Friday, November 04, 2011

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

We all suffer. Despite our conviction that we alone are in pain, that no one else suffers the way we do, everyone suffers. Each of us has our own unique burden to bare at any one time, but don't think you are the only one.

When I was struggling with post-partum depression, I would go to my friends fitness studio and take the aerobics and yoga classes. I would look around the room at the other women and think, "I wish I was normal like them." Over the years, I've gotten to know quite a few of those women, and it turns out, they too thought they were abnormal or that they were alone in their anxiety, depression, worries, stress, you name it.

When my father-in-law passed away, my husband and I spent the next few months in a living nightmare as the extent of my mother-in-law's dementia and Parkinson's disease became undeniable. We had no idea how bad it was, and I believe her husband's passing sent her into a downward spiral. As her delusions took over, we received midnight calls from the police, the neighbors, social workers and family.

We desparately tried to get her help, only to be frustrated at every turn. She fought us and denied she needed help, then would turn around and accuse us of abandoning her. The police told us we couldn't compel her to get help and the social workers told us we needed to get her help. Family members called us asking why we weren't doing anything to help her and a neighbor actually called me to tell us how we were failing her and that we had a moral and ethical responsibility to get her the help she needed.

So, my husband quit his job to take care of her and for three months he would leave on Monday to commute to Northern Virginia and stay with her until Friday. On his way home, which could be anywhere from a two-hour commute to 6 hours, depending on the traffic, my mother-in-law would call me saying she couldn't get ahold of my husband on his cell phone and she had an emergency and needed him to come back immediately.

I was a single mother during the week and my husband was emotionally and physically exhausted when he was with us. Eventually, he ended up in the hospital himself. At my wits end, I came home from the hospital with my two children under the age of 5 and collapsed on the bed. The phone rang and I dragged myself across the bed to answer it. It was my mother-in-law asking for my husband.

She started yelling at my when I said he wasn't available, accusing me of keeping him from her and that he was her son first and that I had no right. Exhausted and completely shocked by the foul language she used (my mother-in-law NEVER cursed) I got angry. I had done everything possible to get this woman help and how dare she attack me. I told her she'd put her son in the hospital from all the stress she'd caused us and she broke down crying. We both cried for a few moments, then she asked quietly, "What can I do to help?" I told her to call her nephew and pack her bags and go to the assisted living facility. And to my utter amazement, she did.

I would love to say that all was well after that, but of course, it wasn't. But it gave me hope and I started sharing our story with those I thought would be kind, or with those I thought were going through a similar situation. I asked for advice and cried when I needed. The burden didn't seem so heavy when I shared it with someone. Just talking about it helped.

We are not alone. We all suffer.

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