About four years ago we made a decision that was to change our lives completely. We suggested to my then 96 year old mother that she comes to live with us. There were sound reasons behind our decision as she was not looking after herself very well and was looking very weak and wobbly. We also felt that her relationship with us was good and vice versa and we would make this work. We really had no idea what we were doing; what we were taking on or how it would affect us.
I really should change the title of my blog to Shrunken Horizons because if I stood still long enough I would go in reverse. Looking after an AP requires a mindset that accepts that no matter what you try to do it will be forever at the pace of the oldest member of the household. This, of course, in our case is living life in the slow lane with a one hundred year old woman who is soon to be one hundred and one years of age.
I have discovered that I am not good at slowing down so much. It means I become almost dormant, struggling to just deal with the simplest of household tasks. Suddenly even changing a bed is something I will put off until tomorrow. I have called this my ‘mañana syndrome’ and am finding it encompassing our whole existence because existence it is.
I still spend a great deal of time cooking and because of the RMR diet it is an essential to make meals from scratch and fortunately the pleasure is still there once I get started. It is motivating myself in this rarified and stagnant zone that is so exhausting but do it I must. I get enormous pleasure at just seeing the colours of peppers, chillies, onions and celery sautéing in a pan, smelling the addition of the herbs and spices that add such depth of flavour. I still avidly peruse recipes like others read magazines or books, that is when I manage to drag myself away from Gin Rummy or WordScape on my phone. That’s another issue that has come from combatting boredom, I spend too much time on these games. I do have my knitting but it isn’t easy to do it with two Jack Russell Terriers sitting on me so I have to choose my time carefully.
Our lives in the slow lane are a continual mental challenge and we are constantly fighting to find ways to not let life slip by unnoticed or unfulfilled. The LSO does his printmaking, although he too finds it hard at times to be self-motivated and he does love his pike fishing but this season it has been very sporadic due in part to the weather conditions.
At least there are signs that Spring is around the corner. It really is a time to feel renewed and invigorated and that is something the LSO and myself definitely need in our lives. We do need a break from the AP and hopefully that will still happen too with her having a month in the wilds of Scotland with my cousin and his wife but we are not sure just when.
I am beginning to lose the will to do anything constructive. Between looking after the AP and trying to diet I find myself between a rock and a hard place. I know I must pull out of this slide into apathy but am finding that life holds no pleasure as each day blends almost seamlessly into the next. There is so little reason to do anything as our lives are mostly spent in this house. We do have the occasional foray to get supplies and sometimes I get a couple of hours of swimming in a week and the LSO has managed a couple of fishing expeditions but generally we are stuck here with the walls closing in on us and this isn’t good. The AP is utterly oblivious, thinking only of herself. She never suggests that the LSO and I should go out together without her because we need some time on our own. No, it is always the royal ‘we’. We have actually made a couple of attempts at going out without her but there seems little point because there is always a backlash to be suffered the next day.
Then just when I think there is a light on the horizon and the AP will be going to the first of her twice yearly visits to Scotland in April, we get a letter to say she has to attend a hospital appointment to deal with what looks like another rodent ulcer on her nose. She had the same problem on the other side of her nose about 8 years ago and I just know it will delay her visit because of further appointments and the final removal of it. I should feel sorry for her but sadly I don’t, just utterly resigned to the situation we find ourselves in.
My attitude is not good I know but almost five years of dealing with her controlling nature, her vindictiveness, selfishness and ridiculous vanity have left little room in my heart for feeling anything but dislike for her. I am aware that this feeling is destructive for me and that somehow I must try to find an element of kindness within myself because I am not like her in any way. She has done her very best to try and destroy the LSO and myself but fortunately has failed so far but the AP must not have the last laugh, that really would be the final irony. We have put our lives on hold for her and have received no real thanks for any of it but we must survive all this.
In the last post I had vaguely wondered how long it would be before the AP could no longer pretend to be a dear old lady whilst we have had our farmer friend eating with us every evening. Not much longer it would appear, as inevitably we experienced a dose of her unreasonable behaviour only a few days ago. She had a hair appointment and was given the time it was occurring and the time of departure and as usual she didn’t listen because she was utterly focussed on herself. Nothing new there but it resulted in her getting everything mixed up, trying to leave an hour earlier than was said and we were to blame for her getting it all wrong. She stamped her feet, screwed the face up and stomped back into the living room to sit for a further hour with her handbag on her knee. It really is like dealing with a recalcitrant child but at least with the child you can explain how the display of bad temper is unnecessary. The AP is not suffering from dementia and is more than capable of being surprisingly normal with a little effort even given her great age but this makes it more difficult to accept. It’s a minor occurrence but because we have put up with so many it is definitely irritating. These displays are seldom seen by others and most think of her as a bit of a sweetie. They couldn’t be further from the truth!
