I can do.
I need to take care of myself and get what I need for myself to stay strong. I was tired, last night, and I pushed myself too hard. I need to back off and take some time to myself, especially when I spend extended periods with my spouse. My spouse and I had gone for a drive earlier, yesterday before my outburst, and they are so anxiety-ridden about just about everything, that it’s very stressful to be around them. It’s like a never-ending drama — over huge dangers and threats which seem like they’re nothing to me. When I do the driving, they constantly boss me and yell at me about how I drive, where I should turn, what I should do. It’s a total friggin’ drain.
I need to keep to a regularly active schedule. I was out of sorts already, last night before my outburst, because I was off my regular schedule. I also did not expend enough energy over the weekend and wear myself out physically. I need that. I need to keep active and tire myself out, so I don’t think too damn’ much.
My spouses’ way of living is not healthy — for them or for anyone. They spend a lot of time sitting around thinking about shit that makes them crazy, and they end up pulling me into their undertow. When I am around them, they use me as a “sounding board” which just sucks me into their downward spiral. This is not good. I need to keep myself up and elevated and healthy and take regular breaks when I spend a lot of time around them.
Truthfully, I actually need to protect myself from the one person I love with all my heart. It’s kind of tough, but there it is. If I can think of it as protecting myself from the demons that are eating them alive, that’s a better way to look at it. But it’s still very painful to watch them on that downward spiral, and be helpless to do anything about it.
Having extra days off can be good, but they can be be bad, too.
I just have to keep all this in mind and take the best care of myself that I can.
My head hurts. I’m foggy and dull… and a little bit afraid of bringing up the episode last night with my neuropsych. I’m afraid of what might happen if they tell me to go to the hospital and get checked out. But at the same time, if I don’t get the help I need, then what?
On the bright side, I’ve got almost four months’ worth of pay stashed in the bank, so if I do have to take some time off, I can. My mortgage is taken care of for the next month, and I’ve got enough to at least keep going, if I need to take some time.
Ideally, it won’t come to that. But when I think it through, the fact is, I can afford to take a week (even a month) off work, if I have to. I could even go to part-time for the short term, and we’d be okay for at least three or four months.
Anyway, speaking of work, I’ve got to get going. My fingers aren’t typing very well, and I’m fortunate to work with folks who have never seen me at my peak, so they have no idea just how impaired I am, right now. I’ll just get through the day, talk to my neuropsych, and try to keep as clear as possible, so I can make the right decisions and do the right things.
Main thing is to keep chilled out and cool. I’m really bummed out that I couldn’t even make it through a weekend with my spouse without yelling and getting upset. We were doing so well… that is, I was doing so well. They were doing really shitty. But all I can control is myself. So, I have to take care of what I can control — myself — as much as humanly possible.
It occurred to me over the past few days, while walking and breathing, that doing conscious breathing would be an excellent way to spend the hour(s) you have to wait to be seen in the emergency department. ED visits consume an average of 222 minutes of waiting. That’s over three and a half hours. That’s time taken away from doing what you would rather be doing.
What a waste, right? Well, if you take the time there, to focus in on your breathing, to slow down your system, and chill out your sympathetic nervous system with mindful breathing that brings the focus away from all the terrible things that could happen and focuses it on your breath — the one thing you can be certain of — it can do you a whole lot of good.
How? By directing your state of mind away from you panic and into the areas of your brain that are more logical and more centered and better able to communicate with the doctors and nurses, and get them the information they need, to help treat you.
Time spent in the emergency department doesn’t have to be wasted. Nor does have to be consumed by fear and anxiety and dread. You have other options for how to direct your attention.
And if you direct it to your breathing, that can be 222 minutes well-spent.