Do I look fat in this life?

There are a lot of things that go into being a caregiver; some you know (and are prepared for) and there are other things you learn as you go.

I’ve found a lot of support these past two years from, chat rooms and support group meetings but one thing that surprised me about this experience that seems to be overlooked and never really talked about (at least not to me) is the tendency for the caregiver to get FAT.

I look around at a lot of the caregivers that I’ve met and I see a lot of lard asses-mine especially. As Whoopi Goldberg quipped, “Once I thought someone was sneaking up behind me and when I turned to look I realized it was my own ass.”

I bring this up not to say that this happens all the time to everyone in my situation. No, there are a lot of caregivers who have been able to balance the enormity of their new roles without becoming enormous themselves.

But it did get me to thinking about the connection between the stress we’re under and obesity.

We all know that obesity is rampant in our society; poor diets and lack of exercise being two (obvious) reasons but stress has been linked as a contributing factor as well. For me, and I’m only talking about my own tonnage here, I found that there was so much to do in the beginning and so much change occurring that once I had my routines set up for my loved one and I had a chance to catch my breathe and focus on myself what I saw surprised me.

How did this happen and when did I let myself go?

I began to wonder, like the “freshman fifteen” that some young people gain during there first year of college; due to the change in environment, the stress and the anxiety of being on their own for the first time, is there a similar correlation for caregivers as we transition into a new environment, as well as the stress and anxiety of “Not” being on our own for the first time as well?

If freshman can be forgiven for their “fifteen”, is it possible for me to get a little understanding for my “Alzheimer’s eight” or the “Dementia dozen”?

Believe me, I take full responsibility for my rotund-ti-ty, as my role as caregiver has expanded so has my waistline. And while I never had Paul Ryan’s abs (and thankfully I never had his views on restricting women’s reproductive rights either) I would like to see my feet again some day.

It’s nobody’s fault but my own and intellectually I know what needs to be done to return to my former svelte self-eat less and exercise. But, that’s easier said than done when you’ve stressed, often lonely and lack the motivation to give yourself the time and energy you’ve poured into your charge.

It’s not that I’ve been “so” selfless, I’ve just been too tired to care and being out of my own environment and routines I’ve found that I’ve developed some really bad habits-namely eating too much of the wrong food and not moving my body any more than is necessary.

The reality is that at the end of a day running around looking after someone else the last thing I want to do is run for myself.

I used to go to the gym, walk (I’m a former four mile a day runner but I blew my knees out years ago and switched to walking long distances instead) and maintained a rigorous stretching and exercise routine.

I ate a healthy, varied diet of vegetables, fruits, chicken, fish, some red meat and low fat or sugar free desserts. It was satisfying, I didn’t feel deprived and it gave me the energy I needed to fuel my life.

Unfortunately, it seem that these days I’ve pretty much abandoned anything that’s healthy for whatever is quick and easy (which mean it’s usually something frozen, processed and full of sugar and/or sodium). And I greedily grab for any and everything that can give me a moment’s comfort or (faux) sense of relief from my daily life’s stresses (read: junk food and sweets).

This is a classic case of emotional eating and sublimation.

Think of it this way, while the anorexic or bulimic denies themselves food or regurgitate as a way to control one aspect of a life off-kilter, (maybe) my eating and sloth like existence is my way of “not” having to be in control when I have to be responsible for someone else all the time-for the first time.

Hmmmm, maybe I’m onto something here….but, like the person who tries to commit suicide-you’re trying to kill the wrong person….so, maybe I’m force-feeding the wrong person, too (metaphorically).

No, I’m not saying I should be strapping Miss Cathy to her bed and feeding her color coordinated food nonstop till she fattens up like a piece of veal (not to say that she’s not doing a pretty good of that all on here own)…but I digress.

No, what I think my “light bulb” moment is telling me is that what I’ve been doing by engaging in behavior that I know is bad (and bad for me) is that I’m punishing myself instead of expressing the anger I feel toward my charge and the difficult situation I find myself in but was unprepared for emotionally (unknowingly).

So, I turn to food (that tasty panacea) and inertia; depression, denial and frustration all seem to more palatable when you’re prostrate with a plate.

Great, now that I’ve acknowledged the obvious I hope it’ll help when the cookies are calling me at midnight when I decide to stay up and watch “Shoah”.

While I seriously doubt that anything will change overnight with this revelation I do know that the first step to solving a problem is acknowledging it. I didn’t exactly work up a sweat thinking this through but I do think it was an exercise worth pursuing.

