Watched a cleansing documentary the other day: The Hoarder Next Door. It's about two people, Roddy and Sarah, whose lives have become unmanageable due to their obsessive hoarding. Their homes were like tip sites, although perhaps not quite as well organised, if our local tip is anything to go by.
Their stories were interesting and disturbing and hit a bit of a spot with me. I'm nowhere near living in a tip, especially since my kids have moved out, but I'm possibly on the obsessive hoarder spectrum. This has been heightened to me lately by the experience of clearing out my mum's house prior to sale. Letting that house go was right up on top of the list of difficult things I've done in my life. Oh, the pain.
Another thing high up on that list was emigrating to Australia in 1964, before I was even old enough - just turned eight - to really understand the loss we were incurring. But, sensitive little creature that I was, I knew that something disturbing was happening. No more Carfield County School in Sheffield, no more familiarity, no more having the same accent as everyone else and understanding the idiosyncrasies of the idiom, and no more grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.
According to the psychotherapist who was helping Roddy and Sarah to overcome their hoarding, people who hoard have often suffered loss. One of Sarah's newborn twins had died soon after birth. Roddy's brother had died when Roddy was 22. Horrendous loss. Fortunately, I've been spared anything so awful.
However, I do struggle to let things go. Not everything, just some stuff. I put it down to that move in 1964. Have been giving myself a good self-talking to lately. Watching that ep on hoarding was part of my therapy - clever how I can rationalise spending hours 'catching up on iview' - watching programs I've missed on our national broadcaster, isn't it?
Even though my household furniture is mismatched, I never upgrade it because everything tells a story - which really slows me down when I occasionally clean. Wish all the crappy old furniture would stop telling me its repetitive tales.
So recently I've been marching around my house, eyeing things off, filling boxes with junk - how did I end up with a CD of Enya?? - and taking them to the local Savers - the charity shop that supports Diabetes Australia. Think I've donated enough stuff to fund a cure lately. This weekend, items that have defeated me have had the old heave-ho. Goodbye, stupid spinning wheel given to me when I was 19; goodbye toy pram bought for my daughter when she was about three. Bad luck, imaginary grandchildren, cos it's gone, as has the Barbie campervan and shop.
There's more. Even now I can see a black overnight bag peeping out from behind the couch, mocking me. It's been in that corner for over a year. It's full of Christmas decorations. It would be the easiest thing in the world to put the laptop on the table, pick up the bag and put it in the boot of my car for another trip to Savers tomorrow. Nah. It's okay where it is. Who knows? I might even do Christmas next year.
Wednesday, January 15, 2014
I've been reading an inspirational self-help book called Choose Yourself, by James Altucher. I happened upon his blog via a Twitter site I follow called Positively Positive. It linked to a post by Altucher. The post spoke to me. I was in a particularly dark mood.
I read a couple more posts, following the links on the side bar and felt like someone who understood me was actually talking to me. Given the number of comments on each post, heaps of people feel the same way. That’s good to know; the power of the internet to connect.
So why was I in a dark mood? At the risk of conjuring up the mood again, I’ll go there; summarise.
Last year was a trial. In April, after it became clear that mum wasn't coping with living alone, I/we began to come to terms with my mother’s memory loss; her dementia. (Talk about words with negative connotations!) Much of the year was about finding a place for mum to live where she could potentially be happy. We tried having her live between my sister and I, but that was awful for everyone.
After the requisite assessments for mum, I started looking for an Aged Care Facility offering low level care with potential for mum to move to high care as and when she needed it. This is a really depressing task. Actually, that’s an understatement. It’s a nightmare which begins with glossy brochures from the Aged Care Assessment service and lots of internet searches. I actually only visited three hostels before I found a place for mum. Suppose that’s lucky. The first three places left me sobbing in the car afterwards. After the fourth place, I didn't cry. Felt bleak, of course, but thought, as I looked over at the fountains in Queen’s Park across the road, that mum might be okay in that place. They had a vacancy and in August, mum moved in. (Reading that back, I make it sound so easy. It wasn't.)
