In the early days of my journey as an MS Caregiver, Lynn would fall, or we would get into a situation that was difficult and we would look at each other and laugh. We coped with a lot of our hardships by laughing at how bizarre the situation would become as compared to our lives pre-MS. A friend of mine reminded me this week that when Lynn used to fall, I would pause for just a moment and listen, then call out to the back of the house where he usually hung out and say, “anything broken or bleeding?” If the answer was, “no,” I would just keep on with what I was doing and never miss a beat.
I remember how difficult that was at the time–that is, to just let him fall and not immediately go to help. That took a lot of willpower on my part.
Now I find the opposite happening. He will let me do almost everything for him if I don’t remind him to try it himself first. I was wondering when that change occurred and I think it happened when he was in ICU for so long. He couldn’t do anything for himself and got used to me doing everything for him. Then when he came home, he was still too weak to do much on his own so I continued giving maximum care.
Gradually over time, it became a habit so that now, we have to consciously stop and determine when should I move his arm for him and when should he do it himself? That was also when I began to tell myself that he was taking advantage of my being helpful. Or I would say to myself, “he could do it himself if he would just try”…I think that’s also when we began to laugh less.
I got upset with Lynn this week over something that was absolutely not his fault. I was trying to take some type of device that cuts circles out of wood out of the electric drill. It was in there very tight and now that my arthritis is so bad in my thumb joints, I have no strength in my hands. So as I was struggling to get it out, it cut my finger. Just a small cut–didn’t really hurt much, but when Lynn tried to reassure me that it couldn’t cut me if I held it right, my feelings got hurt and I almost cried. I also got aggravated and curt in my comments and with an edge of hysteria to my voice, threw my hands in the air and said, “I just can’t do it. Can’t you see that I just can’t do it? I cut myself! See? Right here. Why do I even try to do work with tools, etc. etc. etc.”
Lynn’s reaction then was to try to do it himself…which he can’t and I’m annoyed that he feels like he has to try and I know that he’s feeling bad because I’m feeling bad and downward we spiral….
Finally, I stop the spiral and explain. “All I wanted you to say when I got cut was, ‘I’m sorry. Are you okay?'” His response to that was, “Oh. Why didn’t you say so?” UGH!
Later, I thought about what happened and why, and here’s my insight….
When I got cut, the following thoughts went through my mind in rapid succession.
- “Oops, I cut myself.
- Oh, no. Now I have a cut which will burn when I have to wash clothes and dishes in a few minutes.
- Why do I have to clean up after his friends when they use his tools? That’s just more work for me.
- I’m stupid when it comes to tools. If I knew how to work with tools better, none of this would have happened. I know how to use a drill. What’s wrong with me?
- He (Lynn) just expects me to do everything. He expects me to do everything he used to do plus everything I need to do for him plus everything that needs to be done around the house and work full-time and do it all perfectly. He doesn’t even think about what I need.
- He doesn’t care that I got hurt.
- He doesn’t appreciate what I do.
- My life is miserable and it will never be any better.”
All those thoughts went through my head in a matter of seconds. Based on what I told myself, I went from a simple, “Oops, I cut my finger and need a bandaid,” to, “my life is miserable and it will never be any better.” Now if I had put the brakes on my internal conversation after the first bullet, I would have gotten the bandaid and moved on. Instead, I sulked for a while and made both myself and Lynn miserable for a while.
None of those things I said to myself other than, “I cut my finger,” were true. All the rest was just me feeling sorry for myself and telling myself a story to reinforce my self-pity. What a waste of precious time. If I had instead just laughed and said, “what a klutz,” or “looks like the drill is working,” I would have felt better in the long run, Lynn would have felt better, and we could have had a fun moment to share rather than sadness and emotional pain.
So the moral of this blog is, “watch the stories you tell yourself.”
I’ve got to get back to looking at the funny side of life more often. “Hey, did you hear the one about….”