My heart howls
It weeps for lost things
It sighs for past things
It beats, it loves
My heart howls
I’m not a Braveheart, a Lionheart
I’m just an everyday heart
I beat, I love
My heart howls
It clocks the shortening nights
And wants to set everything to rights
It beats, it loves
My heart howls
I’m not strong enough for this pain
It’s just too much strain
I beat, I love
My heart howls
It is powerless against the darkening
Yet it keeps on pretending
It beats, it loves
Our hearts are delicate, intricate organs, psychologically as well as physically. We connect the heart with emotions and perhaps that is why it means so much to us; it’s probably the first organ that we learnt to draw and likely the only one that we still do. Our hearts connect with every part of the body, perhaps more obviously and visually than the brain and its nerve connections, and that internal flow perhaps also best represents the connectedness of our inner being; the state of our physical and psychological hearts affect every fibre of our being.
Heart health, with increased awareness and rising risks, has become a huge issue in modern life, almost a ‘buzz’ word in its own right. Perhaps you consciously adopt various strategies, whether through exercise or diet, that will keep your heart healthier, stronger and for longer. But what about your psychological heart?
Despite scientific knowledge shedding greater light and understanding on the psychological, on our innermost, deepest and most mysterious workings, we perhaps have moved no further forward in appreciation. In fact, it could be argued that, despite modern knowledge, modern lifestyles actually are at greatest conflict with our psychological health than at any other more backwards, more primitive point in history. What do you think?
However, we do intuitively protect our psychological hearts and sometimes we adopt some rather odd strategies to do so. These strategies can be difficult to comprehend; in fact they can give a misleading, if not totally erroneous, impression. I watch a friend do this and at times, I have to defend her attitude to others. I know why she says and acts the way she does because I do it too.
Our hearts are delicate but they have so much work to do, it never stops and can’t, but sometimes that can become too much, too much pressure and it hurts. How do you deal with heart pain? Do you have a tried and tested strategy or perhaps have you even found a cure?
But I know that some people turn to medicating, they find things that they hope will at least distract or block out the pain so they can go coping, pretending that their hearts aren’t as sore as they really are, that their hearts aren’t as overworked as they really are. Maybe they use physical things like alcohol or maybe they trust in a psychological cure for their psychological hearts, seeking out good times and thrills and pleasures so that they can pretend that their heart is feeling all that too.
Sometimes we try putting up walls around our hearts, not letting people in, not letting them poke at our sore, damaged little hearts. It’s hard to build a wall, a physical line of defence around an organ, physically or psychologically. It’s not very effective, it’s not easy to maintain. We tend to avoid things, or people, instead. Perhaps we follow the heart health advice of ‘taking it easy’, avoiding the thrills or triggers that might just be too much.
The problem also with those walls is that we can give the impression that we don’t care, that we are mean or unloving or that we are callous. We forget what ‘calloused’ really means, it’s not always a conscious choice or decision but a process. Hearts became calloused, or at least give the impression of being calloused, because they have been damaged. Calloused is the scar tissue, the burn, the damage. Calloused doesn’t really mean a heart that doesn’t care but it’s a heart that has cared too much for too long.
Don’t judge people by what they say. Look beyond the words and remember the stories of their hearts. Often those who claim or pretend not to care are those who care most but their hearts are worn out, damaged, broken. They are doing their best to be responsible, to stay alive and protect their heart from any further damage. It’s not easy and the words, the attitude can be something like bravado; it is ourselves that we are trying to convince, we are trying to distance ourselves. But we never chose to care in the first place, it is our deepest instinct and it’s not one that is silenced easily, if at all.
I feel so guilty that I’ve struggled to write this update, it feels as if I’m admitting my criminal irresponsibility and negligence to the world. And you know where to find me. Did you know that it is a criminal offence to release either a hand reared or a casualty animal when it doesn’t have as equal a chance as it’s (naturally raised, non intervened) peers? Puts quite an edge on it.
We checked the weather forecast before starting our release, rain but that’s nothing new in this country, and we had to balance it with the itching need of these fledglings to get out. We’d had to shut the curtains to stop them crashing into the glass and they kept bonking their heads on the ceiling. It was definitely their time for more space. Rain is not unusual and even more unfortunately, it’s unlikely to go away completely. That’s real freak weather conditions otherwise. Besides, the door would remain open and food provided. They could always shelter here too. That’s more than other fledglings would have.
That’s what we told ourselves. Maybe we were irresponsible, maybe we were inexperienced, maybe we were impatient, maybe we were stupid. I don’t know. Do birdy parents check the forecast before allowing their babies out of the nest?
Hindsight is a great thing to torture yourself with.
Wednesday evening we had all four back in then one went back out. He didn’t come home to roost at bedtime so we had to hope that he had found a safe roost elsewhere. It was dry at the time too. And really, that’s kind of what you want them to do.
Thursday morning was still dry, overcast with a threat of rain. The forecast said rain again. I tell myself now that I should have read through the news, maybe there would have been an article about the weather already hitting the furthest point of the peninsula, two counties south. I don’t know. I tell myself that I should have done something different. I tell myself that I should have kept the door shut that morning and not have let the other three fly free like they did.
