Adventures in Limits | Nancy's Story

Nancy became the primary caregiver for a parent suffering from Alzheimers. As her time, resources and energy were being consumed by the needs, Nancy had to give up friends, her day job and her life as she knew it.
“My friends might say I was a 'high-capacity' person--especially when it came to relationships. No matter who needed what I always made sure that every birthday was celebrated, sorrow shared or task completed. After my dad suffered a fall from a ladder (I still question the thought-process of an 80-year old trimming limbs away from the roof), my mom needed care. It was easier for me to move them from their home state to mine, where I could be part of their day-to-day lives.

Engaging the whole process of aging is daunting....nursing homes, insurance, surgeries for body parts that simply break down...I wasn't prepared for the sheer complexity of it all. In the beginning, it was almost like a second job. Work a nine-hour day, make sure my family was fed (or more often than not swing through a drive through), then get to the nursing home to visit my parents, talk with doctors, connect with the rest of the family about finances, medical decisions, etc. In the past, I had always tackled every problem by simply investing more of me...more compassion, more time, more energy...but what I discovered is that my resources ran out. I wasn't limitless. I started to worry that my brain itself had changed--unable to keep up with the normal demands of life. But what I came to learn is that everything has a capacity threshold, and I quickly exceeded mine.

Originally, I would have thought that this would have been limited to what concerned my folks, but instead it was work, with friends, in my personal finances... I was stunned at how tasks that had once come easily were now anywhere from a trial to impossible. I was tired. So very tired. And I couldn't handle the smallest of demands. It was as if I had overdrawn some internal bank account and the overdraft charges made it impossible to catch up.

There were radical changes. I couldn't perform to capacity at work. I found that where I had once been energized by people, I now craved isolation. I became hopeless about my future because aging was inevitable. I was "tunnel-visioned" just trying to survive the next hours' demands on me. I also became extremely aware of how inadequate I was on my own and went even deeper in my faith to try to get some semblance of peace and understanding as I found the tools and talents I used to rely on completely out of my grasp.

When my mom passed away and my father moved back to our hometown, it wasn't as if everything resolved itself. My landscape had totally changed. Relationships which I had put on hold while caring for my mom were altered or gone. I had left the job that I loved to start a new one with a less-demanding schedule. My husband had taken a different job with more travel to help resolve the gap in income. And most of all, the rapid pace that had left little time for thinking or even breath just stopped. I was left to sort out why I had quit interacting with the friends I loved and shared life with. Why the job I had poured my heart into was simply gone. To try to figure out why I was still so very tired and in need of healing when the withdrawals had suddenly stopped. Most of all, I was left to wonder why I didn't have the same strengths that I did when all of this started?

In many ways I am still sorting much of this out, but there are a few things I have come to embrace. The first is that I have limits. I will never be able to deliver all of the things that people expect of me, but that doesn't mean I don't have value, it just means that people's expectations aren't always aligned with my changing calling and purpose. I've also learned to hold things loosely., friends, possessions, abilities. When all of the structure and resources around you seem to become quicksand, there is still something solid. For me that is my faith, which I came to a radical and abandoned reliance on. I've also learned to let go of the outcomes. As much as I want to see people get their desired outcome, that isn't in my capacity to grant. I simply have to show up and give what I have to give. And learn to be okay with the gaps."

© Cathy Hutchison 2012

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Maira Gall