But since I refuse to be irritated for long and I have adopted the laid back approach, withdrawing mentally and physically from any given situation, she has to stop behaving badly. It’s good that something works in our favour for a change.
Weight-wise I am still on a plateau but I am not worrying about it for the time being. It is so cold and frosty at the moment and some days so desperately grey that although I am continuing to keep as much as possible to the diet I do slip a little. My main weakness has been potatoes and that has surprised me but I guess when I am cooking warming dishes such as Caribbean Lamb Shanks it just cries out for a creamy mashed potato to mop up the delicious gravy. I know I should consider a creamy cauliflower mash instead but somehow that doesn’t have the same appeal. Even the thought is hard to resist and occasionally I just don’t and sneak a small spoonful of mash onto my plate. Chips cooked in duck fat have a similar effect, oh dear, maybe I should do new potatoes with everything as they don’t worry me as much!
I am also aware that more exercise would be beneficial but life seems packed with tasks that are not allowing me time for myself. I know things will finally change just as inevitably Spring will arrive and with it a fresh approach to everything. So for now I am paddling along and not being too bad or hard on myself when I just have a tiny slip here and there.
Its strange how things happen in life and although I would like to think there is a purpose to everything I realise as I get older that often most happenings are random events. It is best not to read too much into any occurrence or from what people say or what they do.
Many, many times over the last four and a half years I have woken in the night and wondered why we made the decision to have the AP to live with us. What possessed us to take someone who is so domineering, who can be so utterly unpleasant and who has become a stranger to us, into our home and our lives?
The more I dwell on it the less I know so after a great deal of thought I have made the momentous decision not to question our act of sheer stupidity anymore. I am going to look at each day that comes as a step forward and I am not going to look back. As it is, I have now developed strategies to prevent the AP controlling, bully or irritating me which has made a huge difference to my health and well being. Although in the midst of saying all this, part of me will never come to terms that my own mother would try to subjugate me and destroy my marriage. Why would you want to do that to your daughter? It’s unbelievable that every now and then she still tries to gain some control over both of us and in particular, me. In one respect because we are stuck here having to be her carers, she actually does have the ultimate control. We have no freedom, no personal space and no privacy. You would have thought all that would be enough!
Indeed on that rather sad note I realise that the LSO and I need to get some pleasure out of the life we have together, to experience joy in living however small, even given the restrictions of having to look after the AP. We are both remarkably fit for our age and need to give thanks for that because compared to many we are lucky. It’s just finding ways to do it.
I also really do need to find some space to do the right things to move my diet forward too. At the moment I am still on a plateau moving neither up nor down which in itself is a reflection of our lives. I know that things can’t go on forever, that situations are always changing even if sometimes only slightly. We have visitors coming to stay at the weekend which will bring on a load of gushing and pretence from the AP but after that I must do some serious planning.
This part of the year can be a bit depressing being generally cold and often grey and gloomy so it is even more important to be strong, go with the flow and keep moving in the right direction in every aspect of our lives.
…. and in more ways than one. I am actually back to swimming two to three times a week after a couple of months break, not because I wanted a break but heavy colds and Christmas just got in the way. Once behind us an element of almost normality had emerged briefly. Then our good farmer friend and neighbour went into hospital for a double bypass and thanks to Mr Cameron’s Big Society ideas we are now helping to care for him during his recovery. No NHS care package in place or District Nurse visits either. Just discharged from hospital four days after the operation with a bag of drugs and instructions to make various appointments with his GP. He is 82 years old and lives on his own and is unable to drive for at least six weeks. Fortunately we are extremely fond of him and don’t mind doing all this but it has added another layer on top of what we already have to deal with in a normal day.
