Self-Caretaking

For much of my life, I have been what can best be described as “grumpy”.  I’ve tended to over-react and or see the worst in things, and myself. Something as simple as going to the grocery store brought out a part of me that only wanted to see the worst of humanity, followed by a reaction resembling anger, then followed by regret and shame at said reaction.  It’s a vicious cycle that culminated in my general tendency to either want to be completely introverted, or to only seek out things that allow me to be alone, yet enjoy an activity.

I always find something to blame for these traits.  Work is stressful, money is tight, bills are too high, it’s too cold for too long, I don’t have enough time in a day, or any other number of outside influencers gave me an “excuse” to just be angry or reactionary to the tiniest little stressors in life.  More often than not, I placed the blame squarely on myself. I couldn’t handle work, I spent too much money or signed up for needless services. I’m too stupid to put a coat on and go outside, or I’m just plain lazy, and not using the time I DO have effectively.

In some ways, Megan’s health masked this.  I was so laser focused on her well-being that I didn’t ever take the time to self-examine and really try to figure out why I am the way I am.  Honestly, after her first transplant and subsequent relative good health, I didn’t know what to do with myself other than self-deprecate and become introverted.  It caused issues. She finally had the ability to enjoy life, and I wanted only to sit in the house and “relax”.

Only I wasn’t relaxing.  I was always bitching about something.  There was consistently something that I felt was unacceptable, that I learned to accept through complaining until I grew tired of it.  It wore Megan down. It wore ME down. As time passed, I started to feel “broken”. I could easily identify that I was acting abnormal or way out-of-bounds, but in the very moment, it just...happened.  It was the fall-out and “clean-up” after whatever my reaction was that I had to come to terms with.

Regardless, I just felt “off”.  I was at most, a month away from going to a counselor when Megan’s first signs of transplant rejection began.  We had finally been actively talking about ME, searching for the right fit in someone to talk to, and looking into MY health after a decade of focusing on hers.  My own mental health and the search for help was immediately put on hold though, without thought, as I fell right back into “caretaker” mode for the next 10 months.

When Megan was sick, I had purpose.  I had a single goal of being there for her through thick and thin.  Nothing was as stressful as watching her go though what she went through.  Work was simply a minor annoyance, but it had, at least, the purpose of providing healthcare and bill payments.  Who cared if it was cold out or traffic was horrible? My WIFE is on her deathbed, with a tube in her throat and a cocktail of drugs coursing through her veins.  The idiots at Wal-Mart weren’t worth my consideration.

This was all well and good, and for a long time, I had pride in myself for not only sticking with her through it all, but for the way I mentally handled it.  For the way I was able to still function, even after her death. For the fact that I didn’t sell it all and move to Montana, drowning my sorrows in a bottle. That I stuck to my role as a father, and put all of my attention into Shelby as a distraction from the fact that Megan was sitting in a box in our dining room.  

Just as they say “time heals all wounds”, so too does it allow demons to regain strength.  This past year or so, I’ve begun to fall back into depression and anxiety. I’ve been stressing about more and smaller things, much more frequently.  I’ve lashed out more, raising my voice and vocalizing my frustration when minor things happen.

Just as in the past, it makes no sense to me after the fact.  I’ve never been able to answer the question “why?” when I have a reaction.  This time around though, Megan isn’t here to suddenly descend into poor health.  There are no distractions or bigger picture things to mask the fact that something isn’t right.  Things have just kept getting worse, and worse, and worse on a noticable, almost weekly basis. I’ve lost my passion for any of my hobbies, and I’m finding more and more excuses to not partake in them.

A few weeks ago, I finally hit on an excuse I felt I could take action on though...I’m depressed.  Not from stressors in life. Not because Megan is dead, or Shelby is pre-teening, and not because I don’t feel happy when I’m with Sarah.  Not because of bills, or work, or the long winter, or lack of time. I am chemically, depressed. There isn’t the right balance of hormones in my body.  It’s something I’ve struggled with since I was a teenager, but also have never put any REAL effort into resolving. I took prozac for awhile after Megan’s death, but it simply “numbed” me, and I also truly thought it was simply her death that I had to deal with.  So I weaned off of it after a few months.

I thought it was “fixed”.  Between a growing, new relationship with Sarah, travel, summer, relative ease at work, and irresponsibly spending money without care, my mind was at relative ease.  There were signs of the underlying depression still there, anxiety, emotion, anger, etc.but I chalked it all up to the relative recency of Megan’s death, and figuring out this new life without her.  

It’s now been almost 5 years since Megan died.  I can’t use that excuse anymore. My “widow card” has all but expired.  Now, it’s taken a while, but the raw, festering sore that is my own, blameless depression has been laid bare.  Admitting it to myself was the first step in “fixing” it. Expressing it to Sarah was step two. The coup-de-gras was getting off of my ass and calling the doctor.  It’s the third step that I never really got to with Megan, and god, do I regret it.

I actually went to the doctor a little over a week ago, and she got me a prescription.  Wellbutrin, to be precise. I have taken it religiously for about 10 days now, and while it may be psychosomatic, I have consciously noticed a world of difference in my general demeanor.  I still have tiny little relapses here-and-there, where I blow something tiny into something profoundly out-of-proportion, but overall, I just feel...better.

There really ARE no excuses for why I’ve been the way I’ve been.  There is no one to blame, and nothing I can say “caused” it. Megan didn’t have an “excuse” for her Cystic Fibrosis other than simple genetic mutations that were outside of anyone’s control.  

And I don’t either.  Much like I took care of Megan for all those years, and felt I had a purpose, I can easily slip back into the caretaker role again.

Only this time, I get to take care of myself.


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  • Kelley Lynn
    commented 2019-03-29 11:59:55 -0700
    Mike thank you for sharing this, it helps me greatly in recognizing signs of depression with people in my own life. I think its great that you are taking care of yourself, and I hope that you find yourself with greater peace because of it.
  • Don Yacona
    commented 2019-03-26 11:22:47 -0700
    You sound like me as far as grumpy is concerned. I was Arlene’s first soul caregiver, then lead caregiver after her and her sister reconciled, I’ve always made grumpy into an artform, she used to tell me that I always look angry and that I never smile in pictures. I was long-term unemployed and robbing my 401k during the first half of her illness and the buildup to it just to keep a roof over our heads, then we were trying to recover from Hurricane Sandy when things came to head. I’m coming up on 4 years in June, I think I’ll just stay grumpy, it works for me. Besides, giving “the look” at appropriate times is a powerful weapon.