Greetings! I have a question about Team You. Mainly, how does obtain such a wondrous thing?
I am in a situation where I am the primary caretaker for an elderly parent with serious health issues. She requires a great deal of time and energy- mental more than physical.
The rest of my family is basically useless. They have straight up said that she is ‘mine’ to handle. They don’t call when she’s in the hospital, etc., etc. I’ve basically written them off as horrible people and being around them stresses me out. I’m pressured to ‘keep the peace’ and not tell them off for basically abandoning dear old mom (while still claiming they love her ever so much.)
I’m naturally introverted with a strong need for ‘me’ time (that often goes unfilled because of my mom.) My one very good friend just moved to another state and neither of us is good about talking online.
So basically I am without without Team Me. There’s just- me. I don’t have time to join any kind of social group. I’m really mostly okay with being alone (I’m not lonely by any means.) I’d just like someone who would pop by once in awhile and drag me out to a movie. Someone’s whose company would break up the cycle of ‘take mom to this doctor’ then ‘to this other doctor’ then ‘argue with mom about what the doctors actually said.’
I was also laid off earlier this year. I worked mainly from home (because of mom), but it did help break things up a bit when I had to go into the office two or three times a week. I don’t know how I’m ever find a job that allows me that much leeway again (they were SUPER good about letting me control my schedule.) So I’m frustrated and frightened that I’m using up my savings and again could really use a Team Me pressure valve.
So how does one put together Team Me when you’re starting absolutely from scratch?
As a bonus question, I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to tell off my siblings at mom’s eventual funeral. I even have the eulogy all planned out. It won’t be a big scene, just a little stinger at the end about having no regrets but that they should. It isn’t worth the upset to her confronting them while she’s alive. But once she’s gone- it’s mean and nasty and bitter, but I really want to get that jab in before cutting off all relations. Or maybe write them a letter expressing my anger. Would that come under closure, or just cruelty for the sake of it?
Wow. Taking care of an ailing loved one with no support from the rest of your family, no local friend-network to hang out with for relief, and not even the outlet of working outside the home to give you a change of scenery and company – I don’t care how introverted and emotionally self-sufficient you are by nature, that’s tough. Yes, you do need to beef up Team You!
The first person I think you need to get more squarely on Team You is you, though. Yes, I know you’re trying! But your mother only has so much time left in this world, and she is miserable, or in pain, or scared, or all of the above, so I’m guessing it feels selfish to rank anything you might want or need above anything she might want or need. Which would explain why you feel you “can’t” take time to yourself or join any kind of social group. Even though she actually would be ok for the couple of hours you were gone. Even if taking it would make the difference between miserable vs ok for you, and no discernible difference for her.
Which means your first job is to remind yourself that the reason your mom deserves kindness is that she is a decent human being going through a really hard time. And that you are likewise a decent human being going through a really hard time. Seriously – look at yourself from the outside, as if you were a friend of yours. The person who’s going through that, handling it as well as you are, deserves some TLC, right? And if at the moment the person who is in the best/only position to be kind to you is you, well, that means you need to do that. If something would make a profound difference to you without severely impacting her overall quality of life, being on Team You means you need to get on that!!!
To start, schedule some quality time with the founding member of Team You. If you used to go to your workplace two or three times a week, presumably for a few hours at a time, and now you don’t, unless your mother’s condition has deteriorated so she now requires constant attendance, that means you can take that time for yourself. Which opens up all kinds of possibilities! Start small, if need be. Take half an hour or an hour at a time and get out of the house/apartment. Go for a walk around the block or down the lane and back. Go to the library or a café/diner, shoot hoops, wander an art gallery or consignment shop, volunteer your services to an animal shelter as dog walker, sit on a park bench and knit… I don’t know your tastes or your environment. But do something outside the home every single day. Break the energy-sapping inertia of the sick-room. Re-connect with yourself as someone other than a caregiver, someone who has her/his own wants and needs and should. Do it casually if that works best for you, but if you find it falls by the wayside more than once or twice, make daily, scheduled appointments with yourself and make them as sacrosanct as your mother’s doctor’s appointments.
Another person you might try getting on Team You? Your mother. She is, for reasons that make sense to her, willing to accept a great deal less from the rest of the family than what she is getting from you. That being so, would she not accept less than 100% of every last drop of blood, sweat and tears you can possibly wring from your life on her behalf? Perhaps if you told her that you’re going stir crazy and you need to get out a bit, but you have a really hard time leaving her, you could enlist her support to say “Go ahead, honey, I’ll be fine. No, I insist. I love you and your happiness matters.” Literally, tell her you need to hear her say that. Every single day at the appointed hour.
Next in terms of assembling Team You might be a therapist. Therapy isn’t just for people who have lifelong label-wearing mental health conditions. It’s also for people who need help working through some of life’s challenges and the way those wreak havoc on the spirit. Say, someone whose day-to-day world has shrunk to one other person, who is dying… Who feels anger and resentment at being abandoned by the rest of their family… Who is guiltily worried about whether his/her resources will last as long as his/her mother’s life and about getting back on track professionally when he/she is free to re-enter the workforce… Who has the heartbreaking conflict that I’m pretty sure most caregivers feel when a loved one is terminally ill: wanting their loved one to live but wanting the suffering to be over and wanting to be free to get on with their own lives. Who finds it difficult to assert her/his own real, legitimate needs in the context of Terminally Ill Mother. Here is a post on how to locate low-cost mental health care in the U.S. and Canada. If you’re somewhere else, let us know and an Awkwardeer may be able to point you in the right direction.
