I’m not a caregiver

When we were ten years old, my best friend’s father died, and I did the worst thing anyone can do in that situation: I made it about me.

We’ll call this friend Genevieve, as that’s how I refer to her in my “this day in” posts. I’d actually always been a little bit afraid of her father, so when he died I had mixed feelings. I felt horrible for Genevieve of course, but I felt some degree of relief for myself, though thankfully I never admitted this to her. At my twelfth birthday party, a few of my guests let me know that Genevieve was huddled in a corner, crying. I went over to her and found out that some of the other kids had been talking about their fathers, and it had made her sad. She told me she felt stuck, because she couldn’t talk to her mother about this great loss they’d suffered, as every time she tried, her mother would burst into tears. Obviously, I should have offered to be Genevieve’s sounding board. I should have told her that whenever she felt sad, or whenever she wanted to talk, she should come to me. But I didn’t do this. I didn’t do anything helpful. I sat dumbfounded and tried to think of something to say. The best I could come up with was something along the lines of how when her father died it made me think maybe my father could die, and that made me sad.  I mean… ????? As soon as I said it, I knew it was wrong. I was taking her grief and making it about me. And the worst part is I didn’t even truly feel that way. I simply didn’t know what to say, because I’m just not good at consoling people, or taking care of them. I’m not a caregiver.

I actually think I’m a pretty good listener, and I’m good at giving advice, but equally good at noticing when people don’t actually want advice, but just want a sounding board, or just want someone to agree with them. (Not that I always accommodate this wish since I’m honest to a fault). But I am absolutely horrible at taking care of people. This comes to light whenever my significant other, whom we’ll call BFG (BoyFriendGuy) gets sick. When I’m ill he’s amazing, and becomes a sort of super-caregiver. He gets me buckets so I can vomit from the comfort of our bed, and he washes up any puke that might have missed the mark. I can’t even count all the bodily fluids he’s washed off of me and various surfaces in our condo. But when he gets sick, I’m useless. I want to help, but I just don’t know what to do. When people really need me, I freeze.

when-im-sick

BFG suggests this is a result of the way we were raised. When he was about six years old, his mother fell ill. So ill that she became bed-ridden. BFG and his sister grew up taking care of her, nay, being forced to take care of her, and their house. I’ve read enough articles about caregiver burnout to know that growing up in this way must have taken quite a toll and in some ways BFG is still traumatised by his childhood. For instance, he’s a great cook, but refuses to do so because he associates cooking to his mother berating him for incompetently prepared meals. Yet he is also a product of his programming and can’t help but jump to action when someone he cares about needs him.

I, on the other hand, was never expected to care for anyone when I was young. Quite the contrary, as a kid I was often the one in need of help. I was a somewhat sickly kid, getting constant nosebleeds and frequent colds. I remember one time staying home from school and vomiting all over the couch. Then I did what any child would do in that situation: nothing. I walked away from the sofa and waited for my mother to get home and clean it up. Yes, I was left home alone as a sick child. It was the ’80s and that was fine back then, but also speaks to a certain level of neglect that was normal in my household. My siblings and I were never abused or neglected in any physical way – we always had food on the table and a roof over our heads – but we were never coddled, or offered much in the way of emotional support. I never thought it was weird because it’s all I’ve ever known, but a few people over the years have commented on how oddly cold and distant my family is. An ex once complained that my father and brother were emotionally stunted (he actually used a much more vulgar term that I’ll spare you) and I’ve often been accused of being a bitch big ol’ meany pants. Perhaps this is why I was so useless towards Genevieve when she needed me most. I just don’t understand how to help other people, either physically or emotionally.

As I’ve gotten older, and my self-awareness has increased, I’ve gotten better. I’m a much more competent listening board for Genevieve now that we’re adults, but I’m still not the person who offers hugs and hand-holds. I still struggle with what to do when people are in distress, mostly out of a sense of awkwardness. My social anxiety contributes to this inability to help, but I think I’ve also, just naturally, got a relatively low level of empathy. I’m no sociopath but I’m rarely moved by the troubles of others. Based on the definitions provided here, I’d say I’m capable of sympathy, but not much empathy.

