Since moving in with my grandma a month ago to care for her after she fell, I have very little free time. I stay with her 100+ hours a week, and am still working 40-50 hours a week. Last night was maybe the second time in a month I’ve slept in my own bed. It was wonderful. And it wasn’t nearly enough.
Skipping the exhausting experience of caring for an older relative for now, I’ve learned in the past month to live in the moments I have free. Rather than chaining myself to my obligations and responsibilities, I take every free moment, whether I’m in the shower at her apartment or driving to or from a project to just live. No mindless existence, sulking about how much has been thrown at me. No accepting my restrictions as unchangeable. Living. And enjoying it.
I’m packing as much into those free moments as I can, whether it’s meetings over coffee or blowing calories on Whataburger or sending birthday cards or getting my garden seedlings transplanted before the rain hits.
I am so limited. I refer to those 100+ hours as jail. But I’m finding freedom in the restrictions. I’m ironically thriving. My relationships are improving. I’ve maintained my weight (usually I pack on pounds during times of intense stress). I have plans. Not plans to travel or go to brunch or do the things that might typically be enjoyable. It’s smaller. More intentional. And so much more than I’ve done previously.
I’ve watched a few people I know make poor choices in the last coupe of weeks that put people (and animals) close to them at risk. They let in harmful things because they weren’t willing to recognize and assess potential threats, and it cost them. In one case thousands of dollars in vet bills and in another the dissolving of trust and family.
I’m not sure what causes it, because I protect my house. I guard my close relationships carefully and try to protect them – sometimes even from the chaos in my brain.
For me, when someone or something is important to you, you don’t put it at risk. You don’t ignore the warnings and the intuition that harm is imminent. And if you do, that repair work is on you.
With PTSD I’ve had to work hard to understand this, because my brain reads and misreads threats all the time. I can become my own threat when anxiety becomes too much to handle, and I perceive a lot of things as threats that aren’t.
I’m trying to keep my responses balanced. Needs more practice.
Friends of mine got engaged last night. She’s a trauma survivor with PTSD, and has struggled to accept that he accepts her. I’m thrilled for them, and reminded of what my life isn’t.
And also what it is.
It’s not someone else’s story.
I live firmly rooted in a reality that rarely remains centered on what I want, and often veers so far toward responsibilities, obligations and support for others that I often wonder if I’ll find my way back to myself. I do, because my roots run deep in the center, and as much as I get knocked sideways, I can pull myself back.
Again. And again. And again.
I get stretched a lot.
Or is it?
Everything feels like it’s on slo-mo. I sit in a dim apartment day after day, providing care, working some, on the phone giving encouragement and support. I have no idea where the three weeks have gone since my grandma fell, but they’re gone, and I’m still here, and I’m starting to forget I used to do other things.
That giving free-flow? It seems to be working. Not every moment, but mostly. The laptop needing to be replaced? Not a big deal, just an inconvenience. Needing a new phone? Another inconvenience that will wait until I can get to it. Long, sleepless nights and up at 3 and again at 6 to provide care? We’ll both just settle in the living room and sleep in before I make French toast. Because I can and because it’s nice. Phone blowing up? It’ll wait. I need another hour of disturbed sleep.
Where I grew up, we used controlled burns to manage land. Generations ago the landscape was much more open, and drought and lightning strikes did naturally what we do now with flamethrowers and fuel.
The fires have a purpose. They clear out brush and make way for new growth. They remove choking weeds and leave the larger trees to thrive with less competition for water.
Before anything was built or permanent, fire could sweep across the land in a natural cycle of burn and regrow. Once ranchers moved in, the need to stop fire became critical to protect what they’d built. The beneficial fires became destructive to the new elements of the landscape, but were still needed for ecological health.
Wildfires were considered bad for a few generations, until we understood how necessary they are. We now use controlled burns to have the benefit without the total destruction. You have to monitor conditions, play it smart and be prepared for things to go horribly wrong. And a lot of the time you pray.
It’s not a bad analogy for where I’ve found myself. Had I let a few things burn, I might not have had so much catch fire outside my control. Had I prepared, I might not have had to scramble so hard to try to get things under control. Clearing out needed to happen one way or another, I just got the wildfire instead of the controlled burn.
New growth comes regardless.
I know I have a specific set of limits. If I don’t eat, my blood sugar drops and I get pissed at everything. If I don’t stay hydrated it’s a similar experience. If I don’t stay hydrated and I’m out in the sun I’m likely to vomit or pass out.
Drink water. Eat. It’s that simple.
So simple I forgot, so when all I had all day was coffee and beer and eventually some fried fast food garbage, I hit PTSD panic hard. Everything was bad, I couldn’t communicate, couldn’t figure out what I needed and couldn’t hit the pause button to stop and sort it out.
And I was pretty sure none of it was my fault.
Somewhere in the back of my head I’m probably resentful that I need that much effort to not go to pieces. I was busy and had a packed travel schedule, and didn’t want to take the time to do what I needed. Well, that’s going to have to stop.
I almost did it again this morning by not eating breakfast till 11 and then…
Drink water. Eat. No meltdown (at least not today).
I’ve been feeling change the last month or so, like it’s time to move into a new phase of recovery. Once upon a time I think I might have been who I was meant to be. I’m starting to feel like I’m there again. This there is different from that there, but I’m there, and I don’t want to be stuck in a place of not-fully-realized me.
I’m working out what it is that I want, what I can live with, what I can live for, how much capacity I really have and just how much I’m willing to let go.
If I ignore much of what my therapist says about how to put myself first, if I go my own way about this, if I stop fighting, if I move to a state of free – flow giving… What happens?
If I open my hands and let go, if I let what returns to me stay, if I don’t hold on but hold out a hand… What happens?
If I stopped worrying about how you feel or don’t feel about me and be who I am regardless, what happens?
If I stop worrying about whether I have enough to give and just give what’s there, what happens?
I don’t want to hold the negativity that surrounds me. I’d rather let it flow in and back out because it doesn’t have a place with me. I’d rather have so much outflow that it can’t flow in. I’d rather trust that God provides and that’s enough, one less thing to concern myself with and one more thing to observe with gratitude.