I’m not the same person I was before.
If you look at me now compared to photos from three years ago, there are obvious physical changes. The pandemic gave me the freedom to let things go. Going grey was so freeing, but I’m not sure I was supposed to let go of the daytime clothes, the bra and some discipline with eating and exercise.
My laugh has been replaced by a resigned smile. My zest for life, my quick rise of passion for the things that excite me have faded. My circle of friends has shrunk to a few and I can go days of not talking to another person outside of my kids and my dad.
A lot can change in 3 years.
In 2019, I was a master juggler who was starting to wobble.
My oldest son was still at home. At the time, we were participating in weekly sessions together at Ontario Shores (a specialized hospital facility that provides treatment services to those living with complex and serious mental illness). In tandem with his counselling, we were learning the tools and strategies of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy — a psychotherapy used to treat some personality disorders – in our case, Borderline Personality Disorder.
It was an emotional roller coaster and almost every day felt like it was more exhausting than the day before. Life at home was even worse. Although unbeknownst it to me at the time, my child was ‘self-medicating’ and falling down a dark hole of addiction, and our family life was the collateral damage.
Three years ago, I’d say that my grandmother was one of my best friends. We lived a half hour away from each other, but we had somehow adopted each other over the last fifteen years, to be each other’s keeper. I was her Power of Attorney as her health was deteriorating, her stresses and worries had become my own. It was a lot, but I loved her and had always promised her that I would take care of things as best I could, until her last days. 2019 would prove to be her last year.
At this same time, I was eyeballs-deep in my career. I was the local, right-hand to a politician and I was alert and on-call for whatever needs might arise in the office. Preparing to manage an election campaign to come in the fall, my stress level was at an all-time high.
All this while being solely responsible for caring for my twins at home. Autistic with intellectual disabilities, their needs are great and managing their lives and care for when I was working, is a full-time job all on its own. Besides a visit for a few hours every week or two, I couldn’t count on their dad for any relief.
Any stress brought into the home from my oldest or myself, meant that the twins would sense it and it would roll-over into behavioural expressions that could turn our whole world on its head.
It was a lot. No free time to speak of and every minute was eaten up by putting out fires. By that time, it had been five years since my ex had left and I could best describe that entire time as treading water. While my job had given me an outlet to be more than “Mom”, I suppose it had also given me an escape.
But when life is tough, you want the vacation to be under the hot sun, on a sandy beach in front of crystal blue waters. Your escape shouldn’t be a boiling kettle of water that causes nightmares full of missed deadlines, angry stakeholders and the ever-present worry that an election loss would mean unemployment. So instead of getting the escape, I had one foot each in high-stress environments and a lot of pressure on my shoulders.
If I dropped any one of those balls that I was juggling, I knew it could bring down any one of the people I was responsible to care for, as well. I lived with the constant fear of letting someone down, so I’d stuff the stress and just get on with it.
Because that’s what we were taught, right? Just get it done. No one else was going to step in and take care of it for me.
Oh hell, I tried so hard to do it all. I really did. I did it until my body and mind told me I couldn’t anymore.
Three years later and my life has been stripped down. And while some stressors may have been temporarily removed, life at home has only seemed to have got harder. I’m at home full-time now with my twins. The pandemic hit us right after I took a stress leave. Who could have known that everything would change so dramatically.
COVID isolated us more than I could have imagined. It shrunk our world down to the head of a pin. The twins have spent more time at home than they have at school and there have been weeks where no outside person has set foot on my front steps, and my van never left the driveway. And despite the fact that I may have the loudest house (thanks to the kids) in the whole town, the silence has been deafening in our solitude.
The weight of it all has been so much more challenging for the twins, who can’t understand the “why”, while their lives have been so dramatically stripped down from loved ones and fun activities. And they feel the losses.
Because since COVID hit, we’ve been down a team member. My oldest is doing much better, but is now out of the home, forging their own way in the world. I remain their greatest cheerleader and emotional support, but it feels like a piece of us is missing from our little family unit.
When I was a young mom, I could never imagine my kids as adults – it felt decades away. But when you put a number to it and realize that, if you’re lucky, you’ve likely only got 18 summers, 18 Christmases, 18 March Breaks.. to enjoy with your kids. Trauma, mental illness and drugs stole a few of those from us and when my oldest left home under some messy circumstances, none of us had time to ease into the new dynamic.
We missed the fanfare and graduations, and we somehow slipped into a new chapter of our lives. I feel like I’ve been grieving the loss ever since.
My life isn’t one that I can easily share with others, to get that sense of shared understanding. It’s rare that anyone gets it. So I tend to retreat in my sadness and isolate even more. It’s not healthy, but it’s almost comforting. Until it’s not.
So here I am, admitting that I’ve been dealing with depression and anxiety that has changed me yet again. For years I have tread water and tried to keep the dark in the rearview and my eyes forward, searching for light. With things feeling so bleak and the future being so unsure for me and my boys, the darkness took over. I’m not currently who I want to be for my kids and I know they miss the old me. I’m missing me too. But I believe I’m in the last stage of grief, of acceptance.
We are in the first days of spring. I hear the birds singing again outside my bedroom window. The snow has melted from the yard. Will has been asking to swim in the lake (ha!). I know we have better days ahead. I’m hopeful that these last three years have been my season of transformation, as I work my way to better days. Its purpose may have been to shed my old self. To finally say goodbye to all that no longer serves me and my kids. To find the best version of myself who has been hibernating as a caregiver for the last decade or two. To be of service to others, while not losing myself.
It may be full of uncertainty and stress, fear and financial terror. It may sometimes be lonely and is often hard. But this is my life. I’m ready to embrace it again.
I’m trying my best to pay it forward by dealing hope and sharing stories & tips on caregiving and how to survive hard things. I blog a lot about single parenting my adult twin sons who both have autism, and the challenges we face in surviving the everyday challenges and planning for a future full of unknowns.