The Riptide of Unknowing

Fern Pessin

The Riptide of Unknowing

Fern Pessin

I woke up feeling distressed again. Mom wants to talk about dad’s catheter; she wants to send me a picture of the redness. “Mom, I really don’t want a picture of dad’s private parts.” She doesn’t understand this. Meanwhile, aside from the medical challenges, I’ve been working on hiring the private aides, collecting the information to do my parent’s taxes, and hiring an accountant all while receiving a barrage of texts about Costco shopping. My mother claims she doesn’t want to bother me so she didn’t tell me about a visit to the urgent care center, but she does think it’s okay to text me repeatedly to see if I have a vise grip that can open her bottle of wine! I’m feeling over-cooked and need to cool off. 

Unrelenting stress is not good for anyone. I know that if I don’t get away soon, I won’t be worth much to anyone. When a friend offered me an empty apartment to use for a writing retreat to get away, I had to cancel because my dad started passing blood clots instead of pee. (Which is what started the whole catheter thing to begin with!)

I think of my parent’s passing. People say I will miss them when they’re gone, but I can’t see that from where I’m standing. I can only see relief. And guilt. My truth is that I don’t have them with me every day, but the financial stress and concern that I will screw up their money or that I will do the wrong thing at the wrong time is ever present in my mind. Guilt.

It’s alarming how I get sucked under what I call the riptide of unknowing. I never know what tomorrow is going to bring that will pull me under and spit me out in a whole new direction.

The caregiving stuff comes on top of the news of racism, acts of violence against fellow human beings, and the general rudeness and divisiveness that seems to the “normal” now. Throw in financial concerns and the weird symptoms which cause me to repeatedly think, “Do I have Covid?” My hand is waving--can you see me?

I can’t retire from this job which is another component of the riptide. When one takes on caring for an aging parent (or spouse or child), how do you just walk away? My caregiving friends share their stories of siblings that moved to another country or haven’t talked to family in years and spouses that walk out and move on. I suppose it is possible, but for people like me who for one reason or another are the designated ones--the logical choice to care for someone because of a myriad of reasons (fate, finances, family status, marital status, geography, etc.)--once you’re in, you can feel stuck.

This feeling of being dragged down and then swirling around in a cycle that cannot seem to ever stop, that's keeping me from being able to surface as my true self, is too much. I want my freedom back. I want to be able to build my business, halt the stress eating, and stop feeling like I’m being judged all day, every day for decisions I make. I want to stop resenting my mother and pitying my father. 

In the ocean, when you get sucked into a riptide, the lesson I learned as a child was to stop fighting it and just go with the flow. Eventually it will let you out of being in “stuck” mode and deposit you with the regular tide back onto a beach somewhere. Riptides and how you deal with them are different based on your ability to swim, your strength and energy, and the water. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Just like caregiving. Our to-do lists may be similar but how we each deal with them has to be customized.

Respected advice applicable for every situation where you feel like you’re being dragged under is to remain calm and try to float or swim in the direction the water leads you. Signal for help. Go with the flow instead of fighting it. Have I mastered this yet? No. Have you? But there are strategies you can employ. We can delegate some duties (if we are financially fortunate) to hired people. We can move our loved ones into facilities/communities where experts are around to ameliorate disease and make life comfortable and enjoyable for our loved ones (if our culture does not pressure us to “keep them home”).

I did take a virtual vacation by viewing YouTube drone tours for a few hours a day. That helped. I am also meditating twice a day. Holding my hand up for help, I speak to a therapist and attend a virtual caregiver’s support group. And now, when overwhelmed about something, I ask myself a few questions: Will this matter in a day, week, month? Is this within my control? Can I delegate this? And finally--I am in training to zen this out--what is doable right now, in this moment?

Here’s wishing you a smooth float back to the beach.

To learn what caregivers do to manage stress, read Tips for Preventing Caregiver Burnout and Managing Stress

About the Contributor

Fern Pessin is the author of “I’ll Be Right There: A Guidebook for Adults Caring for their Aging Parents.” She also blogs about her caregiving experience and shares caregiving resources on I’ll Be Right There.

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