"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything
that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help."
~ May Sarton ~
I am having a time out of time experience which, I suppose, given my myriad psychological issues and cocktail of diagnoses, related to depression, and other various connected curious states of mind and being, ("Curiouser and Curiouser, cried Alice...") is not surprising, and yet is a complex and confusing thing to live through. Mind, there is a clinical diagnosis for "a fugue state," and a metaphorical meaning. What I am going through lies somewhere between the two.
Recently, this has been brought on by the fact that my mother, who has outlived every expectation since being given a very short time to live when she was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in February of 2005, has now outlived that predicted period by 4 1/2 years, but she is now 83 and the time is drawing near. There are no more options. She is an inch away from going on hospice.
None of us have wanted to lose my mother, a strong, brave, positive woman with great faith, a woman not afraid to die, all the while handling a laundry list of nasty things thrown at her through these last years with a grace and equanimity few could muster. She has had so many really down times that we felt she was on her deathbed at numerous junctures. She went blind over 2 years ago, and this devout woman who never missed mass or a single holy day or one day during Lent, going to mass, has not even been able to go to church in some time. She is not afraid to die but she is not really living. We have been watching my dear mother die in slow motion for 4 1/2 years and now she teeters on the brink of the edge between this life and the next, and we all hold our breath from week to week, not knowing what, when, or if this day or this week is the time.
I do not do well emotionally with uncertainty. In jest I have told my daughter, who is now finishing a masters in Clinical Psychology, that I'm not exactly Rainman, but some days I feel close. That's rather tongue in cheek and perhaps an unfortunate and unkind way to put it, but to have some semblance of normalcy and balance in my life I do best when I know what's going to happen and when it will happen, and I have created for myself a set of parameters which help me feel safe. There are no safe parameters around someone you love dying. There is the sorrow, the grief, compounded by the ongoing uncertainty, the days when she sounds like she can't last another hour followed by a day that she sounds better and then much worse again. It is heart-breaking, it is unnerving, it makes me feel off-kilter and frightened, and, adding to all of that, I have spent the last weeks going over a mountain of paper-work and having sometimes nearly daily consultations surrounding what will happen afterwords. You know, things that have big scary language around them that you don't understand and feel ill-prepared to deal with, but must. So I listen, I learn, I study, I take notes, and then I disappear into a fugue state.
Now, in literal terms, a medical view of a fugue state is very serious indeed wherein a person disappears and then reappears some time later, having had a kind of amnesia, perhaps assumed a different persona, and re-appearing not remembering where they were or what happened. A famous case is that of Agatha Christie. In the Wikipedia section on "fugue state," they write, "Agatha Christie disappeared on 3 December 1926 only to reappear eleven days later in a hotel in Harrogate, apparently with no memory of the events which happened during that time span." I do not have amnesia and am perfectly aware of what is going on around me, but these fugue states are often related to those with Clinical Depression and Bi-Polar disorder, and a kind of dissociative state (amazing how the mind will protect itself). I have both among other things and am Bi-Polar Type 2, meaning the more depressive rather than manic side of things. A muck and a muddle, you might say.
My mother is dying, no one knows when or how or at what moment she will leave her body and enter a realm invisible to we, the ones left behind. My way of coping has begun to take a form, a way of being that is very like the fugue state. In the last week I have laid down to take a nap at say 3, expecting, as per usual, to wake up in an hour or two at most, but instead I have slept through until 9 or 10 at night, only to wake up long enough to groggily get the dogs out and back in, brush my teeth and then go back to sleep until 7 or 8 in the morning. I get up, still sleepy, but wake up more completely because there are 11 animals here and my animals are well cared for no matter what. Everyone gets food, fresh water, treats, the dogs are in and out several times by noon, by which time I can barely hold my eyes open. I try to stay awake. I fight it and I fight it, eventually I go to sleep and if I'm lucky I only sleep 2 or 3 hours, but I have awoken not knowing if it were night or day, or how long I'd been sleeping, and feeling very disoriented.
If you think this is easy to write about, it is not. As with all of my writing, I maintain an honesty not for the sake of pity or concern from the reader, but to hopefully help someone else going through these kind of difficulties to not feel alone, and to know that we will ultimately be okay. I share from an open heart, sometimes feeling like a trembling, timid little girl, afraid people will think I'm "wacko" and not wanting to have anything to do with me. This has happened to me in my life, which is why I live a life of relative seclusion. The truth is that I am a very intelligent, educated woman who works here nearly round the clock much of the time, but when I fall out, so to speak, I fall out. I have a wonderful doctor, medications, and safeguards in place, and do just fine. During times of extreme stress, not, perhaps, so much, but I always come through willy nilly, and those who really love and understand me I cherish with all of my heart.
Mental health issues are not only complex, but so completely misunderstood, even by the medical community, (although they are better to some degree, still, so much is misunderstood), and if you are dealing with people not in the medical community you might be treated as if you were a nut job to be avoided at all costs. I look normal, if you want to put it that way, I am and sound like an educated woman, I am an artist and a writer and yes, even a minister, and I do a lot of good work. I can also, at times, fall down the rabbit hole.
I've been spending a lot of time down there of late, but sooner or later I'll wake up and leave The Mad Hatter's Tea Party for the real world. There will be much to be handled in the days ahead, and I'm not certain if my body is sleeping so much to protect me now, as it will, a sheath to shield one and let one rest so the mind doesn't suffer undue pain or things that it simply cannot handle at the time, or if the sleeping so much is a kind of restorative, shoring me up for the days ahead. In any case, after much worry and concern over it, I have come to going with the flow. I take care of necessities, I eat, I pay my bills, I keep life trundling along, but I fall into the escape of sleep at the drop of a hat, and far more often than I'd like.
Fighting it will do no good. Allowing it to take it's course is the only way to handle it. Reality will jerk me out of my dream world soon enough. For now, I cuddle up with a pug and go to sleep to the sound of him snoring. Rainman needed to have control of everything to feel safe. I can be like that too to a lesser degree, but now I need to let go. There has been too much trauma on different levels other than my mother's condition of late, and I have gone to the place I know I am safe -- on the other side of my eyelids.
It will be curious, in the days ahead, the weeks to come, as it all plays out like life will, in it's own way and time, which we have no control over, to watch my various states wax and wane. Right now the tides inside of me are going in and out, taking me farther and farther from shore, but I know that I will be there in a heart beat when I need to be, snapped out of a dream world and relative safety, to do what needs to be done.
And so now I sit curled up in my chair here in one of my more awake times. I will eat dinner and watch a movie. Oddly, if I can make it through the period from mid-afternoon to early evening, and stay awake, I seem to be able to have a relatively normal evening (for me) and this looks like one of them, but I won't stay up late and I get off the computer earlier. Even when not sleeping I need things as quiet and tranquil as possible. My animals are so in sync with me that not a one of them, five dogs and 6 parrots, so much as make a sound when I am sleeping. It is as if they circle around and protect me. I would protect them with my life. We have a symbiotic relationship that I believe makes us all feel safer (most of my rescues here were abused, some very badly...) and our energies hum together in a kind of lyrical melody. I will be okay. I have to be. Eleven little beings are counting on me, and I know they have been put in my life, sent to me as guardian angels. I bow to the Grace that brought them here.
So now I shall make some dinner, and turn on my movie. These days I am really into mysteries from the BBC. I love those. Tonight it's another P.D. James and these films are brilliant. These seem to hold my interest most these days.
I hope you have a peaceful evening, and sleep well. Perhaps, in some other reality, in another place and time, we will meet in our dreams and have tea. I'll put the kettle on right now, just in case...