December 20, 2020

Unparalleled Journey: A Caregiver’s Take on her Journey

When I formulated my thoughts into words, I never expected to write these thoughts on paper, especially for the world to read. Someone told me recently, “As a young woman, it’s time to start living for YOU.” While embarking upon this unparalleled journey, I decided it was time to listen. As I share these thoughts with you, the world, I hope that my struggles upon my journeys will help someone else achieve peace.

I reached some points in life where I learned about loss; loss of family, loss of a job, loss of self. As all these things occurred, I was not ready to accept that I was slowly deteriorating into a depressed state, which later became full-blown depression. I learned about loss early on in life as family members began to depart. Being the youngest of twenty-eight grandchildren, yes, losses were expected, as everyone was older than me. I know the griefs of losing both the patriarch and then the matriarch of a big family, the heart of another family, and even family and church members alike. However, the “loss” I previously mentioned is not the loss I am referencing.

Exactly three years ago today, life changed in such a gut-wrenching way that the circumstances are unbelievable. All lives surrounding this event had been heavily affected by one phone call, including the individual for which the event happened. A brief version of the story: my loving mother who was 75 years young at the time, awoke in the middle of the night to an extremely low glucose (blood sugar) level and attempted to address it. She didn’t make it past the bathroom, as she fell unconscious. The phone call indicated, “We’re on our way to the hospital. Very low blood sugar; no reading. She’s unresponsive but breathing. I’ll keep you posted as I know more.” It was then that my heart dropped and I immediately began to pray. After calming myself, I made my way to Interstate 55 south, on my way to mother. Upon my arrival at the hospital after a three-hour drive, we were met by doctors who indicated mother had not suffered a stroke (Praise God), but was unable to move anything below her neck. In turn, the fall mother experienced compressed her spinal cord. The family sat together as the doctors spoke to determine the next courses of action. Even with a second opinion, surgery was the next option. From surgery came hospitalized rehabilitation and later became twenty-four-hour at-home care. Twenty-four-hour care eventually became a major move from one state to another, for mother’s home was in Louisiana, and my residence, in Mississippi. In making this move began the cycle which would eventually be the loss of family. Some of them called me selfish for uprooting my mother from her family for my personal sake of some form of happiness. Others felt regardless of mother indicating she was going to eventually make the move to Mississippi that the timing was not right for the move. When the sale of the property became a reality instead of a forethought, more trouble materialized.

On this journey where the lines of communication became crossed and then non-existent, so became the loss of family. While enduring threats, foul words, opinions, and more, I grew bitter, angry, troubled, distant, and more stressed. Circumstances changed; people changed; the job was ever-changing, and the family was separating more now than ever before. No one knew of the sleepless nights and all the tears cried between the two of us, separately. No one knew of the screams at night, some of which I later learned were for my attention. No one knew of the pain experienced as the contractures grew deeper. No one knew how she begged God and prayed for a death that would not come. No one knew WHY? No one knew that mother didn’t want to talk on the phone or express the truths that she had verbalized to me and others. All they knew or assumed, was that I was the driving force behind mother’s decisions. I was the one manipulating her thoughts. I was the one making her change. Mother was headstrong and became even stronger after my dad’s passing in 2013. Although I may have encouraged some of her decisions, I was not the originating source, nor was I the determiner.

While caring for mother on my own with no assistance came more stress at home and even more stress on my job. These two stressors formed together and made me unbearable with myself. I awoke one morning and realized if I didn’t make some changes soon, then I would likely be dead and gone and then the stressful job would still be there and so would mom; or at least, she’d be somewhere. When I lost that job, having given the school district eleven long years of my life, I felt as though one weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I was no longer neglecting mother for the job, and one stressor was gone. Sure, losing the job hurt for about a day or two, and many told me to fight it and sue. At this point in my life, after having dealt with the family and mom as I had, there was no more fight within me. I had grown weary of fighting the mental, physical, and emotional demons. Therefore, I just stopped fighting altogether. I never told my “blood-family” I had lost my job; we weren’t communicating then, and I probably wouldn’t have told them anyway. That’s classic, always private about self, until now. My other family, the ones who haven’t left yet (Thank God for them), helped me to pursue strength in my obscure times and trust God. Although I began to trust Him again, I felt as though something was missing. We endured more sleepless nights which later required some conversations. We endured struggles of having the financial stability to not having financial stability. Because we had always lived from paycheck to paycheck, we knew the struggles of maintaining ourselves. The new difference was that more bills came and then more troubles came. One’s health was declining, and the other’s health was non-existent. The struggles continue.

Between June 2019 and January 2020, when I noticed I was thinking of ways to end it all, I started searching for happiness while pushing some people away. I lost a guy who had expressed an interest in me because I felt too damaged to pursue a relationship. I didn’t want to unleash my damaging pain and hurt on him. He was a nice man and probably would still be around if his calls had not continuously gone unanswered, and if I had known to seek help sooner. Who knows, he might’ve been the one the help me sift through these troubles.

