In a normal year, I’d be coming up to the end of summer by noting the last week of the CNE and trying to sort out a visit to the Food Hall. I’d also find a bit of time to get excited about my TIFF schedule and enjoy a pizza dinner Via Mercanti with my fellow TIFF-loving friend so we can moan about how 11 days just isn’t enough to see all the movies we want to see. I mean, that was living in some simpler (and yes, charmed) times. But that was prior to this pandemic. A pandemic which, no matter how many people have just decided that it’s all over, is slow to end. Even before Covid, though, I carried more than a usual set of baseline worry. Liza wrote a great post about how caregivers are always on. And that’s something that has been made worse (though as Liza points out perhaps made a little more apparent to others) by the pandemic. It’s no wonder so many people longed for the spring and summer so they could get out and feel a bit more alive again, and enjoy a return to “normal”.
So while many people have been out and about, enjoying a “hot vax summer”, I’ve continued with a very cautious approach. I’ve been able to see a few more people over the summer (most importantly my sister after almost 19 months of being physically apart), but I’ve kept my circle really small. I don’t gather with people who have large social circles or partake in any indoor activities aside from groceries, the pharmacy, and I indulged in a haircut when things opened back up in Ontario. But I’m still taking a lot of precautions because the risk factor to my home remains high. (Yes, we’re vaccinated but the Delta variant is no joke.)
So while Covid has forced a lengthy period of physical isolation from other people, I, and I would argue many other caregivers, have been used to these long periods of being away from others because of the responsibility and duties that go along with caregiving. I am used to not being able to just hang out or go to dinner or watch a movie or, sometimes, make any plans, because if my mom is not having a great day, I’m not able to keep those plans. And it’s not something I am able to control, nor is it something that I can plan for. To be honest, things can change within minutes. And while there are some special occasions that I’ve managed to get out for, those who do spend time with me know and understand why it can be frustrating to make plans to hang out with me. So I’ve had some time to adjust to having more time away from people.
But the mental isolation is really something else. I mean, I’m really lucky. I’ve got an amazing set of friends who have been ride or die for a long time. I have a few friends who I can call or message 24-hours a day and who won’t let my calls go unanswered – no matter what they themselves are going through. And there are many people who don’t have that. So I understand that I have this valuable circle of love around me and I don’t take it for granted. But even with all this amazing support, I’m still the only person who is here and carrying this load. And there is no one else who can speak to this. Sure, my father and my sister also carry this load too. But each of our journeys and experiences as caregivers are different and unique. And we each deal with it in our own, separate way. So I’ve found this stretch a bit tougher to swallow. I am pretty damned resilient, but a person can only take so much. I am not asking anyone to feel sorry for me, or suddenly start checking in on me. I have been here for a bit, and I have both personal and professional support around me so I’m well cared for. I just needed to get it off my chest. And this doesn’t even begin to address how the love-of-my-life mom is feeling from day to day. On top of the physical health challenges she continues to take on, she is living through what I can only assume is an increased frustration around her communication struggles and the mental fatigue of being stuck in her own head. So while this is nothing I (or anyone) can take on for her, I have been unable to separate myself from this part of her journey as I spend so much time imagining what she is feeling and trying hard to bring some cheer even when she clearly would rather have nothing of the sort. These have been the dog days of summer, indeed.
And so the prospect of fall and winter, with this continued physical and mental isolation, is weighing heavy on my mind. As I grit my teeth and brace for what’s to come (imagined or otherwise), I’m trying to remind myself to just keep swimming, because as long as my mom needs me, giving up is not an option.
I’d like to say I fall into the “sandwich generation” – and while I have no children of my own to care for – I find myself falling somewhere in between caring for my mother and caring for my sanity. When I am not working, I have the honour of helping look after my amazing mother, who has suffered 2 strokes in the past 11 years. Being a caregiver is not for the faint of heart, and if I am being honest, it can be a crappy club to be a member of. I have fallen down more times than I care to count through this journey, but while channeling my incredible stubbornness, strength (both of which I come by honestly,) and several F-words (Faith, Family, Friends and Food), I keep getting back up. IG: @Coolman_Eh
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