“Be gentle and kind to you. Treat yourself like you would your dearest friend. Never give up on yourself. Remember, the deeper you go under the crashing waves of the ocean, the calmer it becomes.” Jono Fisher – wakeupproject.com.au
I had a silent chuckle to myself yesterday as I recalled my post from December 30th last year. It was titled The Mindfulness of Simplicity.
http://ordinarymagic.me/2014/12/30/the-mindfulness-of-simplicity/ “Simplicity. Semplicità. Simplicité. The word sounds so simple and easily rolls off your tongue yet manifesting it in our lives is something that many of us struggle with, me included.” In that moment in time, when I hit the post button, I was full of hope for 2015. I had no idea how ephemeral that feeling would be.
Before you start to panic, no great disaster befell myself or my family (for which I am eternally grateful) but life took on a trajectory all of its own, totally beyond my control. I had hoped the frenetic days of 2014 were a distant memory, to be replaced by a sense of calm and ease. A chance to savour the magic that is life; to immerse myself fully within my writing, not ignoring everyone else but finally putting myself on the list of people whose happiness was important. But it was not to be.
I am a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, an employee and a friend. And I have struggled with wearing several of these hats this year. My writing, my way of processing my thoughts and feelings has disappeared from the landscape of my life. Quite often, I sit before my laptop to write a new post (my last post was 6 months ago), or work on my novel, and my mind is such a cacophony of thoughts that I am paralysed. Countless hours disappear on social media. Some stories are uplifting and give me hope, some remind me of how good I have it compared to so many others. At the end of the day I go to bed, saddened that I have yet again let another day slip by without refilling my cup.
Coping with an elderly father who is struggling to accept that things have changed, that he’s not that sprightly man of 20 years ago, has weighed heavily upon my shoulders. The distorted perception of his illusion vs his reality breaks my heart. I love him dearly and want him to be safe but his dogged reluctance to acknowledge that he isn’t coping living alone anymore and his refusal to accept that things need to change have caused friction on both our parts. Alzheimer’s is a truly wicked disease. It teases you with many moments of piercing clarity before thrusting you deep down into the chasm of confusion. But when lucidity is matched in its tenacity by disarrayed thoughts, no decision can ever be easy.
We don’t want to force him out of his home but what are our options when he refuses to admit the time has come to move somewhere safer? Sometimes I feel like yelling ‘You’ve had 89 years living how you want to live, but this has to change. It’s not fair on any of us.’ I fear that phone call arriving to say that there has been a fire because he has left the oven on or that he has fallen and lay there helpless for hours, alone. I can’t be there for him 24/7. Apart from the fact that I work, I want to be his daughter, not his full-time carer. I have effectively been his part-time carer for the past ten years and if I am honest, I have carer’s fatigue. I know it from both sides as many years ago, as a young nurse, I worked part-time in aged care. But I got to go home at the end of those eight hour shifts and return to my life, to recharge so that I would have the energy to return. There is no opportunity to recharge when it’s your dad. I see the look on people’s faces, particularly doctors, when they find out he lives on his own. The look is directed at me as if to say how are you letting this be so? I often ask myself the same question but the answer is, he’s my dad. I don’t want to go against his wishes. If he was confused more that he was lucid, the decision would be easy. But he’s not and it’s not.
That undercurrent of stress flows through to my family and friends and I know it. My patience is way less than it usually is. But I am tired. I am overwhelmed and just once, I want someone to take me in their arms and say ‘It’s ok. I’ve got this.’ Don’t get me wrong, my family and friends try to support me as best they can and my sister is equally weighed down by the dilemma we find ourselves in. But I am finding that resentment is building. He left the UK when he was young and never looked back, never had to dealing with ailing and ageing parents and yet he expects us to dedicate our lives to maintaining his independence and his life as he wants it to be. But what about my life? Don’t I get to have that same privilege as him? He got to travel and sow his wild oats and create the life he wanted yet I increasingly feel that I am being denied that same right that he fights so vehemently for.
Of course, if this was the only difficulty I was dealing with then it would be simple. Yet life has a way of seeing you struggling and saying ‘what the hell, let’s throw some more stuff her way and see how good she is at juggling’. The answer is I SUCK AT JUGGLING!
I try to be ALL things to ALL people but I am slowly coming to the realisation that I can’t continue this at this moment in time. My cup is empty. The dam is dry. I feel so frighteningly close to having nothing left to give to anybody.
But how do you stop and recharge when all around you, people are relying upon you? In a non-egotistical way, I have people needing my shoulder, my ear, for me to take the lead and I want to be there for them; I need to be there for them in certain instances. I can’t just say ‘sorry, the shop is closed. Come back next year.’ Life isn’t like that.
My youngest daughter was diagnosed earlier this year with Coeliac disease. http://www.coeliac.org.au/ I am in awe of how she has adapted to what is a radical lifestyle change for anyone, let alone when you are fourteen years of age. It has been a steep learning curve for all of us but as the person who cooks the majority of meals, I have felt the responsibility firmly upon my shoulders. This isn’t a fad diet or trend, this is life and death. If left untreated, Coeliac disease puts her at a very high risk of many types of cancer, infertility, type 1 diabetes, osteoporosis and other auto-immune conditions.
