I lost my cool today while outnumbered by my five-year-old and my mum with Alzheimer’s. Taking care of them both at the same time, after several hours of trying to work while fielding background requests, I was already tired at dinner when my mother decided, for the umpteenth time, to worry about the weather. We were out of the house, in the neighbourhood without umbrellas, and she was now bringing this up constantly (but she had not thought to do so before we’d left). The sky was cloudy, but still possessing clear spots, and I’d decided earlier that it wasn’t likely to rain, or if it was, it would be spotty and quick. Something that would take just 5-10 minutes to wait out, if that.
It did start to rain as we were halfway through dinner. It didn’t affect our dinner at a neighbourhood eatery, unless you considered, before it rained, how often my mother was rushing us to finish and get home before the rain (something I pointedly ignored, knowing the five-year-old’s eating habits). What angered me at the time, and in retrospect, was how much she made it as if the sky was falling. If it rained, we would be trapped forever, and catch pneumonia and die. Even after the rain started, she rushed us through the meal. After we finished our food, she rushed us. She rushed us even as I went to pay for our meal. She rushed us outside after I paid, and then… we were stuck outside looking at the rain, when we could have waited and watched it from inside.
Here’s the thing about dealing with my mum with Alzheimer’s: Logic doesn’t work. Repetition doesn’t work. Coaching doesn’t work; she gets angry when faced with leading questions, even offered in help. My choices, in her presence, are limited: (1) Reason with her or try to restrain her, and lose, (2) resist the situation and get angry at her behavior, or (3) Let her do whatever she wants, knowing that later, I’ll have to clean up the consequences/look for whatever she misplaces, including herself. My choice is usually (3); in this case, letting my mum go on and on about the rain, allowing her to insist that we had to move quicker, quicker, quicker. When I am tired, it is easy to lose control–not that I blew up, but I could have chosen to stay seated and told my mother to shut up (not in so many words, but I’m human). As it happened, we rushed outside, and I was angry, quietly angry that it really had rained (though it would stop in just 3 more minutes).
Later, I was quietly angry with the realisation that over many, many years, even before the Alzheimer’s, that my mother had become a caricature of Chicken Little. I saw her that way because:
Many of my early memories of her were the things she wouldn’t allow me to do, for whatever imagined reasons: She had made me afraid of public buses for fear of perverts. She had tried to instill in me, from childhood, that the only thing ALL MALES wanted from women was sex, after which you would be discarded. From all photos and accounts, she had been quite the mini-skirt-wearer and fashionista in her youth, but for me, she had long tsked anything that revealed knee, or thigh, or shoulder. She passed on to me, in my youth, the fear of all risks, and non-risks; in other words, Fear. Rational and irrational. Taboos. Misogynistic limits on what women could and couldn’t do in order to be “pure”, or safe, or worthy. And other worries and anxieties unrelated to sexuality and over as banal things as the weather. And always about what other people thought of us.
That programming takes decades to undo in one’s own life, and I don’t know if I’m done. I am, however, grateful that I’ve at least had some clarity and insight in my own life to realise these fears have been bullshit, but it is bullshit that affected both my inner and outer life more profoundly and negatively than I care to admit. But this isn’t about blame; because I know my mother was shaped by both personal and wider circumstances. I don’t know what opportunities and resources she came upon in her life to confront her fears and heal, compared to my own. In my life, I’ve tried, for some reason, to always do the thing that scares me, no matter how long it takes or whatever the price. Writing. Customer service. Public speaking. Teaching. Divorce.
I was asked recently why certain people we know from life will appear in our dreams. It depended on the dream, I said. If it was a dream for revealing your own psyche, that person represents as aspect or influence in your life. Typical examples for most of us: Fathers as old-fashioned authority. Old flames as lost opportunities. Lovers, real or imagined, as our “completing” half. Friends as allies/resources we possess. Children as innocence. Aged acquaintances as either censoring figures or wise sages. In my social anxiety dreams, my mother and/or censoring peers from my past will feature as antagonists. I’ve long decoded my subconscious-plumbing dreams this way for so long that I sometimes do so while within the dream.
(I treat figures in lucid dreams, astral adventures and visitations differently. For those, I check and double-check identities during and/or after.)
In waking life, I’ve begun asking why new allies have lately appeared at the same time. I really shouldn’t wonder too hard–as within, so without. 2014 was a year I’d resolved to become as whole and complete-in-myself as I possibly could. “Integration” would pop up in conversations and in “randomly” chosen reading. In December, “convergence” floated into my world as inner and outer reality tried to make coherent all my new and dearly loved relationships discovered in 2014. Some of these new friendships, I know now, go back. Way back. A tiny number of these individuals share this knowledge with me. Others don’t. I’m in a strange world right now sometimes where I debate with myself how much I should say; if it’s possible to scare a person away with what I’ve been given to see of our shared pasts. (If I’m even sure that’s what I’ve seen.)
But all the relationships and all the people in our lives are gifts. Sometimes the gifts, the lessons in which we learn to recognise unknown, unhealed parts of ourselves, come in heavy packaging that take years or lifetimes to unwrap.
Or this could just be a long post about a terribly stretched metaphor.
May 2015 be an enlightening and blessed year for us all.