There are a lot of things I want to tell you about. I want to talk about Fritter’s birthday, and how cute she is. I want to talk about my father and his struggle with Alzheimer’s. And I want to talk about Outlander because HOLY CRAP did I dislike that book.
But I feel like I need to tell you this more, so you can understand why I haven’t talked about all of these things.
We went home to Nova Scotia for three weeks in March. My parents hadn’t seen the kids in over a year, and my father is deteriorating and I wanted to spend some time with him. Plus my mother is worn from care giving so I wanted to help in whatever minor capacity I could.
It was nice.
I mean, it’s always nice to visit home although it’s feeling less like home with every visit. It was nice to see that my father still knows who I am. It was nice to hug my mother and offer to run an errand for her or sit with Dad so she could run an errand.
But it was also nice to just be free of things for a bit.
For three weeks, I didn’t have to go to work. I didn’t have to stand for hours in a vet clinic. I didn’t have to drive an hour to meet a training client who lives far away. I didn’t have to suffer the financial anxiety that comes with an empty schedule or the social anxiety of having lots of appointments booked.
For three weeks, I had someone there at all times who I could turn to and say things like, “Can you watch the baby while I take a shower?” or “Do you mind if I go upstairs and take a nap?”
For three weeks I had regular meals prepared for myself and the kids, dishes were washed, and laundry was folded.
When staying with my mother-in-law, I would be feeding the baby in the morning and she would walk in, take the spoon, and say, “get out of here.” And I’d scoot back upstairs and sleep for like THREE MORE HOURS.
And then, halfway through the visit, I realized that I was halfway through the visit.
The dread started.
I’d just be sitting there doing nothing, and I’d find myself close to tears because I remembered that in just a little more than a week, I’d be on my own again.
Of course, I shouldn’t say that I would be on my own, because I still have PH. You know, the man who wants to cook all my meals and do all the housework and generally make my life as easy as possible. But he’s still ill. He sleeps a lot of the time, and even very minor stressors give him the sudden need to be unconscious.
The disease strikes without warning, too. One minute he might be washing dishes or cooking dinner or playing with the kids. Then, a minute later, he’s turning to me and saying, “See you Friday.” And that’s that. On Tuesday I can say, “Hey, are you cool if I go out to a movie with my friend on Thursday night?” and then at five o clock on Thursday I end up scrambling to find a babysitter because he’s down and I’m due to meet my friend in half an hour and we already have the tickets.
Every statement he makes in the future tense has the unspoken, ‘unless I’m too depressed’ caveat attached to it, whether it’s doing the dishes or a date night.
I called a friend at 7:00 one night and said, “Want to go to a movie with me right now? A friend took both kids overnight so we could have a date night but now he’s too tired to go out.” (She said yes)
“Life would be so much easier if I could schedule my depression,” PH said miserably the other day. I agree wholeheartedly.
Uncertainty and sudden plan changes don’t work well for an anxiety sufferer.
I never know what to expect… ever. I can start out with my wonderful husband and end up with him being taken by The Depression by the end of the day. Or I can start out with The Depression in charge and then have him wake up, emerge, talk with me, do some dishes… and then disappear again. Like the sun coming out from behind one cloud before it disappears behind another. And no one has the forecast. Or the forecast is wrong 50% of the time.
So that means that in order to have a remotely manageable life, I need to plan for rain all the time. I need to assume that I’ll be the one preparing dinner. I need to assume that I will be the one getting up with the kids in the morning. I need to assume that I will need child care if I want to go out. And if it turns out that I’m wrong, then great. Hurrah! But if I get complacent, if I assume that he will do the thing he usually does/said he would do/hoped to do… then I get burned.
So it feels like being on my own because most responsibilities are mine by default.
…Not great for an anxiety sufferer.
I walk around with a constant fist of stress around my heart. I never know what to expect – what is going to be asked of me today. I try to assume the worst and hope for the best. I try to forgive myself on the days when I leave the dishes in the sink. I try to forgive myself for the mess on the floor. I try to forgive myself for my irritation with my kids, especially Owl, when my anxiety is high and my patience is sunk to the bottom.
When I show my stress at being unable to meet all of my responsibilities, PH gets frustrated with me, because he still thinks that they’re his responsibilities. He’s the one who cooks and cleans, remember? He’s the one falling down on the job.
But they aren’t his jobs any more – not really. They are tasks that he is expected to do if he can do them. But if he can’t… they default to me.
So really, they are my jobs unless he can do them, in which case, he does.
There’s nothing I can do about the fact that my husband is disabled. Sometimes, in life and marriage, shit happens. I know a woman whose husband had a work accident and now he’s quadriplegic. What’s she gonna do? Leave him because he can’t do the dishes? Of course not.
I blame work for a lot of my anxiety.
Because you know what? When I was on maternity leave, I was okay. You can go back and see the difference between my posts before maternity leave, during maternity leave, and after maternity leave. In the posts where I have a baby between 0 and 12 months of age, I am able to find the funny side of things. I’m not always happy, but I’m handling it.
You can almost see the line in the sand where I have gone back to work.
It’s not even the work itself that is the problem. I genuinely enjoy training dogs. I often leave my clients’ houses with a smile on my face. I like the people at the vet clinic, too. It’s not like the old days or the other old days when I was bullied and miserable.
It’s just that working makes me anxious.
As soon as someone employs me to do something, I have an obligation to fulfill. I can’t wake up and decide that I’m too anxious today, too tired, too focused on the sequel to my book… I have obligations, and they must be fulfilled. No, I can’t just call in sick or something because a) that’s a change of plans, and changes of plans make me anxious and b) it’s letting someone down, and letting people down makes me anxious. So fulfilling the obligation is the least-anxiety inducing choice, but it is still anxiety inducing.
