When a severe storm threatens, sirens are sounded, officials implore citizens to take cover or leave the area, residents board up their homes and businesses while scattered signs send a clear message. Be Nice Harvey. Go Away Irma. Florence Do the Hokey Pokey. Friends and families huddle together, prayers are offered, and pets are held tightly.
There is always an aftermath. Images of flattened towns saturate the internet while the grim job of counting victims and assessing damage begins. A collective sigh is heard as those impacted begin the very long road to recovery.
There are other storms in life. A loved one dies. A child is kidnapped. A marriage is shattered. A career is ripped away. A terminal illness progresses. The list goes on and on. We look around and see everyone else living their lives. But we are faced with the aftermath. We want the cancer beaten, the child to be found, the marriage revived, the career restored, and the loved one healed. But that doesn’t always happen. So we pick up the pieces and try desperately to get back to normal.
After being my Dad’s caregiver for nine and a half years, I thought that when we moved him to a facility, things would get back to normal. I thought I’d get caught up on my sleep and I could pick up where I left off. But that hasn’t been the case. What I’m dealing with is the aftermath.
It isn’t like having your equilibrium jostled by a roller coaster for a few minutes after the ride is over. It isn’t like trying to get your sea legs back after spending the day on a boat. It isn’t even like having your appetite slowly return after surviving a stomach bug. It’s much more intense and the recovery has proved to be much longer.
I feel like a bow that’s just released an arrow. The string was pulled taut with tension for so long and now that it holds nothing, it vibrates back and forth, searching for stillness.
All I want to do is lie on my comfortable couch and read. Fiction. Not stories of inspiration or surviving the odds. I want an escape. I want to watch Netflix or DVD’s. If the movie theater was playing anything good, I’d be a regular, sitting in the dark, munching on popcorn, forgetting what time it is, what day it is, and the storm named Alzheimer’s.
When my phone vibrates and a friend’s name pops up on the screen, my first inclination is to let it go to voicemail. Not because I don’t like the person but because talking and listening is too draining. I haven’t turned into Eeyore; I just feel like Winnie the Pooh, needing to hibernate. In the spring.
If I was on the outside looking in, I’d be tempted to think this was nothing more than a bout of laziness. Not only is that judgmental but wrong. So very wrong. As a caregiver, I’ve learned there’s an emotional lethargy that comes with the aftermath of a storm.
My doctor says what I’m feeling is normal. I’ve operated at a high stress level for years and my body has secreted more cortisol as a caregiver than perhaps in my entire life. So it isn’t just my nerves that long for normalcy. My entire body chemistry is being realigned. And I have to remind myself that takes time. If it took 9 ½ years to get to this point, it’s going to take some time to recover.
So how do I do that?
I give myself grace. I continue to follow my doctor’s advice, allow myself as much sleep as my body needs and make rest a priority. I stay in contact with close friends and don’t beat myself up for not talking to everyone who calls. I eat healthy and sit in the sunshine a little each day or use light therapy to bolster my body’s vitamin D. I keep reading and watching movies and do things that I enjoy. I spend time with Jesus, listen to God’s Word and let it wash over me, and sit at the church family table each week. I journal, put my thoughts on paper so I can process everything and avail myself to support groups since caregivers already understand what I’m going through.
I don’t know how long this recovery period will last. I do know that it’s just a season. And although the arrow has been released and I long for this internal bow string to stop vibrating and still, I’m okay with where I am. The sooner I accept that, the better my recovery will be.