…is a blissful thing.
The problem is, you don’t want to re-engage. Stepping back into your own reality can be incredibly frustrating — even tragic. You know exactly what you’re walking into, and you do it, willingly, fighting every urge to run, every single step of the way. Your instinct is to bolt — to another country, one that requires a visa. At least that was my experience. After 10 days in Vietnam with little contact to the demented world, I felt normal — happy, yes happy. Content. Light. I was funny. I tasted pho and freedom. I was wooed by this place, the people, and one charming American. I felt like myself. I could talk endlessly about life, travel, politics, movies, family, and I don’t even remember what else. I drank beer. I laughed. A LOT. Lots of laughing. I never shut up and I was always laughing. The colors were so vivid. The people so lovely. The culture so rich. It was inspiring. Nothing was haunting me… not my mother, not my past in New York. I was truly free.
Thing is, it was a vacation. But for me, it was more than just a mini-break, it was way outside the realm of my everyday reality. A plane ride to a place called SANE.
<<<Me. Resting. Relaxing. Feeling normal. Normal me.
<<<Ah, beach, book, sand.
<<<No mom. no calls. no worries.
<<<Sun. Life. I love you.
Fast forward 10 days.
I didn’t want to see my mom. I was tempted to move into the Seoul Airport, just so I wouldn’t have to go home. Then came the awful thoughts: if she weren’t here, if she weren’t sick, I could leave and do whatever I wanted. I sometimes feel like my entire life has been ruled by someone else — someone else’s desires, dreams, hopes… and now this stage of my life now belongs to my demented mom. It’s not a prison sentence by any means. Logically, I know this. I could leave. I could run. But that would be the wrong action.
FACT: I sometimes suffer from the-grass-is-greener-syndrome. There is no known cure for this when living in an emotional apocalypse — except to smile through it… words, I live by (thanks Gay Talese).
Still, Vietnam was my time. It was my choice. My move. I was in control.
My friends say that I seem different now. That I’m not myself since my vacation in ‘Nam. They’re right of course. I know myself well enough to feel a shift in my own mood. Sometimes, I wonder if I will ever feel settled, calm or content in this role of daughter. I don’t understand the phrase, “Life is Good,” as uttered by the charming American in Vietnam. The thing is, life would be good if she weren’t here, or at least easier. How do you reconcile that fact? It’s true. If she were not here or not sick, our lives would be better. How can someone have such vile thoughts? What kind of daughter am I? The nefarious side of me thinks, if only… if only…
…it would all stop.
Hit the pause button. I have to pee.
Vietnam was my pause.
Now, here I am. Taking her calls. Listening to her complain about the live-in, how she needs to go to a doctor… again. How she wants to invite Dr. (she means Father) Andres for fruit and why the fruit for her fruit on her letter and the money someone owes her because the fruit said so… Her new thing: she wants me to buy her a car. Nothing fancy. Something small. OK. she makes me laugh. Life ain’t great, but it has it’s moments with my demented mom.
Now who’s the demented one?
Here is the deal: I’m a realist. And this is my reality. Yes, I’m still bent out of shape about the ordeal, and yes, it may take me longer to find my balance after stepping outside the realm of MY reality, but it is what it is. Dementia is a constant fight… a fight with yourself, because you do want to give up. I’ve been doing this for a while now and yes, I would like to throw in the towel. I am 32 and I think about who would want to marry me with a burden like this? How can I start a family when I’m still struggling and coping with my own family of origin?
Worse yet, for many of caregivers, it’s literally one or two against the beast. How many people dealing with disease have family members who do absolutely nothing to help. Only children fighting this disease alone — with no parent or family. Siblings who sit back and only offer criticisms? You should do this, you should do that… Or my personal favorite: the friends and relatives who “think of you,” but do little to actually make your life or your demented parent’s life easier. Really? “I’m thinking of you,” that’s all you got?
I’m thinking you can suck it.
I mean that nice.
So here I am. Back in it. Caregivers, no matter your role, are the warriors in this fight. Just make sure whenever you can, no matter how you do it… STEP OUTSIDE THE REALM OF REALITY. Often. Yes, you’ll have to come back and play in the demented sandbox (believe me, I don’t want to play anymore either… this game is bunk, I will throw sand at anyone who gets in my way of giving her a good life), but TAKE CARE of YOU.
My travel pick: Vietnam. It’s far away, e-mail is slow, so you can’t feel to bad if you don’t connect with family, and phones, well, much too costly after a while, especially when you start thinking in Vietnamese dong. Best of all… the people are incredibly lovely and humble… Sin chow (that means “hi”… I forgot how to say goodbye.)