Do you know those moments when we are going about our day caring for our loved one and our mind wonders where we would rather be for the moment? Or while you might be enjoying a daydream then a flashback from your childhood bubbles up? You know, those gestures or heavy hands placed by your mother or father that hurt or cut so deep you thought you would never forgive them. While helping them shower, dress, eat, or exercise, a memory flashes with a haunting feeling of anger, resentment, disgust, betrayal, or even hatred bubbles up. Where did that come from, you ask?
Even if you try to move past it, the bubble has already surfaced like gum on the bottom of your mental shoe. Today, my next guest is here to share her story with me. Lane Morris Buckman is a writer and illustrator, masquerading as a techie by day. Her professional resume includes the cozy mystery Tiara Trouble, the early-reader, picture book, My Rainbow World, and smutty romance, Playing All the Angels, under the pen name Nicole Lane. Amongst vampire novels and cozy mysteries, Lane includes non-fiction contributions about parenting. Lane was a cast member of the 2015 production of Listen to Your Mother Austin, where she shared the story, My Son Hits Like a Girl, a love letter to her own mother about all the things she did right as a parent. And now, her most recent book, Taking Away the Keys, will be released on May 12, 2022.
Lane breaks down what caregivers experience as the roles switch and we step into parent our parents with emotional challenges. We all have experienced those moments that became our right of passage into adolescence or catapulted us into career goals so that we could get the heck out of dodge. Getting away from our parents to begin life elsewhere does not mean the past stays in the past. Caregiving has that uncanny way of pulling the mental curtain to reveal feelings we thought were gone and buried.
Before I stepped away from the corporate world to step into Mom's world, I remember thinking how fun it could be to have more time to go shopping or run errands together. Pretty much whatever I kept trying to squeeze into my work week would become our new weekly outings together. The reality of the situation was far from fun. We did get to go shopping a few times, but I quickly realized how much work and frustration was involved with a short trip to Target or the grocery store.
Over the years caring for Mom, I quickly started to go down an unexpected memory lane with each task I did for her. This memory lane became shocking flashbacks of childhood memories I could not believe I had forgotten about until I was in the process of reliving the moment. Brushing Mom's hair, helping her bathe and dress, and cleaning her house or even sitting down at the kitchen table flashed all sorts of memories on how Mom handled situations when we were growing up.
I remembered the harsh words, teasing, punishments, and many other approaches I never did with my sons because I knew the pain it caused me. Mom had her moments of being at wit's end with me since I was a bit of a temperamental, tenacious, go-getter. These were the moment the family laughed about so many years later when the grandchildren began to enter our family tree.
"You just wait. Your time is coming when this little bundle of joy sasses back to you too."
I replied to Mom with a mix of confidence and arrogance that "MY" child would be better because I would parent differently. So she repeated, "You just wait," with a stink-eye grin. Mom must have had some inside knowledge as a parent or downloaded a message from God because, sure enough, I had those moments. I had the right of passage moments as a teenager and then later as a parent. Those moments, thankfully, were the ones that Mom didn't stop at "I told you so." She continued to say, "Don't worry, it will come back to them too when they have their children. It's karma." My flashbacks as a caregiver only added to my frustrations, though.
Many years ago, when I was eight years old, Mom bathed me with my little sister, who was four, to save time. I cannot remember what I said that made Mom so mad, but I DO remember her left hand with a diamond ring going across my face for sassing back. It hurt! And it also burned a moment into my mind that felt like an arrow in my heart. From that point on, I was allowed to shower on my own. Now when I help Mom shower, this memory comes back to me. Is this Karma? In the moment, I want to spank her bottom and tell her to stop making a mess. And then, I take a deep breath and wonder was I such a difficult child that I am being punished now?
Mom has her moments when she decides to play in the shower and wants to spray me with the detachable showerhead. Sometimes, when I am not so exhausted or feeling overwhelmed, it's funny so that I can respond in a light-hearted manner. Other times, I am back to checking off the list for the day, and my grief is weighing heavier than usual on my heart. These moments when I am emotionally taxed are when these flashbacks flood in to challenge my level of compassion and patience for an adult living with the behavioral variant of Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD).