Heaps of people have been through this process. It truly sucks, despite what the glossy brochures tell you about Aged Care Facilities. Where mum is they display big colour photos of the residents having a wonderful time, apparently. My mum has starred in a couple. In one I saw the other day she is the archetypal daft looking old person – won’t say woman because gender doesn't seem to be a factor in these shots. She’s holding the ‘stalk’ of some sort of big helium filled balloon flower arrangement and wearing a silver ‘tiara’ that says 'Happy New Year!' She’s smiling off into the middle distance. I hate seeing my mum like this. It's something she would have scorned in her former life.
I pointed her out to herself - never miss an opportunity! - when we were walking along the corridor the other day. She peered. ‘That’s never me,’ she protested. So what? She seemed to be having a better new year celebration than I was at my place, pissed off at all the fireworks making my insomnia even worse.
I ‘get mum out’ of the facility a couple of times a week. When I arrive she’s always surprised and delighted to see me. Why wouldn't she be? She has few visitors and I never tell her when I’m going to drop in. She forgets anyway.
I’m scared writing this because I’m perhaps fueling the stereotype of the elderly person with dementia. There is a stereotype. Whenever I talk about mum everyone makes it quite clear that their own aged person is/was ‘sharp as a tack/sharp until the end’. Seems it’s better to need assistance getting dressed or getting around. Clearly you’re lower down the scale if you need a bit of reorientation in the morning; a reminder what day it is – and really, who cares what freaking day it is? Or what year? But yes, everyone wants to make it quite clear that their aged parent has/had no cognitive impairment.
Don’t think mum is suffering. She misses my dad but she’s not wracked with grief now, nearly two years after he died. She’s truly living in the minute. She has few worldly possessions apart from a few framed photos and paintings on her walls, her comfy recliner chair and her old Queen Anne chest of drawers. Her bed is a single hospital Occupational Health and Safety approved job. All her goods and chattels have been dispersed among the family, op shops and eBay. She quite likes that I've got her sixties teak dining table and chairs in my kitchen now. But she’s not bothered about all that ‘stuff’ that she’d acquired during her adult life. Furthermore, she sleeps for twelve hours a night. I wish.
As I've written before, you wouldn't necessarily know my mum has dementia unless you spend lots of time with her. She's still canny.
The other day I took her to the podiatrist. It's a short walk from my house, down to the corner and across the road. Mum was a tad disorientated, unsure which way to turn at each intersection. I got a bit frustrated as mum dithered about which way to turn because I forgot- sheesh! - that mum's brain wasn't sparking as it used to. I made her link arms with me and this solved the problem. (This sounds minor but it's not. It's a constant reminder that even though mum is physically the same, mentally she's not the person that she was.)
I accompanied mum into the podiatrist's office. In what I assume was a normal voice, he asked me questions about mum's feet. 'Why don't you ask mum?' I said.
Holding mum's hammer toed left foot in his hands, he beamed up at her - she was in the high chair, of course - and started talking to her like she was a two year old.
Farque alors. I didn't want to queer our pitch by telling him to talk in a normal voice.
And then his phone rang. "Sorry, I have to take this,' he said. He held onto mum's foot with one hand and answered his phone with the other.
He then regaled the person on the other end with the story of some prospective employee, who he named, having reneged on a job he was due to start the next day. We listened in to the conversation. After he hung up he filled us in on the details of this guy who'd been 'so unprofessional', giving so little notice that he's taken up another job offer; leaving this practice in the lurch.
He finished mum's feet and then we left.
As we were walking home she said "I actually thought he was being unprofessional giving us all that information. Didn't you?' And that's the thing. Just when I think mum's lost it she chimes in with something so apt.
This post doesn't tell the half of why all this has led me to a dark place. It's possibly my particular sensibilities. I over-empathise; can't go through all this without seeing myself in twenty years and then thinking why not quit now, while I'm ahead?
