Stand Tall

Jean

Stand Tall

Jean
lighthouse-802930_640The recent topic, “Tell us, I lost…” brought to mind how many things I felt I lost during my caregiving years. Sometimes I felt like I lost my mind. I could no longer speak intelligently or complete a thought. My memory ebbs and flows to this date, but overall, it’s better. I really let my health go during those caregiving years. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I’ve appeared to the outside world over the last 10 plus years.

Flashback to past: I was a shy, “husky” kid nicknamed in grade school “fats” and I struggled with feeling like the outsider through my school years. I overcame my insecurities and through my late 20s thru mid 40s I was confident and outgoing. I was even approached by my professor and offered a TA position teaching Intro Psych 101 when I returned to college. (That’s a far cry from the 19-year-old in class who was afraid to raise my hand and answer a question even though I knew the answer and everyone else in the class had already made several wrong guesses.)

In a former job I stood in front of groups and gave presentations, managed difficult cases, defused heated conflicts, trained interns and was recognized for superior charting skills that helped the facility pass JCAAHO accreditation. I dressed fashionably, looked good and took good care of myself. I was in great physical shape. I loved roller blading and did it as often as I could.

Then something happened. Not something but lots of somethings — including some real major, not-so-good, life events. Then the topper (following a few hard years) was my dad’s lung cancer. I made the decision to move home to help mom care for him. Seems like overnight, I put on 20 pounds. I reverted back to childhood coping by eating my mom’s endless supply of homemade sweets and carb-laden meals. (She could eat all this and stay a skinny rail). Mom was getting so upset that dad wouldn’t eat after ALL she had cooked (trying desperately to get calories into his withering body.) So I ate it, like somehow it would make her feel better too.

The weight gain continued after my dad died. I hit a rather early menopause and my depression went beyond grief as I returned to the work world, this time with a low stress job as a cake decorator. (Note: Plentiful opportunities for stress eating.) All this coincided with P (my partner) living with his parents, dealing with his dad's aggressive prostrate/bone cancer and dealing with his own lingering legal/financial issues from his divorce. His dad’s battle was to last five years, then his mom needed care by the time his dad died. I decided to move in with P and his mom when it became evident she couldn't live alone and we would not be able to get our own place as planned.

All the peeps at my current job as graphic designer have only known me through those stressful years of living with and caring for P’s mom. Those years when I carved out my own little corner in a hoarder’s house (putting blinders on to keep anxiety at bay) and learning on the fly to be a caregiver as his mom slowly slipped deeper into dementia.

People in my current life don’t know the “former confident”,  attractive me. I let myself go. My outside matched my inside -- depressed, scattered, and plain worn out. I didn’t have medical insurance, so I was afraid to go roller blading. What if I fell and broke something, I wouldn’t be able to afford medical treatment & maybe not be able to work.

A very long 14 years after Ps dad died, his mom died. Despite the grief, the total emotional and physical exhaustion, the loss of daily direction, the pending financial doom and poor job prospects, P and I shared with each other that we felt “lighter”.  It took the end of caregiving to begin understanding the toll it took on us. I have been doing a lot of “assessing” lately.

I wish I had found caregiving.com before P's mom died. Maybe I would have learned better coping skills, maybe I wouldn’t have been so lonely, maybe I wouldn’t have eaten my way through the stress. Awe, the what if's.

Now, I am flat out embarrassed about how I look. I know much of that shame is rooted in my adolescent years. I fantasize about walking into work looking like I used to look. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t know me. But I need to just get over myself and enjoy my life. Moving on, becoming active, doing things I love is the way I gained confidence in my past. And the side benefit: I lost weight without trying -- stress eating then goes by the wayside.

It’s time to “act as if.” “Fake it till I make it." To stand tall, shoulders back, go through my closet/sewing room and put together a nice “feel good” outfit or two for public, and maybe even dress better at home. Then I wouldn’t be terrified when the door bell rings.

Your body can influence your mind and your mind can influence your body. There is research that shows a simple act of smiling increases the feel good chemicals, even if it is a forced smile. The smile muscles trigger the chemical release. Standing tall, shoulders back can also give you more confidence (according to somebody’s research).

Today I choose smiles and shoulders back.

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P.S. I wrote this a few days ago and in editing tonight it was like, OMG, I just realized, that was my best friend who died last summer. She was known for her smile, everyone commented that they’ll always remember her smile. AND she had the best posture you have ever seen. Maybe she's whispering to me.

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Hayley

Wow, I can so relate to a lot of this. Once I became a full time caregiver, I totally let myself go. I was always thin and I gained 75 lbs in 7 months. It was the way I nurtured myself. People didn't even recognized me!! I love your fake it till you make it statement. That has inspired me. You hang in there!

Jean

Thanks, zuzu.