"Don't get my shoes wet. It will ruin them! Besides, the floor will get slippery! Stop that! Okay, fine, shower time is over!"
My frustrations are met with a childish giggle. "Awe, come on, Jess, I just wanted to have some fun."
The mess in the shower was not my idea of fun. It was already difficult enough seeing Mom in all her glory and about 50lbs overweight. Since her filter is gone, her mental self-image does not include an overweight adult. And yet, she will be the first to tell anyone else how fat they look, how ugly their earrings or clothes are, or how stupid she thinks they are for existing. Playing in the shower exhausts her, so Mom usually wants to lay down again. Before letting her lay back down, I make her sit up to brush her hair. Again, another flashback floods the mind of my younger self with long stringy hair.
I was a tomboy growing up that loved to wear purple, green, or denim jeans to play outside in and never cared about my hair until middle school. Mom used to insist on me wearing tight side pony-tails. They may have looked cute once she could finally get them in place, but they sure did make my scalp feel tender or give me headaches. Brushing Mom's hair and hearing her whale with each stroke made me feel sorry for her but also a tiny bit vindicated. Okay, maybe a little more than that.
These flashbacks that continued to resurface were the moments that kept my inner wounded child saying, "This isn't fair!" Mom never let me get away with an ounce of what she has begun to do as an adult, which made me feel the hypocrisy and hurt feelings from childhood as well. The problem is I am not dealing with a child who can listen and learn like I was at eight years old. The continual reminder of what is fair does not help the emotional roller coaster.
The only way to slow the roller coaster was to find a therapist who could address situational depression from the caregiver's perspective. Some of the flashbacks I experienced were brief parenting moments in which Mom felt validated in her actions, so trying to talk with her about the moment made me feel angry. When I reminded myself of her current status, which consists of the lack of empathy, I realized no matter how hard I tried to extract an apology or an explanation, it would not happen. I had to find a way to let the past go or understand it on my terms.
Here is what I have learned how to cope with these caregiver flashbacks:
1. These emerging memories are a healthy and normal part of trauma recovery. Feeling like we're going crazy or experiencing anxiety is how our mind, body, and nervous system process old memories, whether we are ready for them or not. When they surface it is in divine timing, so God knows you are ready to process them.
2. Schedule time with a therapist to slowly step through the past trauma. The flood of emotions from the emerging memories may get mixed in with current frustrations, overwhelm, or fear. With guidance, you can discover healthy compartmentalizing techniques or surrender your burdens from the past.
3. If these memories are what keep you from caring for your loved one, then avoidance or distraction may not work. The only way around the "icky" memories and emotions is going through them. That may sound scary, but you will gain an opportunity to reprogram the memory or see it from another side.
4. These emerging memories are coming from a deep part of your long-term memory, so do not expect the emotions that emerge with them to go away quickly.
5. If the emerging memory is more of negative repressed memory, then family or friends may be telling you that you're acting like a child. In later stages, our loved ones with Dementia tend to act like a child in response to new faces, places, or even smells. Their memories are broken, but the feelings are present. Your memory may be broken and need the assistance of more involved therapy like hypnosis to release it entirely.
6. Suppose you feel more exhausted than usual or anxious after experiencing a potential memory trigger. In that case, you may be feeling situational depression, so call in the help of additional home health caregivers while you sort through your emotions.
7. If you decide it is all too much to handle to continue caring for your loved one as the emerging memories affect you, then know it is okay to step away. Make sure your loved one has a backup caregiver who can help in your absence and take care of you. Even if you walk away from them to protect your feelings, there may be other unforeseen triggers, so take care of yourself.
"You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending." - C.S. Lewis
Thank you for joining in and listening today. I hope this episode gave you more food for thought. Until next time, BE PROACTIVE. Take care everybody.