The storm came in like I don’t what. It was the kind of storm that would have taken you by surprise in October. Three months on when the fledglings would have been bigger and stronger, more savvy too. I can’t remember one like it. Especially not in June.
To give you an idea of how bad it was and to torture myself a little more over my negligence, we have an enclosed balcony which keeps fairly dry. To have the rain splash the bedroom window three feet inside, the wind has to be coming from a certain angle and be pretty hard. It doesn’t happen much. Yesterday the rain was lashing against the window and the balcony floor was awash.
We kept the door open, the rain driving into the sitting room, hoping against hope.
Maybe they found somewhere to roost.
But now the biggest threat to our babies is exposure.
I feel so terribly. I took my eye off the ball, I lost focus. I should have checked the news or the forecast better. I should have done something, done something differently, anything. Because it is my responsibility.
I failed our babies.
I think we have teenagers in the house. You can recognise the signs. Teenagers come in various distinctive forms but teenagers they are. There are the ones who pull their hair across their faces, who skulk in the corners and deep recesses of life and who are awkward in their shyness. That’s Rocky. Dependent but slightly aloof, shying away from contact, choosing quiet hiding places. Another type of teenager is food motivated, comfort eating or just powering their growth rate. That’s Birdie. Yet another is always in your face, wanting something, wanting you to do something, incessant in their claims. That’s both Birdie and Sneaky. Others are slightly clumsy, not quite keeping up with their peers in growth and maturity, unsure of who they should be hanging with and how they should present themselves. That’s Feisty. Teenagers keep their own hours, contact is definitely only their terms.
They’ve grown so much even if it’s not readily apparent from their size. 2 g is hardly anything; bakers wouldn’t quibble about that difference. But they have filled out; when they first arrived they were still that naked, foetal baby bird under the early feathers. There’s something grotesque about that baby bird look. Vulnerable and not yet ready for the world. Then there’s all the clever stuff that they’ve learnt to do in just a week: the big four are flying with various levels of confidence (a skill that I much admire) and self-feeding. In just a week. So very different from human children!
But the issues are curiously similar. I don’t envy parents of multiples, with one you can focus and give them your undivided attention and energy. With more than one it’s just about trying to balance all the constant demands that they put on you. It’s easier to form a relationship one-to-one, the little quirks are endearing. But remembering the preferences of five is just too big a challenge. You have to average yourself out, average out the demands, there’s less catering to the individual. I guess it doesn’t matter so much when your brood is blue tits but I imagine that for parents of human multiples that raises a lot of issues and questions.
It was nice to have Manky on his own for a bit, less demanding, especially now that the others are so independent. They’re self-feeding and out all day and night now. Our sitting room has become one giant aviary with that very distinctive aviary smell. A little bit like pet shop but not so overwhelming, drier somehow too. We could give him his feeds easier and just spend some time with him, laughing at his open-mouthed greediness and admiring his growing strength.
He is a lot stronger today. We’re trying to get him back on solids as he only had baby food yesterday. It’s his favourite as well as being a lot easier to get down. But it’s not good for him to have just that, for starters it makes their poop incredibly runny. Not good. He spent most of morning wandering up and down the bed, demanding his feed at regular intervals and with noisy insistence. I sat in there with the laptop for a while to keep him company and he joined me at the keyboard (three at the same time on the keyboard is irritatingly challenging) then when he tried to filch my lunch then we decided he was definitely on the mend. He’s making bigger and stronger jumps with flaps too, he launched himself off a bookshelf this afternoon, still a definite fall but calculated.
He was returned to the sitting room and his siblings this afternoon. Sometimes when he was being very noisy in the bedroom, the four in the sitting room would go quiet and listen. When we walked him up to the sitting room door, it was his turn to go quiet and listen. We were worried that he would be overwhelmed by them; they’re so much more developed than him now. But they welcomed him back by telling him that he was a right mess and that he needed to do some preening.
Preening is an important part of learning to fly. And of keeping their feathers in tip-top flying condition.
This evening we had watermelon so we decided to share some with the babies, not that they are ‘babies’ really anymore! They loved it. If you have watermelon this summer and scorching weather, maybe think to share it with your garden birds. It’s so quenching. Hydration is important for everyone (even this human camel needs some water every now and then). Even if it’s just the rinds, they love pecking at those. Birdie of course was straight in there. But Manky had his own wee piece too. Well almost the size of him which is nothing compared to a full size of course! He picks it up in his mouth, shakes it, drops it and then screams at it. How this helps we’re not sure. But he’s been doing it for hours.
We’ve pretty much weaned the biggest four off hand feeding. Birdie nearly capsized into the jar of mealworms trying to fish one out when I tried hand feeding Manky. He caught one but then was relocated for his own safety and my patience. Sneaky had a pretty good go at catching his own spider this morning, a small one but I was surprised at how that instinct just kicked in. We’re putting the mealworms into the flowerpots so they learn to look for their own food. I have a funny feeling that Birdie is getting the majority of them. I think instinct will teach them an awful lot though.
