Don’t those words sound pretty?
They sound pretty in that behind the glass at a jewelry store type of way.
You see them sparkle. They draw you in close. But before you know it, you’re bumping your face on an invisible barrier that keeps you from reaching them. Over and over you try to break through. If only you could touch one, hold one for a moment, you know you’ll feel worlds better. But you can’t. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t reach. The only thing you can feel is that enlarging hole in your self worth and a busted, bloody face.
That’s the major struggle of being a caregiver.
For many caregivers, they have one job and one job only. It’s an all consuming position that has little to no time for that pretty concept called self-care. Their one job is being strong.
I grew up in the late 80s and early 90s when Strong Man competitions were popular on TV. Early morning or late at night, on one of the seemingly endless ESPNs, there would be big muscle dudes pulling or picking up big heavy things. And wrestling. Oh my word, there was so much wrestling in the late 80s and 90s that my little eyes couldn’t look away. Those sports helped me to develop an idea of what being strong meant.
To young sports entertainment fan I was, being strong was being able to do things with your body. Being “strong” was being able to work through the pain to make changes. Even if the changes were moving a giant tire or body slamming a giant man. Being strong was a purely physical thing.
After years as a caregiver,
I’ve learned just how wrong that thought was.
Being strong is watching your loved one become sick, and knowing there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
Being strong is knowing that no matter how much you accomplish, there will always be something else that needs to be done.
Being strong is waking up at all hours, making serious decisions on an unholy lack of sleep.
Being strong is bathing someone who can not bathe themselves.
Being strong is watching the words and phrasing you use to keep your loved from one feeling like they are worthless. It’s remembering they are more than an illness. It’s dressing their emotional wounds along with their physical ones.
Being strong is offering a shoulder to cry on and an arm to lean on, physically and emotionally. It’s being a sponge for the emotions someone won’t or can’t handle.
Being strong is balancing appointments and medications, checkbooks and utilities. It’s knowing what food you can make a meal out of and what type of soap to buy.
Being strong is standing during the storms of emotions and the tidal waves of unhealthy words because sometimes your loved one has been reduced so low that they are not who they once were.
Being strong is also saying enough is enough.
Being strong is not feeding into someone’s negativity
Being strong is providing recommendations instead of solutions to someone’s problems.
Being strong sometimes is saying “No.”
Being strong is taking action to patch your own sails when the winds of another have left them battered.
Being strong is practicing the dirty parts of self care. Self care is as ugly as it is brutal. But there’s strength in that pain. There’s a beauty in breaking what you think is yourself to clear the path for a better you.
I have been strong.
But at the same time, I have not been strong.
I have often taken on the weight of the world when I should not have accepted it.
I have willingly placed myself in pain to help others feel less. I have not been able to tell someone when their actions have hurt me. I have not been able to take a step back, even when it was vital.
I tell you all this not as a pat on the back. I am not saying I’ve done these things to make myself a martyr. I do not need recognition for my actions. So many women in my life have worn a crown made of bitterness and passive aggression and asked to be praised for it. I do not want that weight on my head. I do not want heads bowed at my feet.
What I want is to be accountable for my actions. The ones that are good for others and the ones that are good for me. I want to be strong enough to do both. I want to breathe without having to make sure there is room. I want to put roots down and have a bit of the sun too.
I don’t have a plan.
I have a desire. A necessity.
I’ve read about it, I’ve written about it. The stars as my guide, dammit, it’s now time to live it.
All I’ve been doing is window shopping lately.
And I’m tired of bumping my nose against this glass.