Thursday, March 18, 2010

Achilles Heel

Achilles Heel
Originally uploaded by
School Rocks 101

My brain is totally fried today. It has been an exhaustive week, as my son's moods continue to rapidly cycle. His doctor increased his dosage of medication, but it will take some days to take effect. Yet, in spite of all his inner chaos, he has accomplished quite a bit of school work. Of course there are always casualties in a week such as this, and that casualty would be me.

I'm sitting here thinking of the choice of words I just wrote to describe what my son is experiencing, "inner chaos." It is the ultimate challenge to be the caretaker of someone who is experiencing mental health problems. You never quite know where the line is drawn between the person's choice of behavior, versus their lack of control. Which ever way you lean in your observation, it doesn't really take away from the frustrations of trying to cope with the gamut of extremes. His inner chaos is my Achilles heel.

The challenges of parenthood are immense. The challenges of living through grief is immense. There is nothing like a double dose of reality to really set you up for a downfall.

Most of the time I would see myself as quite capable in these types of stressful situations. After all, I have had many years of dealing with the significant emotional concerns of my children. Yet with time I find that I begin to feel my inner strength give way, and I find that I am on the verge of snapping. This is when the calm and understanding dad becomes the screaming tyrant.

There were many times during these past couple of years as a caretaker to everyone in the household, that I found myself not only snapping, but breaking. I often wondered how others did it. I also wondered how many others had to do it. I don't like when my emotions get the best of me, but then I have to be realistic with myself, and recognize that I am carrying an enormous amount of weight.

It is times like this that I must remind myself that just because I can do it, doesn't mean that I have to do it, or that I can always do it well. If I try to do too much, whether I have a choice or not, I do run the risk of breaking. When you already feel like a broken man, you start to wonder where next breaking point is going to lead you.

I've watched my son's behavior all week, and have thought to myself, why can't I have a break down? Why do I have to work so hard to keep it together during all of this? It reminds me of something a grief counselor said to me one day at a support group I attended early on after Michael's death. I was talking about how difficult it was to meet the needs of my children during those awful early days after Michael's death. When someone asked how I was able to do it, I said that I had no other choice. That's when the counselor said to me, "Dan, you always have a choice. You could let everything fall apart. Others have." She said it was a testament to my inner strength. She was right. I wasn't going to allow myself to completely fall apart. I wasn't going to allow myself to neglect my children's needs. Yet, maybe I needed to give myself a break.

This is my Achilles heel. My own strength can be my own demise. If I don't find a way to give myself a break, then I will be broken. While I often say I feel like a broken man, I know that I am not. I am hurt. I am disillusioned to a point. But I am not broken. My heart is broken, but it will heal. I am sure of that.


  1. How often I wished I had been raised differently because then I might have been able to let down during those caregiving years and the first year of widowhood and just worry about me. But I was the oldest and my dad was a practical man and the idea that a person would just surrender, breakdown, and forget about her responsibilities was beyond my comprehension.

    I don't think we always have choices. For someone raised to believe that you suck it up and push through just collapsing in a heap would never occur to them. Just as someone who grew up being allowed to fall about or neglect responsibilities because things were stressful or too hard wouldn't necessarily see any virtue in holding it together at all costs.

    To be honest, my opinion is that when you have children, nervous breakdowns are luxuries you can't afford. My late husband's mother was widowed at 33. He was seven. Before he was ill he once told me that if something were ever to happen to him (he believed he would die young actually) that I was not to follow his mother's example. She fell apart and never put herself back together. His childhood was made much harder because she put her grief ahead of her responsibility to him. She was still doing that when I met her and as far as I know (haven't seen her since the funeral) she still does.

    One last thing (apologize for the length) being responsible doesn't mean that it isn't good to take stock of the toll it's taking and try to mitigate the effects where you can - take time to do just for you on as regular a basis as you can manage.

    Have a good weekend.

  2. As annie has written above, when you have children, some of your choices are removed. It's so much more complicated to handle your own grief when people depend on you, and you have a lot of responsibilities.

    Although this is not nearly on the same level as having children to care for, after my dad died, I carried on running his small manufacturing business to support the household he was leaving. He and I had been so close and I cared for him to the end with his cancer, so I was grieving for myself. However, I also had to try to run this stupid company and be there for my mother who was also grieving in a different way than me - furious at my dad for leaving her alone. I'm normally the "calm, cool, collected type" but I remember holding myself together for weeks at a time, only to go ballistic when I got pushed over the edge to the point that I felt like I was going out of my mind. Of course, at that time, I had my husband to help me discuss and deal with these emotions, but now I'm alone.

    I realize that I am not longer the "nice" person I used to be -- the person who could handle a huge amount of pressure without snapping. I consciously avoid situations that will make me snap. That said, a couple of times recently, I've spent time with an old friend who also happens to have ADHD. The old me never let the almost constant chaos bother me - having to turn around and drive 30 miles back to get an expensive camera left hanging on chair in a restaurant, keys locked in cars, peculiar and/or thoughtless behaviour and comments, etc.. But the new me has a very hard time keeping my cool in the face of chaos, and in fact, it almost seems contagious as it was ME that locked the keys in the car on out latest outing - but only after I'd been driven crazy by a situation created by my friend a few minutes earlier. There were several blow-ups which my referred to as "your psychotic episodes" - which just made me all the more furious as each was in response to some crazy situation. Luckily, we're good enough friends that it's understood *why* there are blow-ups -- because I'm still grieving and feeling so damaged and stressed inside that my patience is at an absolute minimum these days.

    I guess the thing is to recognize these feelings for what they are, blow off steam, and probably seek refuge by ourselves for a little while - if even just a few minutes. It seems likely that it's impossible to go through the kinds of losses we are facing without having some freedom to cry, scream, punch the bed, throw your wallet across a parking lot (oops! did I really do that?! ahem.) or whatever it is we have to do to let off some pressure. I also think that "recovery time" alone is important - even if it is just to go for a walk after dark for half an hour. Rest is also so important - time to just sit or lie on the bed resting, looking at stuff, thinking.. I believe we need a lot of time for this. I thought I was over that part almost a year ago, but after this winter, realize that I'm still needing some time for that kind of rest and recovery each day.

    Anyhow, maybe your children understand all of the above and aren't really bothered by the odd blow-up - so long as they understand that, basically, things are still okay, or will be. That's what my friend and I have had to discuss. It boils down to this: "Yes, things are still okay, we're still wonderful friends - the very best of friends - but some of the chaotic things you are doing are making me feel like I'm going insane. Can we please have some time out so I can cope?" More crazy stuff happened, I blew up a couple of more times, but we still parted as the best of friends.

  3. I, too, am living with a son experiencing mental health issues. This is something new and we're only starting to find what will work for him. I've never found the right words to express what it is like. You nailed it perfectly. Thank you! Someone understands. May your family find peace.

  4. You write so beautifully--even about not so beautiful and trying times. I read what you commented to WomanNShadows--I am hoping it helped her. I KNOW it helped me. Thank you Dan.

  5. I really appreciated reading all of your comments. I wish I had the time to respond to each of you, but it has been an extremely busy day. While I was at home caring for my son, I was also the office duty worker. Thank goodness I am able to connect into our computer system.

    Bev,I appreciate you sharing about your interaction with your friend. It is very helpful to hear the challenges of others with these matters.

    To all of you, today was one of those days when I take multi-tasking to the extreme. But now that the days is moving to an end, I feel good about all that I accomplished.