The James Altucher blog and book helped. I carried out one of his Daily Practice suggestions the other day. One thing he suggests is to forgive someone. You don't have to tell them - I'm paraphrasing Altucher - just write it down on a piece of paper and burn the paper. "It turns out this has the same effect in terms of releasing oxytocin in the brain as actually forgiving them." That's from his book, Choose Yourself. $1.86 Australian on Amazon Kindle.
Well, assuming that my brain needed oxytocin - whatever that is - I wrote my little note on a piece of paper, all the time feeling ridiculous. Then I thought about burning it. Now I live in Melbourne, and it's stinking hot and it was a Total Fire Ban day. Looked over at the kitchen sink and the lighter. Uh-uh, I thought. I'll probably set fire to the curtains and then burn the whole freaking house down. So I folded the paper a couple of times then ripped it into tiny pieces which I fluttered into the recycling bin. By the time I'd finished I was bubbling with laughter. Was that oxytocin or am I an 'oxy-moron'? It certainly lifted my mood.
There's some good advice in Altucher's book, and if you have the wherewithall, you could make zillions of bucks.
Saturday, November 9, 2013
Restoring a panelled timber door looked so easy on the YouTube video I watched. (Haven't worked out how to link to it when I'm typing on the iPad, sorry.) These two American blokes donned their latex gloves, grabbed a swatch of fine grade steel wool each and rub-a-dub-dubbed with the grain, et voila: new door. They were rubbing with de-natured alcohol. Had to Google that one. Turns out it's simply what we Aussies call metho - methylated spirit.
So I've got my timber door lying on my outdoor table under my back veranda. Gloves on, steel wool in hand, liberal splashes of metho and lots of elbow grease. But it wasn't so easy. See, those American guys didn't have to deal with the P-factor. That's Pete, my son, the territory marker. During one of his mindless adolescent rages he graffed his name with red and blue spray paint all over the door. That's the side of the door that faces into the wood panelled hall in my lovely Californian bungalow. We've lived with that horror for about ten years now. And the various stickers that he decided to plaster on top of the scrawl.
Worse though, he kicked in a couple of timber panels. So I've spent a couple of headachey hours on my well-ventilated back veranda - ie. outside - inhaling metho, sweating into my latex gloves and once again dealing with the inner monologue. 'You dirty dick,' it's saying. 'What were you thinking? Well, clearly you weren't. Pity you probably won't have kids of your own so you can see how it feels.' And then I'm thinking I'm insane for having these stupid conversations with Pete in my head. Meanwhile, I couldn't quite get all that livid spray off my door but it's faded some. Will have to apply a stain.
Al came out to offer advice when I started filling huge cracks with wood filler. As if he's ever used any. Seems the job I did around the woodwork in Pete's old room looks pretty good so I told him to mind his beeswax. I think Al wanted to play with the wood filler cos it looked like fun, and it was. I'm now doing what my dad did while I was growing up: hogging the fun jobs around the house. I was 27 before I was allowed to lay some ceramic tiles on the toilet floor at our newly built holiday house down at Airey's Inlet, the original house having burned down in the 1983 Ash Wednesday bush fires. It was immensely satisfying laying those tiles and grouting. Dad had to concede that I'd probably done a better job than he would have. Suppose the new owners will be ripping them up quick smart.
We've just sold our holiday house, by the way. Not that it was a holiday house any more. My parents retired down there nearly twenty years ago. We had to sell the house to pay the exorbitant bond required for mum to live in her aged care facility. To say it's been a fraught process is an understatement. If you've ever had to clear out your parents home, you'll know what I mean. Lots of tears.
However, my daughter came over today and we unpacked a crate of some of mum's stuff. Oddly, it felt like Christmas, yet when we'd wrapped and packed it a few weeks ago I felt like setting a match to the house to save us all the trauma.
I've just cooked a pot of rice in mum's Sunbeam rice cooker. I've never felt inclined to buy one, given we don't eat that much rice and it cooks up easily enough on the stove top. But now it seems I can't live without it. Thanks mum.
Meanwhile, the wood-filler is drying on the door. Hope my restoration job works. Even if it doesn't, it really was fun playing with that tube of gunk.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Seems I'm not past it at all.
