As I’ve said over on my facebook page (and here, I think), I really, really REALLY love my job. I’m good at it, and I’ve been doing it for two decades — the last fifteen years at the same place. I have the respect and support of my colleagues, and am one of the best at what I do.
What I essentially do for a living is spending time with people with progressive dementias like Alzheimer’s and help them live a decent life, with dignity and safety. It’s hard, grinding, emotionally draining work. Contrary to the old nursing-home model of “don’t get involved,” most caregivers cannot do their job without getting involved. It is, in every sense of the term, a labor of love. And it’s hard labor. Yah, I get to sing to grandma, but I also have to explain to her why she can’t go home tonight (none of them remember they live there). I have seen dear friends die of a horrible disease which robs them of almost everything they are. Combine that with a biological predisposition to depression, and you’ve got a dangerous situation.
Call it burnout, call it battle fatigue, but sometimes I just can’t take it anymore: the death of people I love, or, far worse, watching them suffer until I pray that Death takes them soon. Fortunately, over the years, I’ve learned to recognize the signs and leave *before* I explode. Having to take a mental health day is not something without a certain stigma, and yet it is absolutely necessary to my sanity from time to time.
So I was home today, and it wasn’t fun. At these times, my emotions tend to shut down to keep themselves from spiraling out of control, and I wasn’t feeling a damn thing other than an absolutely empty place where my soul would normally be. Fortunately, I have good support systems in place; a friend called in every couple of hours to see that I was all right, while I put on a DVD of “Family Guy” and tried to remember how to laugh. Instead, I fell asleep, but woke up to my friend calling me to say she’d be over to drag me up to the pool. That simple gesture of love broke the shell — I found my soul back where it was, and I was laughing at Seth McFarlane’s classic genius again. I still feel just a little down, but not empty.
It’s good to have friends.
So, my dear Marna, who didn’t even get to swim, I send my love and this picture. It’s an old one from my files, but I hope you’ll get a kick out of it.