Who knows, now that the mind has been stimulated maybe I’ll surprise myself next by moving my body…….even if it’s just to push back from the table.


Green peas and squash

“ I’ve never had green eggs and ham, no, but I have had green peas and squash; a dish that’s green, surprisingly delish and too bright to miss.

Green peas and squash are not harsh, even if served on a marsh and they doesn’t smell like someone’s arse.

So, if you’re on a plane, or in a train or playing tennis on a court in the rain, eat your green peas and squash-they may look odd but they’re good for your bod. ”

Okay….Dr Seuss I’m not but believe me, you’d start rhyming too if you saw what I see in the kitchen on a regular basis.

I’m the first to admit that when I saw the concoction on the kitchen counter I thought to myself, “Oh well, the old girl’s done it this time.” There lay a large bowl brimming with what looked like something left over from an oil spill.

Out of curiosity I picked at it with a fork, further mixing the peas with the dices of squash, the onion and bits of garlic. It looked a little funny but then again, so do I and I wouldn’t want anybody to hold that against me so in the spirit of solidarity I tasted it and surprise, surprise-it was actually very good.

I wasn’t “that” surprised because Miss Cathy has come up with some cockamamie dishes in the past but she succeeds more than she fails. And God bless her; unlike Paula Dean, Rocco or any of the other chefs on the Food Network, she’s never been concerned about the visual.

Since I’ve lived here she’s come up with some of the worst and best dishes I’ve ever eaten. When presented with one of her dishes I’ve found it best not to look but to just take a leap of faith and taste.

I don’t really remember her cooking like this when I was a kid growing up; it was all very “meat and potatoes”, stick to your ribs kinda stuff.

Her “Eh, why not” attitude seemed to have started late in life, now it’s all a dash of “what was she thinking?” and a pinch of “Oh no she did-int”. Whether it has anything to do with the dementia I doubt but I don’t believe in coincidences either.

And her best rationale for the combo of green peas and squash (which she thinks is a no-brainier) is, “they’re both vegetable’s aren’t they?”

Her philosophy is that “it’s all going to the same place anyway”.…. enough said-now back to eating your color coordinated food.

As good as it gets

I’m back less than a week from my last trip teaching in New York and I can see that the time apart has done both Miss Cathy and me a lot of good. Peace and harmony seems to have replaced the tension and resentments that just a few months ago permeated the space we share.

Last year was the first time I filled in for a friend teaching a summer fashion illustration course from mid July to early August. It was an experiment to see how Miss Cathy could get along without me for up to four days (with Tony talking over as primary caregiver in my absence) and Ron (our upstairs neighbor that Miss Cathy considers a third son) to help out, too.

All went well so I could confidently accept the position again when they offered it to me this year.

While I was in New York teaching I had time to write, relax, see friends and just forget all about what my life has become and focus on what it is-which ain’t so bad.

My absence was a nice change for Miss Cathy too. Not only did she get to spend time with her other sons, her girl-friends came to visit more often and I’m sure she liked having here condo all to herself (more or less) while I was away.

Since I’ve been back I have noticed a few things worth mentioning. She’s been initiating projects around the condo then just walking away from them or forgetting that she even started them. And then there are those times when I remind her that something was her idea and I see from the expression on her face that she had no clue. Those moments are tough and her refrain, “Oh, I’m just as crazy as shit” is pretty much a guaranteed reaction.

I deduced a while ago that she gets more forgetful and “nonsense-ical” (my term for those times when “what” she says has absolutely nothing to do with the situation or conversation) when she’s upset, excited, stressed or anxious.

Lately though her memory seems to come into question even on those days when she’s otherwise pretty sharp.

It’s in those moments when she forgets that I remember to stay calm and loving. I gently try to give her what she needs; be it a reminder of the word she’s hunting for, patience as she searches for it, help solving the puzzle that her mind can become or simply sitting with her while she ruminates.

This month is the two-year marker of my “leaving my life to join hers’”. I’m slowly starting to accept where I am and who I am in this moment. I don’t know if it’s time, attrition or surrender that is the reason for my newfound state of resignation.

Whatever the reason, it is good to wake up and not have that sinking feeling come over me that I’m trapped in a nightmare (of my own choosing). It’s far from ideal but it’s not what it was before, or what it’s likely to be in the future….for today, it’s enough to know that this may be “as good as it gets”.