Anyway, back a bit I mentioned the issues that parenting brings. As they’re teenagers now you start to wonder what will happen to them in the future, the issues that they face and whether they will be safe. The statistics are pretty grim (you can find them on one of those blue tit link pages). It’s good that they make it as an egg; it’s good that they make it as a nestling; it’s good that they make it as a fledging; it’s good that they make their first year. It’s good but not guaranteed. Or even perhaps likely. That’s heart-breaking when you’re a human caught up in their story. Like I said yesterday, we want happy endings even if we know that it isn’t always possible, or probable.
When they fly the nest, which they must do and really is the whole purpose of this exercise, that is the measure of our success or not, they face a very, very big world out there. A world with all sorts of dangers, there are cats and dogs, other bad birds, stupid humans, roads and cars and all sorts of risks. And that is reality. It’d be lovely that they make it and go on to have their own families next year but nature’s reality is that it is something of a miracle that they’ve come so far already. Maybe that has to be enough sometimes.
And talking of feelings, I wonder how their real parents feel about their disappearance. Do they understand loss? Perhaps. The way that they feel and understand may be different from our own but I think that they do have emotive reactions, even such small creatures as blue tits. We’re pretty sure that the nest is empty now, there is no sound. We’re seeing less of the parents too. I don’t know whether they stay with the nest throughout the year or go and live somewhere else once the babies are gone. Ornithology has never been my strong point. How do they feel about their empty nest? Perhaps to them this year’s nest has been a failure, they have lost all their babies. They do not know where they are. That’s sad. But it inspires me to make a success of these babies, theirs, on their behalf.
For a limited time, you can watch a live blue tit nest webcam from the BBC Springwatch page. When I wrote this, they were dreaming just like ours do!
There’re dangers in getting ‘too attached’. But how can you avoid attachment? Care is what motivated you to take action in the first place, to get involved. Care is motivated by respect and interest in another being, whether that being is on the same scale as yourself or not. Attachment is just when that care becomes habitual, a relationship perhaps. Should we choose not to care? It seems that so many people don’t care, they don’t have the interest or respect or even plain common sense when it comes to dealing with their fellow planet dwellers, even of their own species. Personally, I don’t think that’s a good thing. It must surely be better to care, to have attachment, to show interest, to form relationships even if that means roughing the storms and dealing with pain and hurt.
I thought I would have very bad news to share with you. I don’t know if I’m even really ready to talk about it but I know that many of you have been following the babies’ stories with much interest. And surely you must all realise that not everything has happy endings. When I was a child with an even lower scare threshold than I do now, I would only watch the films from the Mouse Brand because ‘at least there’ll be a happy ending’. As an adult, I know that real life doesn’t, rarely it seems to me sometimes, echo those films.
We care and choose to get involved because we want positive outcomes, to do some good or make a difference. But wanting to steer a future to the positive doesn’t mean we deny in our minds that it might not go that way. Is it wrong to want or dream of happy endings? Probably not. Just sometimes we have to temper our fantasies with reality. And reality can be harsh.
We nearly lost one last night. It came as a great shock to us both. And we found ourselves late at night having to make some very, very, very tough decisions.
It was our little Manky.
In the end, we took the decision to place him in a box overnight and see what happened. Or rather to let nature take its own course even though we desperately didn’t want him to struggle. He was struggling.
We went to bed in tears.
This morning the others woke late, that is twenty to six!
We fed them but couldn’t face opening up the box (it wasn’t sealed, it wasn’t airtight, just the cardboard box that we were first using for their accommodation with the flaps pushed down safe).
Just before seven, we heard something, a little something.
We couldn’t believe it. And almost didn’t.
We heard it a couple more times and summed up the courage to open the flaps and look back inside.
It had been such a tough, long night.
He made it. He was cheeping for his breakfast.
We couldn’t believe it. I think we started crying all over again.
He’s still with us now, having regular feeds and on his own in the ‘hospital ward’ in the bedroom.
We still don’t know what the future holds for him.
I don’t know if we’d brave optimism but we’re going to keep feeding him. And fortunately he doesn’t seem to be ‘struggling’ anymore. We will see.
The other four are strong. It seems.
Feisty seems to have lost interest in flying, maybe he scared himself with one too many crash landings. It was a little concerning but it was reassuring to reflect that when many baby birds are found, especially at ground level, it is because they are fledgers who have lost their energy or whose feathers need a little more developing. He could do with a good preen, that’s for sure. Just got to watch where you put your feet!
Birdie seems to have switched species; he is no longer a cute blue tit baby but a feral pigeon. And you know what I think of those. He’s food motivated, probably that’s why he put the most amount of weight on amongst them all. He’ll divebomb you if you walk in the room, just in case you have anything and he has no shame in stealing food from your own dinner. Lunchtime we ended up putting them all back in the tank just to be able to eat!
All four are getting to self-feeding now. We have little lids all across the back of one of the sofas, by the window where they love to be. The husband’s chocolate spread obsession finally has a use! They have one of water, one of baby food blend, one of mealworms and grubs and one of proper grown up bird food. I think they’re most throwing the seeds around, judging by the evidence. The sofa is totally trashed but fortunately it’s throws that I can wash and even redye so I’m being very docile and letting them get away with certain liberties. Although of course we’re doing as much cleaning as possible. It’s just a little hard when they take to wallowing in the baby food!