Was really fretting about being unable to paint a room in my house, as my previous post will attest. I did actually call a painter who was happy to drop around and quote on finishing the job I'd started. Got lucky with Greg, local painter & decorator. He didn't turn up. Reminded me why I've generally detested having to engage tradies, barring a few who've done jobs for a reasonable price.
So I had to figure out how to complete the job myself. I solved everything by blaming my tools - my wobbly plank suspended on two heavy ladders - & buying a stable, light aluminium ladder for $129.
Hey presto. I could get up and down that ladder with ease; could brace my knees against its top step whilst dealing with my 3 meter ceiling.
Having given my OCD free rein - or is it reign? Either works - I've now almost completed the room, which is glowing with some ethereal light, probably because I've painted over the brown trim I'd so 'fashionably' chosen circa 1995. I've replaced it with a neutral shell for the walls and ceiling, a shade deeper on the ceiling rose, cornice - btw, fuck painting a cornice!! - and woodwork.
And btw too, fuck rolling around on polished floorboards trying to get a straight edge along the skirting board. Suppose my behind got a good workout as I walked backwards, wet paintbrush in one hand, on my bum cheeks. And that was just the primer. Still have two coats to go. (Is this what the pros do?)
Have been mightily satisfied by my first 'poly-filler' experience. Pete's gouged out window now looks almost new. Can't blame Pete for that bit of vandalism. The damage to the underside was caused by a crowbar, or whatever, when we were broken into in the late 80s. It's only taken 20 or so years for me to get around to fixing it.
Where's Al in all this? When he's not bragging to his mates in the pub about the benefits of having a wife with OCD who likes a project, he's in the kitchen making my hard-earned dinner.
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
I've had to concede defeat today. I'm past it.
Nearly 20 years ago, with both my kids in the early stages of primary school, I donned a pair of navy overalls and a shower cap, climbed up ladders onto a scaffold and painted the entire interior of our Californian bungalow. I look around where I'm sitting now, at my duck-egg blue walls, with white trim, and see that I did a really good job.
And I improved as I went.
Unfortunately, we're overdue for a bit of cyclic maintenance and this is most obvious in son, Pete's bedroom. I've accepted that he's not coming home - as if - but it's taken me about 18 months, what with everything else that's been going down in my life, to get around to clearing his room out ready for painting.
Monday I went to the DIY store and bought all my painting accoutrements. Had to buy new brushes, rollers, drop sheets; the works. After school yesterday I attacked the walls with sugar soap; scraped all those errant blue-tacky bits off. All the time I was going at it I was saying, Pete, you dirty pig. Can't imagine what some of those splattered stains were. My son was definitely one for marking his territory.
In the evening I visited my neighbours to borrow their ladder. I needed a second ladder to create my scaffold. That done, dragged the hardwood plank in from the back yard. Was only a bit rotten on the edges. Brushed off the cobwebs and snails. Voila. Set to go.
Up early this morning and straight into it.
Painting around the skirting board and into the lower corners, no problem. But then I had to get up the ladder. Farque alors. I was freaking out. Never have I felt so wobbly and insecure. I painted carefully around the cornices and the top of the window but was hampered by the adrenaline shooting through me. Was sure I'd fall at any minute. Climbed down; did a bit of self-talk about how secure the ladders and plank were. But it wasn't them, it was me. Despite me being quite flexi and fit for a 57 year old, I couldn't freaking do it. Half the room now has one coat of paint. But I cannot go back up onto that plank.
Was quite teary when I phoned Al, husband, to say I'd given up. It's awful thinking you're past it, but past it I am. In fact, what was I even thinking imagining I'd have the agility I had in my thirties?
No matter. One of the compensations of being this age, in my case, is that I can afford to pay someone to finish the work.
Will just have to be mollified by looking forward to riding over the Westgate Bridge this Sunday en route to Altona. I'm cycling in the 50k leg of the Round The Bay ride. Can't paint, but.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Eighteen months ago, I'd never have imagined how my life was going to buckle and take a very different course.