A fully gluten-free diet will put her at no greater risk of these things than a non-coeliac.
I can’t stuff this up. I HAVE to get it right. And one night I stuffed up and accidentally glutened her. I was tired. I was stressed and I was rushing to get a meal on the table and inadvertently used ‘our’ butter. So what’s the problem I hear you ask? Those tiny little crumbs, the remnants of the hastily buttered piece of morning toast brimming with gluten, made her feel sick for the next few days. Every time a coeliac consumes even the tiniest bit of gluten, even though they may only feel unwell for a few days, it damages their bowel and it can take months to heal. Just imagine the mother guilt when you know that something you have done, albeit unintentionally, has hurt your child.
Finally, there is a situation affecting me at the moment that I can’t go in to as it’s not my story to tell but on top of everything else, this is the straw that broke the camel’s back. The anger I feel is so real and it permeates every essence of my being. I am not normally a hateful or vengeful person but I wake up to go to the bathroom at 2am, return to bed and lay there seething, praying that Karma hits soon. My protective mother gene has been activated and I don’t know how to stop it. Unfortunately, although I would love nothing more than to verbally express my anger and sense of disappointment to these people, the situation won’t allow this. I don’t mean to sound all mysterious but my speaking out could have ramifications for someone I love dearly and I would never do that to them.
I am lucky to have several precious friends whom have been there for me, to listen while I vent and support me through my tears and for them I am eternally grateful. I am also truly blessed to have my beautiful meditation Sangha, http://susanpiver.com/open-heart-project/ , who have been a great source of strength and guidance, reminding me of the Buddhist noble truth of Impermanence. Simply put, Buddhists believe that ‘all conditioned existence, without exception, is transient or in a constant state of flux’ (thanks Wikipedia for the simple definition!) It is a concept that I am well aware of but when the sky is falling it is hard to see what is before us.
Once reminded of the concept of impermanence, that nothing lasts forever, the tears dried up and I felt better able to cope and support my daughter. But that anger is still there, bubbling under the surface. I try and meditate and calm my mind. Last night I listened to an amazing podcast via my Sangha. It was a Dharma talk given by the remarkable Jonathan Fields of the Good Life Project. http://www.goodlifeproject.com/ The topic was ‘The Importance of Self-Knowledge as the Foundation of Choice’. Of the many profound things that Jonathan said, the thing that really resonated with me and gave me some sense of a path to move through the frenetic busyness and stress in my life was this: “The faster I’m going the more mistakes I make….Meditation doesn’t fix anything – it just allows you to see more clearly the truth of what you are living with, what you are struggling with, what’s working and what’s not working so you can take action.”
He went on to talk of the ‘moment of the pause’ in meditation. For those of you unfamiliar with mediation, it is largely focused on the breath. And the moment of pause is the space that exists between inhalation and exhalation of the breath. I call that pause ‘A perfect moment of nothingness’. It’s a space where I just am. There are no thoughts. No worries. No fears. And no anger. It lasts but a fraction of a second but it gives me hope. The trick now is that I need to work out how to expand upon that moment in my daily life.
I need to find a way to move forward, through the anger.
In my attempt to deal with this feeling of anger, I just re-watched the insightful and candid Susan Piver, head of our Sangha, giving a guided meditation from a few months back titled ‘Your meditation teacher got angry.’ She starts off the video saying why she is angry and then goes on to say “Maybe you’ve never met a mediation teacher who was pissed off but here, let me introduce you to her!” I love how she validates that it’s ok to be angry, to be pissed off. She goes on further to say, speaking about Buddhism, that “One of the things that I appreciate most about this profound tradition, that is more than 2500 years old, is that it doesn’t tell you that you shouldn’t get angry, or you shouldn’t be sad, or you shouldn’t be disappointed or frustrated or any of those other so-called negative emotions…..I do get pissed off….and I don’t want to think that that makes me a bad person. What makes you a bad person is getting angry and acting in an unkind and aggressive way because you have not figured out how to meet your own anger. That’s a problem. We just have to look at one day’s headlines and see what an enormous problem it is. So anger, NOT A PROBLEM. Acting on your anger, HUGE PROBLEM.”
Susan then truly makes me giggle when she says “I can’t stand spiritual teachers who say you can create a situation for yourself where you are never angry or upset and if you do get angry or upset you can just sort of bliss that away by OHMing yourself into some other stratosphere. That is BULLSHIT! There is value in feeling bad. You are a human being who feels things…we meditate to feel our hearts.”
So it looks like what I’m feeling is OK. It’s just a part of being human. I will struggle with it, I will sit with it but ultimately I will get through it as this too shall pass. My hope is that for all of you also struggling with your own anger, and stress and resentment, that you find some solace and ideas of a pathway forward through my words.