We’re also having a hard time keeping them off the cacti. There’s some nasty little fuzzy needled ones too. I don’t like cacti, they’re my husband’s. I especially don’t like them since, when we were decorating last summer in here, my husband wisely left them on the floor. I tripped over one of them and got lots of nasty little needles in my foot. I removed them but wasn’t happy. I was especially not happy when two weeks later my foot started hurting and we discovered several more needles. He also keeps a spiky on the balcony so it can attack me when I hang the washing out. This is not the way to domestic bliss.
Myself, I’ve gone from being a person who had never, ever held a bird before to being someone who can catch them adroitly and who has them perch and poo on me too. Not so keen on the poop. Funny enough. We’re going through baby wipes, hand gel and antibac spray at an alarming rate.
Still can’t keep up with the poop though.
And we’re very exhausted from such a rollercoaster of emotions. Drained.
But this morning when I read the Jester Queen’s latest post, I was very surprised to see my blog (or more technically my blue tits!) nominated for a blog award. Now I’m pretty sure that this blog isn’t ‘lovely’ but I will accept graciously and I do thank her very much indeed, it was just what was needed after such a night and morning.
As it was my blue tit babies that triggered the award, I have set them up a page of their very own. You see up at the top right with the other black buttons?
I am also meant to share seven things about myself that you don’t know about. I think I’ll save that for another day, I’m all written out now.
And I’m also meant to nominate some other bloggers for the award. Although I’d question the use of the verb ‘nominate’ because it is in fact a case of ‘award’, I make the decision and they receive. Nominate would mean I would have to suggest them to a committee or something. OK, pedantic moment other. I’ll do that another day too.
Thank you for reading and thank you Jester Queen.
~ Trigger Alert ~
I don’t like to court controversy in real life or on these pages and it’s most certainly not the reason that I’m writing about the subject today. If you remain unaffected by this subject your whole life through then you have been incredibly fortunate and so has your family. The statistics may tell you that you and your family will easily escape this cursed outcome but the statistics only tell of the ‘successes’, the mortalities. There are thousands if not millions more ‘attempts’ each year. Someone you know may well be one of those unreported statistics.
Even in this modern society where there are precious few taboos and the word ‘sin’ long passed out of fashion, the s-word remains both. No one talks about it. It is something shameful, confusing and ridiculously painful. And we’re not even talking about its victims.
Are you prepared to talk about it?
We don’t do much in the way of preparing our children for mental health crises, perhaps we feel an almost superstitious fear of broaching the subject as if we were putting ideas in their innocent heads. One of the reasons that so many parents aren’t prepared to talk clearly about the ‘birds and the bees’ to their children either. But ignorance isn’t bliss. Ignorance doesn’t save lives, protect innocent minds. I know because I grew up in the most sheltered, naïve world that you could imagine, beyond that probably too. I didn’t even watch television. The s-word had never been uttered. I start self-harming at nine. Perhaps my attempts were naïve but they reflected a deep-seated pain that I knew no other way to express or to get rid of. Ignorance didn’t protect me. It won’t protect anyone else either.
How do you feel about such ‘attempts’? It is easy to write it off as just some attention-seeking episode. Perhaps it’s more convenient to our own perceptions of children, teenagers even the mentally ill as a whole. Just doing it for the attention. Perhaps it’s easier than having to ask questions or address a whole cataclysm of behaviours and feelings that we ourselves aren’t ready to deal with. Perhaps it’s easier than realising that our perfect little world isn’t quite as perfect as we’d like to imagine, perhaps we’d rather ignore it than face the shame of our families, friends and communities.
But what if it’s just ‘attention-seeking’, a cry for help? Does ignoring it not just do more damage? A young voice that cries out desperately yet constantly goes unheard. What are they learning and what messages are you reinforcing? That no one cares, that no one takes them seriously? Maybe it was a cry for help but what if it succeeds? Would you not question even blame yourself for not having done more? It’s easy, convenient to ourselves to tell them to pull their socks up, to get a grip but does it make it any better or easier for them?
The s-word raises more questions than there are answers. It is a scourge and one that needs to be addressed. Carrying posies and marking crosses on the door did little to quench the Plague. We need knowledge. And we need compassion.
Are you prepared to raise the issue when necessary? Or when a loved one is in difficulties, will you shy away or tell them to get a grip?
I have a stubborn streak. It seems to have kept me alive all these years. Most days I don’t know why. I never know how. A lot of the time I am ashamed of myself for all those ‘failures’. I should have tried harder! Obviously there’s nothing wrong with me if I keep surviving attempt after attempt.
Does it make me weak and pathetic that I have failed? Do we only measure success when it comes to the s-word by its mortality? Is that success, achievement, a desirable outcome?
There are no easy conclusions, there is nothing straightforward. Human emotions are complex and there are fewer more complex emotional situations than this pain. It is pain that eats you away from the inside, a burning in your chest. Physical, real, solid. It is not a whimsy or a passing weak thought, a temptation. Does that make you think differently about the s-word?
One thing I know about the s-word is that it happens, an ‘attempt’ takes place, when all hope is lost. When you lose hope then you lose everything. You have not been heard, you have no answers and the future if you see one at all is bleak and threatening. I have not just lost hope. I can’t remember the last time there was hope in my life. Maybe that is why I keep going. Because I know nothing else. I might not be good enough, there might be no future or hope, there might be overwhelming stress and pressure but that is nothing new. It is the loss that prompts the ‘attempt’. Whilst I don’t believe, I can’t, that the future will be any better I am stuck in this rut of daily survival. There is no shock loss that prompts me to drastic action.