Despite the evidence of my dad's terminal illness - and let's face it, life is terminal when one is 83 - in some naive part of my then 55 year old brain, I couldn't imagine him actually dying; couldn't imagine the debilitating grief that would unexpectedly unhinge me and come in waves. I knew the theory, but having been a child migrant, I hadn't really felt much when grandparents, aunts and uncles died. I was detached and numb back when I was sixteen and my mum, driving us home from a horse-riding outing, had pulled over to the side of the road to convulse in sobs over the steering wheel of her blue Austin 1800 because her mother had died. (Yes, I see that there is perhaps some redundant detail there, but the occasion of my grandmother's death did imprint itself so that those details are easy to recall.)
(Perhaps I'm inclined to writing long sentences today because I'm half-way through Peter Carey's extraordinarily brilliant page-turner, Illywhacker. God that man can write!)
My brain has been somewhat off-line for the past five months or so. (The fact that I'm now writing, and reading a complex novel, tells me I'm healing a bit; returning to what is normal for me.)
My dad's death in May last year, and its immediate aftermath, didn't help me to prepare for what we've been dealing with since April. During that time I've had to become my mother's gaoler. I've shared this role with one of my sisters and our husbands. So we've had to take away our mum's autonomy, albeit because she could no longer manage to live alone on her isolated coastal property.
Ultimately, because this living arrangement was no longer sustainable, given mum's dementia - hate that word - I've had to put my mum in an aged care facility. If you think leaving your infant at childcare or school is hard, think on. Hope you never have to deal with your beautiful mum begging you not to leave her; telling you she'll do anything, just give her another chance.
That was the worst experience of my life. Absolutely no other option. It came down to my sanity, and that of sister, Reggie, or continuing to share custody of our tricky old mum.
But this tale has had a happy outcome. My mother loves her new home and she's struck it lucky, not only in the place she's living, with beautiful Queens Park, Moonee Ponds as her front garden, but also in finding a new female friend with whom she can stroll around the lake and reminisce.
All the stress has dropped out of our lives and my mum is calmer and more relaxed than I've seen her in at least three years since my late dad's diagnosis.
Still, I think it was a bit cheeky of the 'entertainment' - think piano accordion and drum machine - to be playing Please Release Me Let Me Go and I've Never Felt More Like Singing The Blues to a captive audience of octogenarians in the home.
The irony wasn't lost on my mum either as she sang along.
Monday, July 22, 2013
What is it with me and seeking refuge in a bakery full of delicious aromas; sweets and pastries I'd best not eat?
I'm in Cedars Bakery, High Street, Preston. Just had half a sumptuous chicken pie that contained some surprise potato that I haven't bolused for but hopefully the 7 k slightly hilly cycle home should take care of that. That's if I can bring myself to leave this warm haven and go home. Al isn't home until this evening which leaves me and mum.
If you read back through my posts, skipping the France bit, you'll know that my mum is quite lovely but that I'm having difficulty sharing my house with her and her 'memory loss' - the euphemism for dementia.
She's been back with us now for a week and it's hard work. She demands attention. She can't just 'be'. She needs reorienting every morning and it's all about mum.
I started working parttime a couple of years ago for my health's sake, so I could wind down from my stressful secondary teaching job. Now, though, I've lost my weekends and my days off. If I'm not constantly attending to mum and answering her repetitious questions about how much her house is worth, where she lives, whether there's anyone else in the house and who is that man in the kitchen - Al - how to work the washing machine and a myriad other inane questions she gets the huff.
'You need not worry about me any more,' she'll say, cross, pouting, frowning, pseudo 'in charge'. 'I will find my own place to live.'
But that isn't an option. She would need to live in supported accommodation. I've checked out a few places and they're not for my mum.
At my house she can safely go to the supermarket or walk down to the local shops. I even got her to go to the Anglican Church two blocks away yesterday. She's always gone to church. I'm hoping she can find a community of support that doesn't involve sitting around with old people wearing bad dentures trying to tap a balloon into a waste basket.
Meanwhile I'll keep cycling, trusting she's okay alone and knowing she'll have forgotten how angry I was when I left her an hour or so ago.