BFG actually admires my lack of empathy. He offers the following analogy of evidence of the folly of empathy: If someone is drowning in a raging river, jumping into that river is empathy, resulting in two people drowning, whereas compassion is throwing that person a life preserver while remaining dry on the riverbank. We can only help others if we maintain a certain emotional distance from their woes. So fine, I’ve got the emotional distance thing covered. But what of compassion? Am I doing a good enough job of helping others in need? Or should I work harder to strengthen my ability to help others? I guess if I’ve written this blog post I feel a certain inadequacy in this regard. But I also must admit that for the sake of making my point, I’ve exaggerated how bad I am, and how good BFG is when it comes to taking care of each other. He’s been known to kick me out of bed for coughing too much, and I’ve been known to make him soup. But still, perhaps I need to try harder the next time someone needs me. But on the other hand… eww, sick people are gross.

Am I old, or just a hot mess?

So I totally wet the bed the other night.

I can’t even remember the last time I wet the bed. I don’t think I was ever a bed-wetter as a kid. I do, however, remember one time when I was a child and I woke up in the morning, had to pee, and rushed to the washroom only to find it occupied. So I did what any sensible human with a brain would do: I went back to my room and peed on the floor. I mean… ??? I don’t remember what my logic was, like why I didn’t simply go downstairs to the second bathroom. If memory serves, I went back to my room to wait for the bathroom but then it became urgent, a little pee escaped and I just went with it. Thankfully it wasn’t a deluge and I was able to clean it up myself, without having to involve my mother. In fact, to this day she probably has no idea I peed all over my bedroom floor. Thankfully by then the carpet had been removed.

It’s pretty common for me to have pee dreams. That is, dreams wherein I need to pee. It’s probably a common occurrence for everyone. Our dreams are telling us to wake the fuck up and go relieve ourselves in a toilet, rather than ruining our beds. Usually my pee dreams involve me desperately searching for a washroom. I’m often at school, or another public place, and I’m searching and searching to no avail. And then when I finally find a bathroom, it’s so disgustingly dirty that I can’t fathom using it. Finally, I’m so desperate that I decide I’ll use the overflowing/dirty toilet anyway and it’s at this point that I wake up. But the other night my dream wasn’t so elaborate. I was just having a conversation, then I sat on a toilet that magically appeared, and started to pee. Like, a Niagara falls pee.

Then I woke with a jolt, realising I was actually urinating for realsies!!! I rushed to the washroom, where indeed a Niagara falls pee took place. Panicked, and refusing to fully believe what had just happened, I tentatively felt my pyjama bottoms for evidence of an accident. Yup, they were wet. Holy shit! Did I actually just wet myself?! What the hell?! I hadn’t even drank an excessive amount of water that day. I was, however, sick. I’ve had a chest cold for about two weeks now, and the other day, when I came home from work, a cough attack overtook me. As I coughed a bit of urine squeezed out, and I thought, wow, I really have to pee, and wow, I hope I don’t wet the bed tonight, hahaha, as if I ever would. But then I did just that!!!

After taking off my wet pyjamas and cleaning myself up I went back to the bedroom to inspect the bed. I felt around and immediately found the wet spot. Seriously?! I couldn’t believe it. I’m only 40 years old! Isn’t bed-wetting the purview of toddlers and geriatrics?! I was beginning to accept the reality of the situation but I was unsure of what to do. I debated simply putting down a towel and going back to sleep, but since I hadn’t turned the light on yet I couldn’t really tell how bad the damage was. I looked over to my boyfriend, still sleeping soundly and again debated my options. I obviously couldn’t change the sheets with him still in bed so I decided to wake him. I calmly explained the situation and he got up to help without a word of complaint. This was a pleasant surprise since he’s usually very grumpy when he gets woken unexpectedly, but he also tends to jump into action whenever he’s given an opportunity to help me. So we turned on the light and inspected the situation. The wet spot was embarrassingly large but not devastatingly so. Peeling back the mattress protector revealed that it had expertly done its job, and no urine had soaked through to the mattress! What a relief. So we changed the sheets, threw the soiled ones into the washing machine and went back to bed, where I stared at the ceiling and wondered what the fuck.

Would this have happened if I hadn’t been sick? Can I blame something like this on a cold, or am I just getting old? It’s not like having a sore throat could be linked to bladder control. A little intertron research tells me that adult incontinence is very common, but also more of a problem for women who’ve suffered the trauma of childbirth, and for those over 60, and I don’t have either of those excuses. And even then sleep pissing nocturnal enuresis is usually related to an underlying illness. So I guess I’m dying.

I suppose there’s nothing to be done but to wait and see if it happens again. In the meantime I can limit how much water I drink before bed or perhaps stop ingesting liquids altogether and become a dehydrated, shrivelled mess.

Still though, not as bad as the time I shit myself in public.