The truth is you need to be able to feel to ‘attempt’. We believe as a society that the s-word is the worst that it can get. There is worse. A lot worse. The paralysing numbness that Depression can drag you down to, beyond the motivation to get up and put an end to it all. The s-word is the tingle before your foot goes numb. And if you happen to get better or have a good day, the s-word can be the tingle as life comes back to it. The s-word can get you on the up as well as the down. Did you know that?
I don’t have the motivation to act. Maybe it’s because I’ve lost all sense of belief too. In choosing to ‘attempt’, whilst acknowledging that things are at rock bottom, you also believe that you deserve better. That this mess that your life is in is not the way it should be. So you opt to take the only way out.
It’s the only way because there are no other answers at the time. There is no one listening often. There is no escape plan or people and organisations that you can turn to. It can be spur of the moment, a knee-jerk reaction to a shock loss (it’s always a loss whatever that may be, not being listened to or not having your opinions heard or not being respected – those are big losses). Sometimes it is planned, controlled and meditated on. But there has been a loss and there is no hope.
Would you be alert to those changes, those warning signs in your loved one?
I do not praise the act but it is too easy to say that it is just a ‘selfish act’. At a primal, emotional level then we have to act selfishly, for our own interests and our own self preservation. Sometimes we are cornered into choosing to self-destruct. It is rarely done with thoughts to harm or betray our loved ones. If it is then maybe then that is the genuine attention-seeking act of a hysteric. It’s only when you get to that point yourself do you realise the tortuous state of mind, you will feel guilty and ashamed but what other option is there left?
You can try to reason with them but reason belongs to another world, to minds that are fit and healthy. The logic has changed completely, a crosswire connection has been formed and things seem entirely different when they are in that place. Reason is for an earlier time. Love and compassion is what you need to give now. And support, endless support.
Would you give that or would you be too busy reacting, dealing with your own emotions? That’s selfish.
I can see how the succeeding is a good thing. It appeals me too often. The end of the hopelessness and all those burdens that I carry daily. I can see why people end up trying. Can you? Sometimes I wish I could find the strength to do so because too many days I don’t know how to go on. I have lost too much. So much that I don’t know what I have left.
The s-words rips through lives and families and communities like a missile blast. Jagged, cruel and indiscriminate. The question ‘why’ echoes in every conversation that follows. Although that seems obvious to me at least. We don’t like to think that life can get that bad. We like to believe that we were always there for them. We like to believe that there were always other options. But was there? Were we listening to them, really, genuinely, deeply? Maybe the ‘why’ is just a vocalisation of our own guilt, our own shame. We like to believe that we could be better or stronger, we like to believe that we would do differently. We also have to ask ourselves whether we should have done more or responded differently to that one we have lost.
How do you respond when you hear that some has gone that way?
If your friend or neighbour or colleague or loved one was in hospital after such an ‘attempt’, would you go to them? Or would be more comfortable to pretend that it conveniently never happened?
If we never talk about it, pretend that it never happens, who are we protecting? Ourselves and our own emotions or the people that matter? It could be a child in your life.
There are no easy answers and this is just a viewpoint, a viewpoint of someone who has battled with Depression for over two decades. I wish there was an easy way out regardless of my own personal belief systems and values but do you blame me for feeling that way?
Are you prepared to discuss the s-word in your life?
Being a carer is something that I’ve written about before, about how it can be a much broader role than is first perceived, especially when we focus only on a professional home-help for the disabled or elderly. Modern life likes things appropriately pigeon-holed and boxed but such attitudes rarely do justice to the reality nor anyone any favours. We all should be carers really, people who care, every day of our lives. But there is more to ‘caring’ then just its root meaning.
Although I am not claiming that parenting is simple, when it comes to ‘caring’ I would suggest that the parenting role is the simplest. It’s the most easily defined and recognisable. You are meant to care for your children, you could say that it’s almost an intuitive response. You have the support of individuals and organisations. You have specific goals and timeframes.
When it comes to adult ‘caring’ then things get more complicated. A lot more complicated.
Why is that?
The person who is receiving the care is not a dependent minor. They may well have known a long life of maturity, independence and responsibility before suddenly finding themselves in need of care. Having to hand over their life along with any remaining dignity doesn’t put them in an easy position. Without even thinking of the physical changes, any change of health has huge emotional and mental consequences. And not just for the sufferer themselves. The carer is often a family member who has likewise been precipitated just as suddenly into this new arrangement. In fact, the carer may have previously been the dependent party in the relationship. What happens when your full-time breadwinner is too ill to work? Or is the sole driver in the family?
Just as the ill person needs to adjust so to does the carer. And that adjustment will need to be done together, there needs to be dialogue, meaningful communication. The process can even be similar to grieving. And you have to accept that both of you will be seeing, feeling and dealing with the situation differently.
It’s not easy living with a serious and or long-term health condition. I know that. But the ill person usually is best placed to receive appropriate support and treatment. What is on offer for the carer? Precious little. In the best scenario, they will have the full support of the person they are caring for but maybe not.