The additional responsibility has certainly made following the RMR diet a lot more difficult because there is no time to spend on prepping for myself so I am just keeping carbs to the minimum, limiting protein, having bulletproof coffee for breakfast occasionally, filling in the tracker most days and trying to be sensible. I reached a plateau during Christmas and beyond that is refusing to budge at the moment and that is despite intermittent fasting but hopefully that will change after next week. I am not getting paranoid about it but I am resigned to the situation because it isn’t going to last forever and then I can have a portion of my time back to focus on what I need to do. I do wonder if after a couple of stones of weight loss my body needs time to adjust before continuing to reduce. A plus point is that despite everything that is going on my blood pressure is remaining pretty steady.
The AP has been reasonable while we have had to deal with our neighbours needs but for how much longer? We know from experience that she can’t keep up the pretence for too long but whilst he is eating with us she is having to. It will be interesting to see if there is a backlash when things return to normal.
But for the time being I am swimming physically in the pool and also swimming mentally through the days.
Well Christmas has come and gone, as have the New Year celebrations and although Christmas was a cooking marathon, it was lovely with all the family here. The New Year for us is just another day and now we are faced with the inevitable tidy up. The outside lights are down as are the cards and this afternoon it is the tree in the hall to be dismantled and all the baubles packed away until next year.
There must be millions doing the same thing and reflecting on the year ahead. What will it all hold and how do I rid myself of this feeling of discomfort and unhappiness at the thought of the continuing battles with the AP. Even with the family here and subsequent visitors she still had to try and be in control, attempting to dominate our friends by going into gush and burble mode. She now gets everything confused but I have learnt to turn off to most of the things said because at the end of the day, do they matter? I no longer rise to her littles jibes but I still wake up in the morning and wonder how much longer can the LSO and myself put up with the tyranny of having her living with us.
Whilst we had visitors she would gush about the food but the minute we were back to the three of us she reverted to being utterly thankless, eating with her fingers and putting chewed food back on her plate, a particularly unpleasant practice. We have asked her not to do this but to use her cutlery and so far of late, she has been a little better. But I have come to dread mealtimes, not only preparing them, what will she not eat today but also having to witness the whole procedure.
I’ve also found it difficult to be disciplined about the diet. I am the same weight now as I was before Christmas, which is good but my mindset is not. I am pulling things together and have started my daily tracker again but need to get out with the LSO and the dogs. I need some clean air in my lungs and a clear head to keep myself on track with everything. In fact I just need to get out. I feel as if I have been housebound for weeks and the walls are closing in on me despite my attempts to divert my thoughts with activities such as my latest knitting project.
I don’t believe in new year resolutions but if I did do one it would have to be about positivity. The AP will be heading up to Scotland for the month of April but that is three months away which in reality is not long so that’s at least a more positive thought.
I woke up this morning to another day of dealing with the AP and her unpleasant ways and found myself thinking back to better times. I guess it’s that time of the year when we all realise another year is almost over.
It’s almost five years since my mother came to live with us and I can quite honestly say it has been five years of misery. When I think back to pre-AP days I realise how happy and free we were but I had just taken it all for granted. The LSO and myself are not unhappy with each other and have learnt to accept that we have no personal space and no privacy but it would be so much better if the AP had turned out to be the sweet old lady we naively thought she was before she arrived.
I had never seen my mother as a control freak, always needing to be in charge. I knew she was bigoted, vain and snobbish but the rest, the need for control, the attempts to divide and rule, the nastiness when she doesn’t have her own way and the childishness, her silly little girly voices and the baby words were all kept hidden from view until she walked through our door.
Was there anything we could have changed about our situation? Probably not, for several years we fought to survive in our own home simply because we didn’t understand or see clearly what she was doing. We now have strategies in place to protect our physical and mental health which suffered as a result of all this. They work to a point but we are always on our guard, waiting for the next nasty dig which is always followed by a short lived period of almost niceness.
At least we are no longer alone in seeing her for what she really is or should I say, become. My cousin and his wife who have her to stay with them two months of the year have seen the veil slip more often in the last couple of visits and they have a better understanding of what we live with twenty-four seven. A couple of close friends have also witnessed her nasty side and are definitely not impressed but they have remained our friends, thank goodness. Also this blog and the support received as a result of it have helped me to keep things in perspective. Thank you all family, friends and strangers for being there, it does make a difference.
Its no good regretting having made this life changing decision, we just have to continue getting on with it; as the LSO says ‘it’s what it is” and when it is finally all over we can live our lives to the full again.