Old Chick Still Gets Around

20120729-173248.jpgMenopause the Musical may be hysterical but Menopause, the reality–not so much. What I wouldn’t do for one good night without waking up 87 times to kick off the covers and then pull them back on again. I know I’m not the first to point this out: growing older isn’t for sissies. Can I also say, while I’m at it, pimples and wrinkles do not mix. A curse on everyone who ever told me I’d grow out of acne.

At North Topsail Beach where you can usually find me if I’m not at home, there’s a 68 year old woman with abs of steel. She wears bikinis and looks phenomenal. I hate her. My tummy hasn’t seen the sun since I was about 16. I’d actually like to wear a bikini one last time before I turn 50 but if my prowess at “planks” is any indication, I should kiss that dream good-bye.

Fifty, ugh. Just 2 years away. How does this happen? Jerri is only 8 months away. When I tease her, she says “You laugh now but you’re not far behind.” I quickly remind her “I’m younger than you and I always will be.”

Walking on the beach yesterday, I passed a lot of twenty-somethings skim-boarding, burying each other in the sand, body surfing, tubing, and just generally hanging out. Some of them made eye contact and I told myself, “they think you’re hot.” Because I can’t handle the truth. It’s just hard to acknowledge the most positive thing they’re actually thinking is, “Old chick still gets around. Cool.”

It’s pretty routine for me to forget my age. I look at people way younger than me and think “I’m just like you.” When my coworker, Nicole, took a position in the UK, I went to her going away party. She’s in the Esprit program at work which hires new MBA grads and then rotates them through various positions in the company. She’ll be my boss someday. I’m pretty sure of it. Anyway, as you can imagine, all the Esprit kids are, well, kids. I was chatting with a few of them, Margarita in hand, and they asked how long I’d been with the company. Seventeen years, I said, doing the mental math and hoping they’d think I was only 38. But then I freaked (I blame the Margarita), thinking I probably look really old for 38, and blurted out my real age. There was a collective sigh of relief. “Gosh, Mrs. S. You don’t look a day over 40!” Yup.

In my head, I’m so much younger than my friends. Their “fine lines” are not so fine any more. They are thicker around the middle and saggier everywhere else. Some of them have that turkey-neck thing going on. In my head, that’s not me. Only group photos don’t lie. Nor does the mirror. There’s no such thing as Freaky Friday and that isn’t my mother.

At the same time I’m clutching onto my youth with both hands, I’m in a huge rush to retire. I want to be young AND get old faster. How whacked is that? I guess what I really want is to be independently wealthy so I can spend all day writing and not have to worry about making any money from it.

Not sure why I’m obsessing about age so much today. Maybe because Jerri is thinking about moving, and we drove over to look at the new place last week. There wasn’t a soul on the premises under the age of 65. If you’ve ever wondered where the poor elderly live in Durham, now you know. North Roxboro St. Jerri’s case worker, Catherina, recommended the housing complex. It’s in a better part of town, less accessible to street drugs, and closer to where I live. It’s also harder to navigate without transportation and I worry about where she will eat when she runs out of food. There is no shelter across the street. When I pointed this out, she said, “I’ll ride my scooter downtown if I have to.” Jerri talks about “her scooter” as if she already owns one. Forget that scooters require gas and if she has no money for food, where is the money for gas coming from? Still, I like to picture her on a shiny red scooter jetting around town. I know just what the rocking-chair-crowd will say as they see her drive off. “Old chick still gets around.”


A Snarky Conversation with My Self

[SELF] I can’t believe you’re going to sell Jerri’s car and keep all the money. That’s basically stealing, you know.

    Sigh. Here we go. I really dislike my self. You’re about to see why.

[ME] You say that like its a fortune. It’s $700 bucks. We spent $400 just to get the car back from the sheriff and over to CarMax for an estimate.

    For those playing catch up, Jerri, my sister, who is also bipolar, tried to sell her car to Travis who made two payments and then split with the vehicle. He got picked up for burglary and the sheriff repossessed the car. And that’s what you missed on Glee.