Carers have to walk a fine line, carving out a new role for themselves even if the relationship is falling apart around them for whatever reasons. They may be taking on all the responsibility, the duties that come with sickness whilst the person who is actually ill is practically delusional as to the reality or seriousness of their illness. And what point does a carer become a nagger, a paranoid observer or a call-the-doctor-right-now hysteric? Usually at a different point to the person they are caring for.
It needs open and frank communication between both parties, that’s for sure. The ill need to accept their limitations and know when and how to ask for the help to need. Because that carer needs all the help they can get in knowing what to do.
Mental health makes the challenge even harder.
What do you do when your loved one refuses to seek treatment or acknowledge their decreasing state of health? How do you balance motivating them yet not overburdening either them or yourself? Do you take responsibility for getting every single pill into them, for them getting to every single appointment? Do you remain on high alert even when they’re swearing that they’re fine?
It’s hard to find a balance as a carer. You may have lost your best friend, your own support system. You are lost and alone in a place that has no name, no map, no solutions. You may or may not have the cooperation of the person you are caring for.
But the worst is the endless, draining, exhausting level of responsibility and pressure that you have to live with day in, day out. Sometimes it feels like someone else’s life is in your hands, everything you do, say or even think seems to be a determiner in their state of health, maybe even their survival. You find yourself taking on more and more, tasks that you never used to have to do yourself, tasks that you maybe didn’t even know needed doing. There is not a moment off-duty, you are permanently tuned in to their every symptom, reaction, feeling, whim, want, need, you name it. Even when you’re apart. Sometimes being apart is worse, the fear, the dread, it eats away at you.
And then there’s the emotions that goes with that endless, draining, exhausting rollercoaster. Sometimes bitterness seeps in as you wonder whether they couldn’t just make more of an effort, whether life really needs to be this way, a bitterness tinged with then quickly replaced by guilt and shame. The loneliness that sets in as your loved one withdraws from the world then from you. The pain and confusion of reactions, words and behaviours that would have once been incredibly alien. A fear for the present never mind the future, the future is too far away and unfathomable as you subconsciously scrutinise everything, analysing and recording, noting each subtle change, holding onto each one like time-lapse cloud patterns. The thousand and one worries that are yours and yours alone as seemingly the only responsible adult around, the financial, the administrative, the domestic, everything is on your shoulders, it is your burden to manage.
The pressure is overwhelming and ceaseless. There is no hope. Just endless cycles where good days see m far and few between.
But who cares for the carers?
While most of us wouldn’t be ‘glad’ that our loved one is ill, we do ‘gladly’ take on the challenge. Why? Because we care. We do everything and more because we care.
But our resources sadly are limited. We are human. Love doesn’t make us perfect. Or bestow some super power or immortality or whatever else is needed to care day in, day out, year after year.
That’s a scary and humbling and shaming thing to admit.
But carers can’t go on forever without rest or support. Especially when that’s not the only thing that they themselves are facing, their health may break or they may have other responsibilities and commitments to juggle with or some other crisis to deal with.
Who cares for the carers?
What help and support is given to them? Where can they turn when they have reached the thousandth breaking point and just don’t know how much longer or further they can go on? Who will listen to them? Who will relieve them of their burdens? Who will give them a supporting hand?
Carers do an awful lot, normally behind the scenes. They are stage managers who also run the lighting and sound whilst building all the scenery, rehearsing the actors and choreographing the dancers, learning understudy, drumming up support and backing and leading the marketing campaign. They do everything. Usually single-handedly. It’s fine for a while and the show goes on. But for how long?
Please remember the carers in your midst, appreciate them. Spoil them every so often, make sure that they have an evening off or a listening ear. And if you ever need someone to care for you, man up and work with them. Trust them and reassure them.
Please care for the carers. We all owe them such a lot.
This is my alphabet for fulfilling the third requirement of the ABC Award that Celia awarded me the other day, it’s supposed to be a personal alphabet to help you all get to know me a little better, well that seems a little bit big-headed on at least two counts, for example, why should I presume that you would like to get to know me any better?!
Anyway I got creative, it’s rather like doing those stilted acrostics that counted as poetry in junior school, and this one is themed on emotions, a theme that you may have noticed recurring across my blog! So here are an entire twenty-six of my musings, but mainly my ramblings, on the subject.
A is for Anger
I see anger as the sort of default emotion. I’m sure that many would argue that it is the first emotion that we express when at birth we lustily scream our awkward, painful arrival into the bright, cold, dry world that we abruptly find ourselves in. For example, the complex and often overwhelming emotions that we feel when we are shocked or surprised, when we are hurt or lost, when we are afraid or sad may well make us react, behave or feel angrily.
B is for Boredom
For someone like me with a limited attention span, boredom is dire. It’s a fidgety emotion! But I guess that we can also feel bored in other ways, we can get stuck in ruts in all areas of our lives and lose interest and enthusiasm for the precious things that we used to value and cherish. Sometimes we need to reassess our attitudes rather than finding some new replacement for whatever it is. A spring clean isn’t about throwing everything out but it is about freshening things up, renewing our appreciation and making the most of what we do have. Sometimes we just need to chill out rather than always have things on the go.