Then, there’s the whole social interaction thing. Six hours of educating people on the health or their pets at the vet clinic is emotionally exhausting. An hour of helping people train their dog is emotionally exhausting. I’m bright. I’m perky. I’m funny. I’m educational. I’m helpful. I’m exhausted. Then I come home to two small children, who will suck that emotional energy out of me regardless of how I personally feel about that.
I just can’t balance both. My kids don’t make me anxious, but they emotionally exhaust me. Work both makes me anxious and emotionally exhausts me. I don’t have enough for both things, and work is the worse of the two because of the anxiety thing.
Anxiety is physically painful.
So with all of this in mind, I would catch myself tearing up when I’d think about returning to BC. It made Perfect Husband sad, because he loves BC and he was happy to come home. I love BC too. It’s beautiful, I have a great support network of friends – really, I do: I have a friend who had me and my kids to dinner twice in a row this week AND took them overnight when I had an evening commitment – and it’s the kind of place where I can actually pay for my daycare by working 20 hours a week. It’s just the anxiety and my inability to work and be a single parent simultaneously.
PH vowed to do more to help and he really is making an effort since we got home. He’s started going to bed earlier at night so he can get up more often in the morning. He’s discovered that he can’t do the full morning routine complete with school run, but he can at least take the kids until it’s almost time to go, or get up with me and help get lunches made, watch the baby so I can shower etc.
I found that coming back home was sort of like jumping into cold water. You dread the moment of impact, and it is just as cold as you knew it would be, but once you’re in, you adjust. You forget what it was like to be able to sleep for eight whole hours or lounge around all day working on your book with no need to go anywhere or do anything. You find your new normal and you grit your teeth and start swimming.
Besides, I really do have a good support network. I have so many friends who will take my kids at the drop of a hat because I have a training appointment and PH is asleep, or who will take my kids overnight now and then so I can sleep in. It doesn’t help the day-to-day anxiety, but it does help with day-to-day survival.
But then I got a message from a friend. She has three kids, and her charmer of a husband has taken off with some chick and has no interest in actually continuing to be a parent to his three kids. He has short supervised visits twice a week and that’s it. She’s on disability herself for her anxiety and being left a single parent with three kids under the age of 7 hasn’t helped. Anyway, she just found out that she’s eligible for a child care subsidy, because it would benefit her mental health to be able to take an effing break a few times a week. She applied and was approved – not just for part time daycare but full time daycare! She prompted me to see if PH could be eligible for the same thing.
I wasn’t sure if our combined income exceeded the cut-off for eligibility, so he went through our taxes and confirmed that yes, we were just under the ceiling.
With even half of our daycare paid for, I could stress a lot less! I might even be able to quit entirely except for a few choice dog training clients. I could just take the people I wanted to take and not feel anxious about money if I didn’t hook anyone new. And then I could focus on my writing, because I really feel like writing is what I should be doing. Writing doesn’t make me feel anxious. Writing is my favourite hobby. I open my laptop every chance I get – much to PH’s frustration, since he’d like to talk to me once and a while.
I even took an author marketing course from an author who makes like $450,000 a year with his books and I know – I know – I could make good money off of mine, if I had enough time to write. I could do a non-fiction dog training series and once the sequel to my first fiction book is out, I could start making reasonable amounts of money. I just need the time to create the actual writing so I can sell it.
I felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. Like Justin Trudeau himself had patted me on the shoulder and said, “it’s okay, it doesn’t have to all be you. You don’t have to worry any more. I’ll cover the daycare. You just write. Soon you’ll be able to support yourself with it.”
Then, tonight, PH came in while I was changing the baby’s diaper and gave me the bad news – he forgot about something and when he factored it in… we were just over the line.
I think he thought he was delivering “oh well” kind of news. But it wasn’t “oh well” news to me. It was the kind of news that made the dread come washing back, and I surprised him by starting to cry.
But tomorrow I’ll be over it again. I’ll be back in the water and I’ll be swimming.
It may still be worth applying for on the off chance that you can get it (my insanely optimistic side suggests). I know that feeling of relief though…and how horrible it can be when it gets snatched away from you.
I wish I could be there to offer support in person – sending you love from across the seas!
I agree with Eleanor. You’re a huge inspiration to me (and others, I’m sure). Despite it all you *are* coping and that is HUGE! I wish that there was something practical I could do to help you. 😦 Sadly all I can do is to remind you to focus on one little task at the time, instead of looking at *everything* that needs doing (which would be daunting for anyone)! It *will* get easier. Before you know it your kids will be able to help you 🙂 Sending you lots of love and strength from an unseasonably hot South Africa
Oh, man! I was feeling so relieved for you and then read the last few paragraphs. I’m so sorry that life and work and responsibilities are so overwhelming for you and your family right now. I hope you’re able to figure something out and soon.
Nicki Hunt said:
Hugs, I’m so sorry this is all so difficult, I agree it could be worth asking anyway – the worst they can do is say no, and you might just get some help. I know you can get through this, the kids will become a little more independent and able to help. One day you’ll be able to look back on this and realise how well you coped and how strong you’ve been, even if the idea seems laughable now. There’s good and bad with the internet, but I love the way it connects us all. A lot of people you’ve never met, and probably never will, really care about you and your little family, and we are all pooting for things to improve. I can’t offer anything other than love across the seas and a virtual group hug xxx
Coming out of lurking to tell you that I lived like this for years. I parented alone like this through my son’s first three years and my daughter’s first year and a half, and it was desperate and it was miserable… and then it got better. We found the right medications. We found happier work balance. We found our marriage and our health. It got better. There is hope.
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