[SELF] Yeah, well you’d have gotten a better deal if you’d posted it on Craig’s list. And why are you keeping the $300? Huh? What’s up with that?

[ME] Are you freakin’ kidding? The car’s a total disaster after Travis had his way with it. The keys are lost. There’s no license plate. All of the tires are flat. The odometer doesn’t even display. There’s a dent the length of the car on one side. And the interior looks like Edward Scissorhands lost a contact and Freddy Krueger helped find it.

[SELF] You should give Jerri the $300.

[ME] What is your problem? You know as well as I do she owes me that money.

[SELF] Yeah, but you don’t need it. She does. You’re just greedy. It’s her money and you’re taking it. Because you can. Because there’s nothing she can do about it.

    See? See what I have to put up with? Always, always, always with the accusations.

[ME] Seriously? You’re going with greedy? After all I do for her? Leasing a storage unit, taking her to movies, lunch, dinner, to Walmart and Dollar Tree. Has it ever occurred to you, that keeping the money is for her own good? She has to learn to be accountable. That when you borrow money, you pay it back. That if you sell your car, you pay back people you owe before buying a play station or laptop or scooter. That’s what you do.

[SELF] But you’re not teaching her anything. You’re not allowing her to make that choice. You’re MAKING her give you the money.

[ME] She won’t do it otherwise. Even when she’s in her right mind, she’s like a kid. Given the choice, a kid is not going to eat spinach or go to bed at 9:30 pm. The money will be gone within 24 hrs and she’ll have nothing to show for it.

[SELF] You could make a deal with her. If she really wants a scooter, you could hold it until she’s saved up the rest.

[ME] And what about what she owes me?

[SELF] Just let it go. You don’t NEED the money.

[ME] It’s not about THAT. It’s about doing what’s right. What you’re suggesting feels like the easy way out. Give her the money. Avoid confrontation. Isn’t that what our parents always did?

[SELF] Well, if making her pay you back is the right thing to do, why do you feel so guilty?

[ME] BECAUSE OF YOU, YOU FREAKIN’ IDIOT! Why can’t she just do the right thing? Why can’t she just say, “It really sucks that we couldn’t get more for the car. But you guys did all the work to sell it and I owe you more than I’ll ever be able to pay you, so you just keep that money.” You know if that was her attitude, I’d feel a lot more gracious. I’d feel like I could be generous because she wasn’t acting all entitled.

[SELF] Shouldn’t you be generous no matter how the other person behaves?

[ME] Shouldn’t I just lie down and let everyone wipe their feet on my face?

[SELF] Is that rhetorical?

[ME] I hate you.

[SELF] smirk

    And they say I’m the normal one . . .

Taking a Minute (OK, Ten) to Refocus

Jerri once said, “You look at me and see a problem. I’m not a problem—I’m a person!” Ouch. Granted, she wasn’t well at the time and she was really, REALLY angry about me refusing to drop everything and wrap my life around her current crisis. Still. If I’m honest with myself (and most of the time I try to be, unless I’m hormonal, and then I tend to listen to that small but obnoxiously loud inner voice that hollers “You can’t handle the truth!”), she was right. My entire family has treated Jerri as a problem that needs fixing since she was about 14 years old.

But it’s not just Jerri. I have this uncanny ability to spot problems everywhere. It’s as if I’m viewing the entire world through a cracked lens. No matter where I look, there is stuff that needs to be fixed. My mind seems to hone in on that which is broken. I don’t know how I got to be this way, whether it’s innately who I am or a way of thinking learned from my parents. But I do know this. No one wants to hear about problems unless you’re offering solutions. And you need to make sure your conversations are sprinkled with positives or people will avoid you like a friendly raccoon in broad daylight. (Rabies for you city peeps scratching your heads.)

My boss recently reminded me of this. Not about raccoons (although that does sound like a conversation we might have) but about refocusing on the positives.