C is for Confidence
I lack confidence, you may have noticed, but this blog is the garden where I am growing my first crop. A measure of confidence and self-assurance is necessary. A life without confidence is very limiting and painful, I know. I have another post in the pipeline on this very subject so check back shortly!
D is for Doubt
Doubt follows that lack of confidence. It eats away at you, nibbling away at your edges until you’re unable to stand on your own. Doubt erodes safety and peace of mind; it’s like living on the edge of a very crumbly cliff. But there’s more to follow another time!
E is for Empathy
I am an empath. It’s important to have fellow-feeling; it motivates and guides our attitudes and response to not just the humans but also the animals around us as well as the planet that we’re on. Empathy is about more than trying on someone else’s shoes and seeing how they feel, it’s about taking them for a walk too. Empathy can be a tiring burden sometimes because you just feel, feel, feel. But I guess that in this selfish world, it’s also a privilege and a quality to cherish.
F is for Fear
No confidence, full of doubt? Then fear will naturally follow. Fear includes so much. Maybe for many, fear revolves around phobias. I have those too. Arachnids are on that list, or at least my entirely rational believe that these are vicious animals that live purely to ‘get’ me and that cobwebs are harmful may be. I’m terrified of losing things and of drowning, I hate having the windows open on a car journey and bridges over water are the stuff of nightmares. I’m scared of pain and am not ‘keen’ on medical personnel and procedures. I’m afraid of messing up, of getting things wrong. I’m a claustrophobe who hates sitting with people behind me. I suffer with panic attacks, I’ve always got an exit plan and my average ‘bounce’ rate is higher than that of the most doomed website. When times are uncertain and your financial situation shaky then the future can certainly induce fear, a gnawing worry or dread. Living with chronic illness, when you’re just not sure how tomorrow is going to feel adds to the uncertainty, the worry, the dread.
G is for Guilt
When you’re always doubtful and scared of messing up then too you will also spend your life feeling guilty. We quite often accidentally raise our children with guilt complexes: think of the children in Africa and eat your dinner, we can’t afford this but we’re giving you a present, you don’t know how fortunate you are to have the things you do because it was so much tougher when I was a child. Regrets are another form of guilt. Oh to have lived a life free from regrets! I guess that is a question of attitude, do we make the most of each moment, cherishing the precious and valuable in our lives? We have to assess our priorities and give our best each day, each moment. We can’t do more and only an unreasonable Depressed mind would expect it.
H is for Hope
Everyone needs hope. Something to aim for, to work towards, to dream about. It’s when we lose hope that the world becomes impossibly bleak, life unmanageable and unsustainable and we risk taking actions that our loved ones would forever regret for us. It’s important to sit ourselves down mentally and list the good things, to focus on something positive that will carry us forward rather than letting the negative drown it out. It’s like looking for the sailor man’s trousers on a miserable day, keep focusing on that wee patch of blue sky, it is your hope.
I is for Irritation
Irritation, annoyance, frustration. I’m sure that most people could speak for hours on these subjects so perhaps I should leave off now and dedicate an entire post to my pet peeves! (Why hate, life is too short!) I definitely do not tolerate idiots though.
J is for Joy
Joy can seem such an unbridled happiness, can’t it? Something unrealistic if not impossible. I’m not such an optimist so I think I will settle for happiness. Happiness is again about perspective and attitude; you can find joy and pleasure in even the small things; even if those small things are like freckles in a storm. Happiness is the reason we live.
K is for Kindness
Doesn’t even the simplest act of kindness make the world a better place? I love the very American concept of ‘pay it forward’ and as a teenager I had a poem on my wall about how a smile can travel around the world. That’s powerful stuff, isn’t it? It makes you think about what you can do with your power, in fact I think it’s a responsibility, and how even something small can be such an influential agent of change. Do you appreciate the kindness that others show you? Do you remember to express your gratitude for such kindness? What can you do right now to show kindness?
L is for Love
Love makes the world go around. In many English cultures ‘love’ is a bit too much of a touchy-feely word but it is love on a certain level that moves us to show kindness and feel empathy. Love is not just about the mushy stuff, you know. It is the most important gift that we can give our children. And amazingly it is one of the things that people most struggle to express. ‘I love you’. See that didn’t kill you. (The other one is saying ‘I’m sorry’, that one won’t kill you either).
M is for Mortified
I am so easily embarrassed and not just about the usual prudish matters. At home, my husband and I both use the term ‘fingers in ears’ to describe my reaction, mortifying comes close, it’s absolutely excruciating. It’s usually other people’s emotions that trigger me off so watching comedy is usually a painful experience, especially when it focuses on slighting or putting down one of the other characters. I am embarrassed by myself and even get embarrassed about my presence on the planet, at times in my life I have definitely had at the very least tinges of social phobia. I hate being embarrassed.
N is for Nostalgic
Sometimes an entire decade, or even a period, in society is cast as some idyll whilst others hanker after their childhood or student days but the truth is more complicated than that. (Isn’t it always?) I guess in a way nostalgia can be a rose-tinted regret. If we focus on the past, for good or bad, then we aren’t always open to seeing the good things that around us currently. Life will always change and there will be differences but there has to be balance. The past can inform us but we have to experience the present otherwise how can we find our future?
