Friday, January 15, 2010

Car accidents, earthquakes, and my Job as a Caregiver

Yesterday I awoke to see that I had a missed call from my mom. I remember hearing it ring as I was just beginning to fall asleep the night before. So I immediately thought something bad happened since the call was from 10 pm and my mom knows I got to sleep early. But she almost always leaves a message; this time she didn’t. And when it’s bad news, it’s a sinister voice saying, “Hi honey. Please call when you can.” I’ve heard that voice one too many times. The more sinister and firm, usually the more serious the occasion. So of course, I was nervous. I called and got no response from either Mom or Dad's cell phones, so my head started spinning. I was so worried something horrible had happened. Luckily my mom called a couple minutes later. Sure enough my brother Greg was in a car accident on his way home from work the night before but he is okay. I was still so worked up and anxious I could barely calm down and started crying on the phone with my mom not even noticing. (Ever since Christmas night, tears have come on suddenly, forcefully. When they start, it is like a warm blanket cascading down. So needed and comfortable at first. I have to let out all that pain, that pain so real, raw, indescribable pain. I can’t even put into words. There was no tragedy, just an imagined one, but everything comes back so easily for me. Probably for most people that have had a loss, an almost-loss, or some sort of traumatizing event happen to them. These get relived through little things, like phone calls and voices. They plague and imprint your mind and you can never forget. Add on to that the fact that I simply cry easily and get down extremely quickly. Call it a season. Call it depression. Call it Brittany. Whatever. I go through periods where I am more dried up; now is not one of those periods.)

Anyway, I also called Greg but not on an impulse. It was a carefully planned event. Should I say painfully thought-over. That’s my mind for you: What if he answers? What if he doesn’t? What am I going to be doing while I talk to him? If I don’t do something at the same time, I will be late to work. What if we talk too long? What if I say the wrong thing? But my phone is dead; maybe it won’t be charged enough to talk. Maybe I shouldn’t call him. I’ll probably be bothering him. If I don’t, what kind of sister am I? Why didn’t he call me after the accident?

Finally, I got my breakfast ready and told my thoughts to shut up because they were still going. He answered after the first ring and immediately said, “Hi, how have you been doing?” as if nothing had happened. My brother Greg is always one who gives. When we talk, he hardly ever talks about himself. And, I am one who, when given a listening ear, can never shut up. But today, I didn’t want to focus on this pain. How dare I turn his scary accident into my own problem? Augh! I hate when I do that. So I didn’t mention me, but kept probing about how he was. I knew it was better for me that way. He assured me he was fine so that was good to hear, but I was still so anxious and troubled. He told me a little bit about the accident that involved four vehicles. His car was totaled, and so were some of the others but everyone was okay. I should be praising God, right? I tried to amidst my soft, cracking voice and brewing tears. I could barely eat my breakfast. Before he hung up, he said “Well, I am so glad to hear you are doing okay.” As if I were the one in the accident. But he was positive and I tried to feel it too. Maybe I was okay. If I just talked myself into it…I knew I could change these thoughts, this horrible sinking feeling in my gut. It just got deeper and the nausea grew. But I forced down the cereal and coffee as I said “I love you” to Greg and hung up.

Believe it or not, I had a pretty good day after that-once I got to work. Yesterday, I worked with my friend Maddie. She is a young woman with special needs who lives at home with her parents and siblings. It has its challenges, but I think it’s one of the best jobs in the world. I knew Maddie would want to know all about my family. She always gets my brothers mixed up (who doesn’t, though?). “How’s Nate doing? Is he the one in Germany?” “Nope remember you met Nate and Kat when there were in town over Christmas.” “Oh yeah! How are they?! They are so nice. I mean so sweet! Can you tell them I said hi?”

It’s hard to hang out with Maddie, take care of her, help her and learn from her, when I am so buried in my thoughts. But, luckily, I force myself to. I take her out to the library, book stores, coffee shops, plays, and her favorite: the animal shelter. I love seeing how she responds to different situations and how personable she is with complete strangers (of course, that can be dangerous, so I’m there to redirect her if needed.) But if I am ever too afraid to ask for something, no worries, Maddie has few inhibitions. She doesn’t worry about what people think of her. I have a lot to learn.

Of course, Maddie is quite vulnerable. I know she gets sad too. In my role helping people with disabilities, I have connected with them probably the deepest when I am sad. I don’t want to say my depression is a gift, but I know that there is nothing like crying with someone and truly feeling his or her pain. Yesterday, we talked a little bit about the earthquake in Haiti. That particular subject had been haunting me the past day and I was still feeling down from the morning occurrence so I didn’t really feel like talking about it. Luckily, Maddie’s soothing chatter turned elsewhere and quickly (which is quite common).

I enjoyed my time with her the rest of the day. And also, at ACR later in which I just did a short shift at one of the two homes where I work. Some people with depression can’t work. I am the lucky one. I work to survive. At least in combination with other much-needed things like a faith and spirituality that consumes me, healthy food, enough water, exercise, psychotherapy and a strong community of friends. In my role as teacher and caregiver, I am distracted, able to put my mind and body to use and not focus on myself and my sadness.

I am extremely affected by sad stories in the news or from family, friends, etc., so with the recent events in Haiti, I have been as down as ever, but not necessarily joyless. Sometimes, I wonder, as I walk into a classroom of bouncy teens, or giggly, squirrelly first graders, or as I look into the deep eyes of one of the residents, Shouldn’t the world stop? How can I be giving a bath or teaching about the Civil War when there are people dying, gasping for air under feet of rubble, crying out for relief. And as Greg Boyd said, will probably never be found because of their lack of resources in that already-impoverished country. But, no, life doesn’t stop. And, as I always try to do, I put myself in the shoes of those I serve. How are they thinking? How can I make life better for them? Life goes and on and will continue to go on in Haiti, but also here. So I need to stay in the moment and be here for these innocent children/adults who are dealing with this tragic news in their own way, or maybe not-maybe they have no idea but I need to make life comfortable for them. How is this possible when I have a hard time caring for myself, that I can be so focused on others? But this thinking is what is actually the most freeing for me, the times I feel most liberated from my depression.

1 comment:

  1. Hey B--such a real posting. Sorry to hear about Greg--glad that he is well. In my experience, based on my opinion--I believe you handled the situation well. Rooted in scripture somewhere I believe, it is the wise who listen to others and put their own concerns below those of others in attempt to keep the body intact. You did well. I know your own circumstances aren't less important, but it is important to listen to others, as they may provide some insight you need, but not asked for. While you may not be happy about it, you did well--hugs for you.

    Sorry to hear of your difficulties. I believe God is working though to help you in your troubles--even those that don't speak their appreciation of your caring, show signs of their appreciation--even minute ones. Seeing life through others eyes may give some insight into your own. Sharing in the pain of others is a real gem, a gift if you will--how it affects you is another question. I feel your pain, and pray God helps you manage it well; life does move on, but that doesn't mean that your life is insignificant--because you are significant. 2Tim1:6 "Kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you."