I’m currently working on the-project-from-hell (literally, that’s what I named the folder where all my project docs get filed) which appears to be totally jinxed, I mean, if anything can go wrong on this project, it will and it has. It’s as if the whole universe is conspiring against me. I’ve known for quite some time my life is harder than everybody else’s :-). But, really? I’ve brought issue after issue, challenge after challenge to my boss’s attention so he reminded me during my semi-annual professional development discussion that what I’m working on is, in fact, STILL an awesome project. It is STILL very worthwhile and something we should be doing as a company. We have made a tremendous amount of progress and it’s important to remember and to celebrate what we’ve accomplished. And we need to make sure upper management hears about the good stuff and not just about what sucks.

The same is true with Jerri. Not that she’s a “project” but like all of us, she is a work in progress. We have both come a long way since she moved here in 2010. It’s been hard. It’s been challenging. It’s been bang-your-head-against-the-wall frustrating. There have been times I thought I’d hyperventilate. Or get in my car, keep on driving, and never look back. But in a weird almost twisted way, its also been rewarding. Like Glinda (Wicked), who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But I have grown. And I have been changed for good. (Don’t hate me for identifying with Glinda here—remember, Elphaba turns out to be the hero.)

(Elphaba):
I’m limited. Just look at me – I’m limited
And just look at you. You can do all I couldn’t do, Glinda
So now it’s up to you. For both of us – now it’s up to you…

(Glinda):
I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn.
And we are led to those who help us most to grow If we let them
And we help them in return.
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today because I knew you…

20120714-143822.jpgI completely understand why many siblings, maybe even most siblings, want nothing to do with brothers and sisters with brain disorders, particularly those who are dual diagnosis. It’s like marriage and growing old. It isn’t for wimps. However, for those of us who have chosen to engage, what we gain personally and spiritually is priceless. All of us who care for people with brain disorders need to refocus every now and then and celebrate even the small stuff.

In the spirit of that, Jerri, Stan, and I are off to see Brave (Groupon) and then dinner at Ruby Tuesday’s. Here’s what I’m celebrating today:

  • Jerri’s been consistently stable for about 2 months.
  • I’ve managed to vanquish the evil Adderall Rx at least for now.
  • She has more energy, is keeping her apartment clean, and doing her laundry.
  • She has a renewed interest in making her place “homey” and used her own money to buy a new comforter set and shower curtain. She also rescued a rug from the dumpster (ew!) but it does look nice.
  • She’s making some tough, responsible decisions. She worked with her telecom provider on a plan to catch up on payments and she’s faithfully made the last 3 installments. She has told a friend who has been crashing regularly at her apartment and who has been asked by property management to stay off the premises that he can no longer stay with her.
  • She is starting to care about her appearance and health again. She’s talking about making appointments to see both a dentist and an ophthalmologist.
  • She’s had some substance abuse relapses but she tells me now when she uses instead of making up some outrageous story about the magical disappearance of appliances—stuff that’s only truly believable if you happen to live at Hogwarts. She has told the source not to come around any more and identified some local Narcotics Anonymous meetings within walking distance.
  • She’s thinking about others more. On our last grocery day, she brought a list of items to pick up for Bronwyn, a friend in her building who’s struggling with depression. She’s also clipping coupons for restaurants to help subsidize our outings.
  • I’m having some success with boundaries. Just yesterday, when Jerri called asking for a $3.00 loan, I reminded her of my policy on that—she needs to manage her money in such a way that she has at least $5.00 left at the end of each pay period to cover unplanned needs. So I said no and told her she was really pushing my boundaries. She agreed, and, can you believe it, LET IT GO. Just like that.
  • Jerri is starting to dream again and to set goals. When we finally sell her car, she plans to buy a scooter with the money. This is a GREAT solution to her mobility issues. It doesn’t require a license and hers has been suspended indefinitely since she can’t afford to pay the fines. It also keeps her off the highways which, trust me, is just better for everyone all the way around. Gas for a scooter is also way more affordable than for a car. Her other dream is to move to the beach and she talks about setting money aside on a regular basis as soon as she’s paid off some debts.
  • Oh, and probably the best thing—Jerri’s youngest daughter, “A”, called her. This is incredible, really. They’ve had practically no contact for years. “A” lives with our parents and like everyone else in that household, does not understand mental illness and the link to addiction. She lived with Jerri until she was around 8 years old, I believe. There is a LOT of baggage. “A” is applying for financial aid for college and needs Jerri’s signature on some forms. She called me first, soliciting my help, and I encouraged her to talk to Jerri. And she did!
  • A great theologian :-), Albus Dumbledore, once said:

    Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.

    Hope you all join me in turning on the light, whatever the circumstances in which you find yourself today.


    Practicing Detachment

    Here’s an excerpt from SpiritualRiver.com entitled How Can I Help an Alcoholic or Drug Addict? I found it timely given that Jerri is starting to acknowledge she still has substance abuse issues. But I also think this is applicable to all of us who love someone with a brain disorder. It’s about practicing detachment.

    One of the key principles that will help you in dealing with a struggling alcoholic or drug addict is detachment. The idea behind it is to separate yourself emotionally from the damaging effects of your relationship with the addict or alcoholic. It is not the same as complete disassociation or abandoning the relationship. The idea is to care for them while detaching emotionally. You can care for them but not feel like you are responsible for them. In other words, you are specifically trying to not get all wrapped up emotionally by an addict’s destructive behaviors.

    This is difficult.

    Practicing detachment should make it easier over time. Here are some things that you can do in order to practice detachment with the struggling addict in your life:

  • Don’t do things that they should be doing themselves.
  • Don’t bend over backwards to rescue them or save them from natural consequences.
  • Don’t cover up for their mistakes or embarrassing situations.
  • Don’t rescue them from crisis or financial situations.
  • Don’t try to fix them.
  • Let go of any guilt you may have about them.
  • Detachment is not about denying your emotions. If someone close to you dies, for example, you will probably feel sad. You can’t choose this feeling. It simply is. But we do have the power to affect the intensity of this feeling, by focusing on the positive aspects of the situation. We can also change our thinking in an attempt to eradicate irrational beliefs that might be contributing to our emotional turmoil.

    The goal is not to go without emotions, the goal is to achieve some level of emotional stability. We are detaching from the negative, irrational thoughts that stir up our emotions, like the guilt we might have if we think someone’s addiction is our fault.

    For me, I have to work hard at not doing things for Jerri that she can do herself. One technique I’m learning to apply is what I call “delayed response.” Jerri’s first instinct when she needs help is to call me with directions on what I can do to fix her problem. As if. I’m learning that if I don’t respond immediately, she can usually come up with some creative solution that doesn’t involve me. Yay! Take this week for example. Her refrigerator died the day after we’d made a grocery run. She called me and left a frantic voice message around 12:30 pm.

    “I need you to bring a cooler over and some ice. I’m going to lose all my groceries. Help! I can’t afford to do that–I don’t have any money left to buy more!!”

    It was Sunday and I’d turned my ringer off. I’d told Jerri on Saturday when we were at Walmart that I intended to stay in and do nothing the next day. I intended to take the whole day of rest thing literally. When I checked my phone at 7 pm, I saw four messages from Jerri all within a half hour of each other. Uh oh. The last one was at 2:30 pm – I listened to it first.

    “OK. I don’t need you to do anything now. Bronwyn let me put some stuff in her refrigerator and Mike took the rest of it. He doesn’t have hardly any food in his. I just hope they replace my refrigerator quickly. I don’t know if I can trust them not to eat my food.”

    I immediately called and congratulated her on her quick-thinking and problem-solving skills. This, BTW, is call “positive reinforcement” and I learned it at Puppy Kindergarten 🙂 (Hey, you gotta pick up life skills wherever you can find them!) I also told her how sorry I was that this had happened which is sometimes what we want more than actual help when we’re in a jam–someone to commiserate.

    Anyone else out there practicing detachment?

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