I’m gritting my way through grief and discouragement these days. It’s been going on for 6 years now. I’m weary from it. I probably need some help but that’s another discussion. In my 30 years as a caregiver, I have been the woman who could never fully exhale because I knew that around the next bend, Glen would experience another season of depression or mania. The loss would come again and I would have to be there to show support even when my insides were screaming, “God, please...No more!”
Yet not because God doesn’t care, more loss came. Again and again I watched my husband bend yet never snap under pressure as his brain could not withstand the expectations certain people and jobs placed upon him. As he crumbled, I tried to be strong. It’s difficult to watch someone’s brain malfunction. To stand back and observe the jumbled jargon, rambling thoughts, over reactions, inflated emotions, and the list goes on and on. Have you ever tried to reason with someone whose mind tells them that you are the unreasonable one? It takes incredible strength to stand with someone until their brain grows quiet and their world returns to level ground.
While his roller coaster world presented its challenges, I was here absorbing and soaking up the losses. I was the buffer so that I could shield and shelter my girls from the struggle. I wanted their lives to feel normal, yet they saw what was happening and they too have felt the crushing blows as they watched their Father sink into depression or become numb and quiet.
Through all the abnormal, I endeavored to provide normalcy. I crafted a world where we could look, hope and dream to be like everyone else, even when we knew we were not. I worked hard to provide love & emotional nourishment when I often felt not many people loved or respected me for what I was doing. I made sure my precious daughters received plenty of hugs and kisses, words of affirmation and hope so they could blossom and thrive. I did my best to shield them from potential dysfunction and brokenness.
This was my life. Always giving. Always caring. Always listening. Playing both Mom and Dad, being the therapist, providing support, balancing life and family amid constant change. I’ve given until it hurts. I’ve emptied myself so I could keep us together. I wanted a lasting marriage and I got it. I have no regrets about this. I love Glen to the moon and back. Bipolar isn’t his fault. He doesn’t deserve my wrath and he didn’t deserve a divorce. I stayed because he needed my love and constant care. Even though it’s good, it has come at a price.
What happened all those years is that very few ever stopped to encourage me. I was pulled and tugged at from all sides. I tried to not burden others with our struggles and I often felt guilty because many didn’t want to be bothered with us. When jobs failed, when money was scarce, no one called to check on us. No one helped ease the burdens. I know why...I did a video on this subject recently. Ongoing needs make people weary. They get tired of hearing about it and they give up on you. It doesn’t leave the hurting with many options, does it?
Though I smile, which I still try to do...even through my tears of grief, you need to know that my soul has been crushed by those who have never or seldom asked how I was. This isn’t me being selfish. This isn’t a pity party session. This is about real raw grief. This is about what I needed that I never got. It’s about asking if there is anything you can do to ease my burdens. I’ve rarely heard those words. I have taken and taken, mountain upon mountain. The losses have piled up until I’m so tired from it all.
If I could, I’d take a one year sabbatical. I need time off. I need to breathe and yet I cannot. I gasp for air, I stumble to find solid ground and wonder if I will ever feel whole again. This is not uncommon for caregivers. I’ve felt my grief trivialized. I’ve felt people turn the deaf ears and blind eyes. I know what it is to be ignored and overlooked. It’s soul crushing. What’s different for mental health caregivers is that our season never ends. As long as Glen is around, I will be his caregiver. I don’t get a vacation from it and I only want it to end when he dies of natural causes one day. Otherwise, it’s a full time job.
It’s not that life now is so hard. The many years of constant struggle, early on, amid job loss and financial turmoil, this is where the heavy wearing happened.
How does one find strength for going forward? I have no answers for myself except to say that I cry a lot, I pray even more. I try to trust that my God will carry me even through this season of grieving. Is he enough? He is, even though he seems to be silent. Is he close? Yes, he’s always close to the broken hearted. Does he restore? He does, yet I’m not fully restored.
What do you do when you don’t know what else to do? What do you do when you struggle to just survive? You do the next thing one day, one moment at a time. And somehow you survive the desert. Can God make a road in all this wilderness? He can! I’m waiting.
I pray the road appears before me. I pray the rains of emotional provision will drown out my sorrows and grief. I pray for relief from stress and strain. I pray! I hope! I trust! I cry! I repeat this cycle over and over. I’m drained and empty not because I’ve lost sight of Jesus but because I’ve lost sight of the resilient me. I’m forever changed.
Can I go on? Somedays I wonder. Yet I survive. I’m not thriving though I aim to. I’m gritting my way through grief and seeing God has grace that sustains, often moment by moment or day by day. Perhaps this life he’s given me is so I can live to tell others how to survive life as a mental health caregiver. Maybe that’s it! There must be some reason. I pray he makes me strong enough for the next 30 years or however many we may have together. I can’t see around the next bend. I can barely see my way through today. Somehow I find deep inside is the desire to keep going, to keep creating and inspiring people. That is the miracle of it all!