As mother’s screams grew, so did my need for mentally silencing the screams and cries, my quest for counting pills and hours, and then wondering how long it would be before anyone noticed I was missing; before anyone noticed they had not talked to me; before someone with a key had found me; before someone outside of the apartment had heard mothers screams for help and notified the authorities; or before my new supervisor realized I had not reported to work. These thoughts of an out were not consistent thoughts, but the thoughts did exist. I was quite conflicted, and still am sometimes because while thinking and counting, I could not turn my mind off. My thoughts were racing everywhere. Phones were broken. Drinking glasses were broken. Candles were broken. All of these things occurred effortlessly to silence her screams for me. It was a temporary release, but a growing problem. As I sat and counted the pills in my hands, I also thought about what would happen to mom if the inevitable happened to me before she. Who would care for her? What would happen to her once someone told her I was no longer there? What would her reaction be behind my actions? As I thought of these things, I also thought about the person(s) who would come in and find me in my self-inflicted inevitable state. If it were my sister/friend, how would she explain this to my godchildren that their auntie was gone, or how many times she’d question herself on what she could have done to prevent this. If it were my godmother or my other sister/friend, there’d be many unanswered questions. I couldn’t let anyone enter my apartment and find me this way, and I couldn’t selfishly leave mother like that. Therefore, I attempted to push these feelings to the back of my mind and press forward for another day.

It wasn’t all bad. Amid screams and tears, mother and I had some laughs too. We conversed of memories of old, family and friends, the godchildren, and her days at adult daycare. She really enjoyed the daycare and its events. We relished in the forthcoming opportunities. In September 2019, as I had introduced a new position in my life, I also embarked upon a master’s degree. If someone had told me at thirty-five, I would provide mother’s twenty-four-hour care, work two part-time jobs, and work to complete a rigorous master’s degree program in a year, I would have laughed in their face. I never would have believed it was possible, let alone achievable. But God.

When I thought the circumstances couldn’t get worse, I reached the lowest point in my life. Despite “thinking” about a self-inflicted inevitable, I never followed through with the acts. I stopped breaking things, for replacing them became expensive. I also channelled other ways to extract some positive focal points. Bear in mind, my plate was quite full with homework and lesson planning and mother. After releasing that negative spirit of “breaking things” came something completely worse. I had reached a breaking point, and it had nothing to do with the pending pandemic, which is now the deadly, life-shattering pandemic! In February 2020, I cut myself. I did not slit my wrist, but I did place a self-inflicted wound near my wrist. This wound was NOT a suicide attempt, but it was my only out. Focusing on the pain from the cut silenced the screams and cries that day, and a few days afterwards. Days later when I realized I had the scissors in hand again, I dropped them and cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. But the cut was also in a noticeable location, and I couldn’t let anyone see it. Because mother still had good mental faculties then, we had a conversation a week later to discuss all of her screams and cries. We also conversed of working together for me to provide her the care she required. The screams and cries slowly trickled away, only to return months later.

I had some conversations with my godmother. It was likely then that she may have realized the physical extent of what was happening at home. She observed me in my daily motions that morning as I removed the wheelchair from the car and placed it at mother’s side, positioned myself in front of mother, positioned her body where her feet were between mine outside of the car, squatted and lifted and then placed mother in her wheelchair, and then escorted her into the building. We talked about this, for I could hear the concern in her questions as she marvelled in my doing this daily. It was then where she began to see a decline in me and stated, “You’ve got to get some help!”

She never saw the cut or even the bruise which later became a scar, and we never spoke about it. Although we have talked about feelings and depression, we never talked about the pills and other thoughts. Had it not been for her encouraging me to seek help, I may not be here today to tell of this. I just recently told my godmother how much I appreciate her being in my life because I truly could not be here for mother without her. She has unparalleled wisdom.

You may be asking yourself why I’ve shared these things with you today. God is working on me daily; every moment of the day, He is working on me. I felt compelled to share my story because not only is God working on me, but I have sought the help of a therapist. I’m not ashamed to tell you how much therapy can help if you allow it. Growing up as a black woman in a family where it’s taboo to seek a professional’s help instead of a minister’s help, I’m here to tell you there is nothing wrong with seeking help when you need it. Because life changed for me three years today, and I didn’t realize how much until I had to watch my mother decline, as the caregiver, you have so much going on and you should not have to endure it alone. When the pandemic came and businesses closed, adult daycare closed. Months later when daycare reopened, mother was unable to return because of the decline in her health. Of all the caregivers I know, most of them are spouses to the people in their care. I do know some adult children who are caregivers to their elder parents like me; however, I am the youngest caregiver in my circle of caregivers. It’s one thing to be a retired person and provide care in the home. It’s one thing to be unable to work and provide care in the home. But it becomes something totally different when you have to work to provide for your home and then still have to provide for the one in your care after working all day. I reached a breaking point that no one should reach in their life. It hurt so bad that I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. For me to continue to provide mother’s care, I had to start taking care of me. The biggest thing that affected me, in addition to the other things, were my mother’s words to me two weeks ago. As I sat beside her noticing something was wrong, I asked what was on her mind. She said, “I’m depressed. I miss my sisters. Things are different and they are too.” I suggested she call them on the phone, and she replied, “I told you I don’t want to talk on the phone. When I’m ready to talk on the phone again, I’ll tell you.” I asked her what else was bothering her. She replied, “I’m worried about YOU. You go all day, and you don’t stop. You’re always doing something for me, and I don’t know when you rest. I’m afraid you’re going to leave me here. And then, what will happen to me?” That bothered me because it added to what’s already going on with me. I couldn’t muster the words to reassure her that everything would be alright. With that, I’m working on my plan to start living and stop existing. I’m working to find my purpose and some enjoyment. Yes, it’s a struggle for someone like me to put myself first, after putting others first for so long. But that’s all a part of the plan: step by step and day by day. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t feel that you’re not supposed to ask for help. Don’t let anyone tell you not to get help. If you recognize that a problem exists, you owe it to yourself and the others in your circle to make an effort to fix what’s broken in you. These three years have been a true testament of my faith, and in working on me mentally, I’m also working on me spiritually.

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