The thing you really wanted, though? That person to drag you out to the movies every Thursday or something? That will require that you spend some of your newly reclaimed you-time researching local options to make human connections doing things you like. (And then using at least one of those options). Yoga/exercise classes at the Y? Art classes? Extension classes at a local college/university? Writer’s Group or book club at the Library? Crafting? Recreational sports leagues/clubs? If you’re in a rural area, here is a thread on connecting with people there. I’m not going to fill this post with specific suggestions because I know nothing about what you like or where you live. But no matter where you live, there are people doing something you enjoy, and that’s the best way to find a person you can hook up with for a regular Thursday movie date or something like that. You attend some sort of group or class with people who have a common interest, and when you meet people you like (after a few times) you ask them if they want to go for coffee after class sometime. Yeah, it’s almost as squirmy asking a friend-prospect out as a romantic prospect, but that’s what you do.
Another option is connecting on-line. I personally am not qualified to be your guide for how to use the internet to make local social connections, but I gather one can use OKCupid and such not just to find romantic/sexual partners, but to explore friendships, and that there are interest-oriented sites that connect up people who want to go do whatever-the-thing-is with a fellow enthusiast. [Commentariat, by all means chime in here]. Or perhaps a friend on-line can be your date? You could make a regular date to play a game online, or to chat online.
There’s also the rest of your family. I know – you’ve said they’re useless and horrible and you’re looking forward to writing them off as soon as you are not constrained by your mother’s wishes. However, I can imagine even loving family members breathing huge sighs of relief when the crisis arose and you stepped up, so they knew your mother would be cared for without their lives being disrupted. You feeling good about being the one who stepped up, them feeling grateful that you were able to do that but guilty at the same time and therefore avoidant, because people don’t like feeling bad and unfortunately instead of fixing that by behaving in a way that would entitle them to feel good they often just avoid the person/subject that makes them feel bad. You becoming the expert on what your mom needs, having been the one who goes to the doctors’ appointments and listened to her concerns at length. Differences of opinion, in which they felt like you didn’t respect their input (’cause you didn’t! ’cause they hadn’t a clue!), and them using that as further reason/excuse to throw their hands in the air and leave it all to you. You increasingly resenting that what should be a shared burden had somehow become your problem, them feeling your resentment and becoming even more avoidant. Disagreements becoming rifts. (“Fine! She’s all yours!” — “Good! ’cause you’re all such selfish shitheels I wouldn’t trust you with my goldfish, much less my mother!”)
That (or anything like it) may not describe how things came to this pass, of course. There are also families filled with truly shitty, inherently self-centered people. Maybe your siblings/other relatives have always been this way. Your mother’s willingness to let them off the hook may be one of those ghastly sexist things where everybody expects the girl-child (or one unmarried/childless person)(or oldest, or youngest) to do the caregiving while the others get a free ride. I dunno.
The why matters mainly because it’s possible that at least some of the individual members of your “they” have legitimate reasons (like jobs/spouses/kids/their own huge problems you don’t happen to know about) that made coming to your mum’s rescue the way you have genuinely not feasible. (It’s irrelevant to the “bonus question”). If you distinguish between individual members of your “they,” you may be able to identify more helpful, less avoidant people who, while not up to the challenge of day-to-day caregiving, might be willing to, say, come for a weekend every now and again so you could go visit your BFF who moved away. Or to do some online research and make some phone calls to elder care/hospice agencies/organizations in your area to figure out what kinds of resources are available to provide respite care now, or may become available as your mother’s condition deteriorates. (Yes, you can do that for yourself, too… It’s another potential branch of Team You…but wouldn’t it be great if someone else took the laboring oar)? Or maybe they can chip in to pay a house cleaner, or paid nurse/respite care provider, if that’s what you need to get away. Sometimes people who go all dysfunctional in a crisis can nevertheless be useful if given specific tasks. (Sort of the B Team of Team You — not emotionally supportive, not creatively helpful, but potentially useful nonetheless). But none of that is possible if you have blanket-demonized your whole extended family. That conversation might go like this: “I know we’ve exchanged harsh words about what I’ve seen as you abandoning Mom, but I’m not calling about that. I’ve realized that’s between the two of you. If she’s ok with you, it’s not my place to criticize. But it is my place to say this is killing me! I was coping for a while, but it’s just too much for me to do alone anymore, and this is what I need: ___________.”
For the bonus question: Do not use the funeral to vent your spleen, no matter how justified your ill-feelings are. The funeral is about your mother, not you. Using it as a platform for your resentment would not vindicate you, it would only alienate every person who heard you do it, or heard about it later. There’s even a chance you would come to regret it, as you healed from this period and wanted to reconnect with family (maybe 20 years from now!), but that’s the kind of thing people tend to find unforgiveable. Ever. I would recommend waiting a while — 6 months to a year — after your mother’s death to see if you can forgive them or at least move on without a bitter letter. If you can’t (even with aid of a therapist?), write the letter. But before you send it (as always when contemplating verbal thermonuclear warfare), ask yourself: what am I hoping to accomplish? Is this letter likely to actually achieve that, or just perpetuate more anger and ill-feeling? Will I really feel better, by making them feel worse when it’s too late to change anything?
Finally (it always feels weird when the answer is so much longer than the letter) not that you asked, but you might want to see if your former employer would be interested in hiring you as an independent contractor. They are already comfortable with you working mostly remotely, they know you, and sometimes having someone working on an hourly, as-needed basis without benefits or commitment helps an employer deal with fluctuations in workload, or where they have more work than their regular employees can handle but not enough to justify hiring an additional employee (even part time). And it can position you to be the one they go to when work picks up again and they want to hire. At the very least it would help keep you engaged and looking current, future-resume-wise.
Good luck to you! People like you, who step up, are awesome, but you should not have to be anyone’s whole Team, and especially not without a Team of your own.