This is a somewhat of a hard post to write, because it is so personal for me. But in sharing the journey of dementia, I think it is a very essential post to write and share with others who are on a similar journey.
Around the holiday season (Thanksgiving and Christmas), I started to feel very down and even depressed. I think a big part of it was the time of year, and not having mom “there” throughout the season. I felt a sense of loneliness in my Christmas baking and holiday planning. I found myself just wishing and waiting for the holidays to finally be over. For those who know me, you know that this is not typical for me. At all. I LOVE the holidays and everything they have to offer: traditions, festivities, music…
By the end of December, I knew that I needed to do something about my situation. I found myself on the verge of tears nearly everyday over seemingly little things: I didn’t have enough butter to make the batch of cookies I wanted to bake or I couldn’t find the kids shoes as I was rushing to get them off for school in the morning. I couldn’t vocalize what I was feeling because if I did, I knew I would break down. Nobody likes a cry baby.
I’ve been taking my step-daughter and my adopted daughter (formerly a niece) to therapy for a few years now, just to help them to overcome some of the obstacles they’ve faced in their short lives and to have a safe place to express how they are feeling. I knew that it was probably time to see a therapist myself.
I fought it for quite some time. I was worried about having a stigma attached to me for having to see a shrink. I didn’t want them to push medications as a solution for how I was feeling. I told myself that this was a mind-over-matter kind of situation…I just needed to be stronger. But try as I might, I just couldn’t shake off the sadness that hung over me like a dark cloud.
By January, I finally picked up the phone and made myself an appointment to see a therapist. I told them I wanted someone who specialized in grief counseling, and they set me up for an appointment the next week [I will refer to her as Dr. K]. I kept this a secret; only my husband knew that I was going (and eventually one other person). I wasn’t ready for anyone to know.
I felt very anxious at my first meeting with Dr. K. As I sat in the waiting room, I almost felt like there was a target on me and that everyone was staring at me. I don’t know why…I certainly DO NOT think any less of anyone who needs to see a counselor. For some reason, when it came to myself, it was hard to admit that I needed help.
The meeting went well. Dr. K was very sympathetic and very compassionate. I opened up and shared some of my deep feelings. She sat and listened thoughtfully, occasionally offering some words of wisdom and asking questions. The question that sticks out the most in my mind was,
“Do you ever let yourself have a good cry? I mean, just really let it out?”
I sat back and thought about that for a minute. The answer was “no”. I knew that it was good to let it out sometimes. But I had been so focused on being strong that I realized I was suppressing all of my emotions and not giving them a release. We talked some more throughout that session about the importance of grieving and allowing myself to cry and “let it all out”. She told me how important it was to do some things for myself-get out for an evening by myself or with a friend or on a date night; allow myself to read a book or have a hobby. I struggle with this as I try to balance my load: my family, my marriage, my 5 children, my mom and my dad; the list goes on. Sometimes I feel guilty for taking time out and doing things for myself-it almost feels selfish. But what Dr. K helped me to realize is that it is not selfish to take time for myself, it is essential. Essential for my emotional well being and essential for my family (you know that saying…if mom’s not happy, nobody’s happy!)
I met with Dr. K a few more times until a new realization dawned on me: that I was going to be okay. I realized that when I let myself have a good cry, I don’t feel as depressed. I realized that it’s okay to let myself breathe. I can take time for myself and not feel guilty about it! Most of all, I realized that I have a strong network of people in my life that I can lean on for support. I realized that while I was paying Dr. K to listen to me (and don’t get me wrong, sometimes that is necessary), I have a small group of people in my life who I feel safe with; who I can vent to, cry on, lean on and depend on to help get me through the hard times (and at no cost!). I don’t know why I didn’t realize that before! I guess it took talking to a complete stranger to figure it out. But I am grateful for those close friends and family members who love me unconditionally and allow me to be myself-rain or shine-and give me support on this journey.
This road with mom is always going to be bumpy. It’s always going to hurt. It’s going to get harder before it gets easier. I know that and I am doing my best to prepare for that. And I am no longer afraid to let myself have a good cry (even if it is only in my closet! ;) )
I would say to any of my readers who struggle with the idea of seeing a therapist: give it a try. You may find that it helps you to keep some sanity and to learn some coping techniques. Or, you may discover that you’ve had the tools you needed all along.