I’m on “staycation” this week. I started with a bang, by getting my medical stuff in order for another year. Physical, then mammogram. Because I know how to party.
I had a Come To Jesus moment with my primary doc. While I’m basically healthy (perfect blood pressure, cholesterol okay, nothing terribly alarming in the blood work), a few things came back which need to be addressed. I’ve been anemic my whole life, but am now on mega-doses of Vitamin D, since my diet has been – admittedly – pretty crappy over the last few years. I’m also now on prescription nasal spray, because I’m a pretty princess. I’ve got swollen lymph nodes, not a total surprise, since this is also a chronic problem I’ve been dealing with since I was a kid. TMJ, likely caused by stress.
And I need to lose weight. Also not a surprise. My doc hadn’t been terribly adamant about this until this most recent appointment, knowing the pressure I was under the last few years when I was still a caregiver. But now that my mother-in-law is in a memory care facility, it’s time to deal with it. Doctor’s orders and all.
I put on about 35 pounds in the years since we moved in to take care of her, mostly from stress-eating and not making time for myself to properly exercise. I became extremely depressed in the final year she was living with us. In the year since she moved into memory care, I’ve taken off about 7 pounds. My doc would like to see me lose another 10 – 15. I’m older now, and also on medication which slows my metabolism. But what I’m being asked to do is hardly impossible.
I’m not obese, but I’m not at a particularly healthy weight, either. I managed to stay connected with my recovery community, and therefore stayed sober throughout, but I fell back on other bad habits I’d worked so hard to keep under control. Most of what I am dealing with is reversible, or treatable.
But as it stands, I’ve got extra pounds on me, and that feeds into my body image issues. As much as I rally for body positivity, I fall short of the glory when I look in the mirror and start in on myself, saying things I would never, EVER say to a friend or loved one. And that sucks. I feel like I took so many steps back, that even the smallest step forward is barely noticeable. I have so much work to do on myself, almost more than I did when I first got sober, to be honest.
I say all of this because it’s important for people to realize that caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia rarely emerge from caregiving without health problems of their own. Are there things I could have done differently during those years? Of course. Ultimately, I chose to overeat. I chose to sit on the couch and watch movies after putting my mother-in-law to bed, instead of taking that time to take a walk, or go to the gym. I chose “comfort.” I chose to believe that what I was doing was “self-care.” I chose these things because I was in an incredibly stressful situation, and my coping mechanisms were compromised. Even if I hadn’t fallen back into my food issues, I would still be dealing with the near-crippling anxiety, the TMJ, and – arguably – the elevated blood pressure.
Certainly everyone who knows someone with Alzheimer’s is affected in some way, but it’s caregivers that really take a hit. I am no hero for doing what I did. If I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have done it. I’m being honest. But it has made me more of an activist than I would have been if I hadn’t packed up the trappings of my hipster urban lifestyle to move to my husband’s childhood home and help take care of his mother. And I see what caregiving is doing to friends of mine who don’t have the options we did. And at least once a month, I get an email from someone whose parent has just been diagnosed. Alzheimer’s is this vaguely awful thing that we don’t really understand until we’re in the throes of it, and see what it REALLY does. And it’s fucking terrifying. I cannot stress that enough.
I am doing the Walk again this year, as I have done for the past several years now. And I intend to be even more of a voice for the people who are too exhausted to speak. I’m lucky. With the help of a Geriatric Care Manager, we were able to determine that we had the resources to move my mother-in-law somewhere safe. I did not have another year of caregiving in me at the end, but I had choices. So many caregivers don’t. Raising funds and awareness is not simply for research towards a cure, it’s also to provide more resources for families and caregivers. They need help, and they need to know they’re appreciated.