O is for Openness
I’m working on this one. I take a slightly hypocritical view of this you see because although I expect and encourage others to be open about their problems and feelings I struggle to do so myself. ‘Wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve’ is always seen as a slightly weak and dangerous proposition but I do think that there are distinct advantages. Wouldn’t it be easier to ‘read’ people if we didn’t do our civic duty and cover everything up? Wouldn’t it be easier for you if you didn’t have to hide your feelings and pretend that everything was all hunky dory when you stepped outside your front door? Wouldn’t relationships take a straighter, less tortuous path if we could truly open up and express ourselves?
P is for Pain
Pain can exist on so many levels, emotional, mental or physical. Pain is such a personal response because it’s so difficult to quantify. I’d never wish pain on anyone and I wish that there was a little less of it in my own life.
Q is for Quixotic
I’ve never wanted to be quixotic because it has always sounded like a very nasty illness, some tropical disease. Nor am I. In fact, I’m a practical minded person who comes up with all sorts of wonderful solutions (I have a tendency to ‘think outside the box’) and if in doubt, I’ll always fail back on those all-powerful saviours: bluetack, gaffer tape and skyhooks.
R is for Relaxed
Relaxed? Nope, never heard of it. It’s not something that has ever come easily to me, chilling out. I like to be doing something. Or preferably two somethings. At least. My husband despairs of me, I’m like a grasshopper with a short attention span. No I can’t just sit, no I can’t just wait, no I can’t just watch telly. But I have learnt to take naps and rests and also to knit, knitting is relaxing. Except when it goes wrong.
S is for Sorrow
(I’m thinking magpies. Magpies are funny things and don’t have the best reputation when it comes to other people’s valuables). Depression is bound up with sorrow and so are loss and grief. I have those all in my life but I’m trying to be positive. Sorrow is never pleasant but I think that it can make you stronger; again it all comes down to attitude really. Even the bad, negative things we can use and turn around into something positive even if it’s not ‘happy’, we can learn lessons, cultivate qualities that we never knew that we had and grow stronger. That can’t really be such a bad thing.
T is for Tired
Tiredness sucks. There is more than one form of tiredness you know. I guess the good tired doesn’t actually suck; it can be a reward or at least a sense of achievement. The gardening, the major project, the unpacking the boxes from the house move, the ten-mile plus hike. Depression has its paralysing lethargy. This then induces guilt for laziness and failure. ME is all about tiredness, managing the tiredness and trying to have a life despite it. Those two types of tiredness definitely suck.
U is for Understanding
If empathy is asking a bit too much then maybe we can at least try to be a little more understanding. Some folk seem to struggle to realise that theirs is not the only world view, that right and wrong (I’m not necessarily talking about some higher moral code here) isn’t something that they can arbitrarily decide on for the rest of mankind. There may be people in our lives battling all kinds of difficulties and what do we know of it? Sometimes understanding means learning to ask the right questions. Others have so-called ‘invisible’ illnesses, how do we understand such conditions and their victim’s suffering? Understanding is also about knowledge, someone wiser than me once said that ‘knowledge is power’ but as with any power, it’s what we do with it. Life is more fun when you accept that there’s plenty more to learn out there.
V is for Vindictive
I don’t think I am or at least I hope that I never am because being spiteful is just plain mean. Sometimes it can a trifle frustrating, or maybe disheartening, hearing others relate saccharine tales of their perfect lives but never call down evil upon them. Perhaps it’s easy to think or worse still, say out loud, how it’s about time that so-and-so got their just desserts but tempting and easy as it may be, it doesn’t make anyone feel better or change anything. Get on with making good in your own life. Someone might be lining themselves up for some poetic justice but that’s their business. No point in lowering yourself to their standards after all!
W is for Worrying
I worry. I worry a lot. I can worry even when I’m doing half a dozen other things. I can even worry when I am meant to be asleep. I worry about worrying. Need I say more?
X is for Forgetting
Apparently on a questionnaire for Alzheimer’s/dementia, it asks if you’ve ever gone upstairs for something and then forgotten why you came upstairs. Hmm. I think my friends and I are already stricken! Memory is valuable and I appreciate the one I have even if my recall is fickle and if it takes does unscheduled breaks. I think memory is like muscle, children need to be taught to use it and we need to exercise it regularly. I’m afraid of forgetting things, that’s why I started taking photos.
Y is for Yearning
We may need hope but we also have to yearn for things too, we need to dream. Hope is about reality but dreams can be like pipe smoke, chimeras conjured up only to be experienced in the private realms of our imaginations. Or sometimes in shared imaginations. Dreaming adds so much enjoyment to life; it is the beginning of goals and of purpose. It is what fires our creative spark. Good mental health is required however, I certainly don’t dream and I struggle with even the basic forms of creativity, expressing an idea or knitting stocking stitch, when I’m hiding under my duvet. Besides which, the things that you ‘desire’ are the things that you’ll keep in your life no matter and I’m of the opinion that it’s the people that make our lives.
Z is for Zest
Zest for life is enthusiasm, zest for life is joy, zest for life is focusing on the positive, zest for life is making the most of the good things, zest for life is appreciation. I want some zest.