Thursday, January 15, 2009

Checklist for Difficult Times

When Aidan was getting ready to go "HOME home" after his liver transplant (that is, home to our house in the mountains rather than "home" to our temporary San Francisco apartment close to the hospital) the transplant coordinator told me that many parents had let her know that returning to normal life was the hardest part of what the transplant doctor called "the marathon". When your child is very ill, you keep going moment by moment. It carries a kind of adrenalin charge of its own, and you get lots of support. When you get home, you start your old life on new terms. Your life has changed. The folks at home can't really imagine how much, and they don't really, really want to hear about it all that much. They really don't, though they try to be polite. Anyway, it would be too hard to tell them, so that's why you often end up being able to chat more freely with the other moms and dads in the clinic waiting rooms than you can with the folks at your church. The people at the waiting room already know what you mean; they have their own version.

At first, I was just happy to be home with my child. After a while, though, I saw what she meant. Some days were just plain hard. With six children 13 and down you have hard days sometimes anyway; and when the littlest has multiple medical issues and you are still recovering from a Major Life Event, the difficulty seems doubled. I remember sometimes standing in the middle of a room wondering what I was supposed to be doing next. I felt like I was hearing a creepy soundtrack as I stood there; the kind that tells you that the heroine is distrusting her own sanity, or that something Bad is about to happen. Or as if the heroine felt a sudden gust of air and looked down and the ground was opening up under her feet. You know the kind of scene. And so it was, very often. Aidan would have to be rushed to the ER with acute illness, and I would end up back at the hospital with him for several days to a month, uncertain what each hour would bring. In between, life seemed normal, but we never would know for how long. So yes, and my sanity was sometimes a bit fragile, too.

Anyway, that's all to say that remembering those days, I wrote out an Overwhelmed Checklist in response to a question on a message board. I wanted to put it here because you never know; I may need it again. It helped me very much when I got pregnant with Paddy and entered the world of intensive, scary medical intervention again. It gave me a "next thing" to do and a way to do it. A modified version still helps me when I need to "reset".... which I do regularly when things are just not going well.

Suggestions for the Overwhelmed:

First, a schedule with pegs in it is a great support. You can easily center it around eating times. Plan for meals that everyone needs to eat -- if you think the little ones or teenagers need food outside the basic three meals, then prepare a little grazing tray for the little ones, put the teens in charge of their own and possibly their little siblings' in-between snacks.

The mealtime pegs can help with to remind you of other things. I used to "peg" my medically fragile child's medications, G Tube feedings, oxygen checks etc around five times: Getting Up, Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, and Bedtime. He doesn't have as many interventions anymore but these Five Things still help give a pattern to my day.

Laundry goes the same way -- load in at rising, change loads at breakfast, change again at lunch etc. It helped me to cut back on the amount of clothes we had. The children knew they didn't have enough clothes to keep tossing them into the laundry basket. And it was easier for me to keep up regularly if there weren't always mounds and mounds of things in the laundry room.

The worry and feeling of being overwhelmed -- It helped me to have a strategy for the essentials so I always had a "next thing" to do, and then just be OK about the things that slipped through occasionally. IF the medically needy child was being treated, the kids had food in their mouths, we were basically functioning as a family and I was keeping all the needs in prayer I felt like it was sufficient.

Then a bit of 3Rs and fun time is a bonus. But basically I ignored everything that was either out of my control or not a survival/safety need. At least until I was out of my "overwhelmed" time and could actually think about the extras again. I had to be very careful to reserve my strength and focus and not get distracted by things that didn't build us up. Any extra energy went to nurturing and those little precious moments that occur in every family but are sometimes easily ignored when under stress.

It helped me to separate the FEELING of being actually overwhelmed from the reality. I am sort of depressive so it is easy for me to become discouraged by chaos and fearful about possible catastrophes --"how much more can I endure??" I had to deal with this separately from the actual situation.... as something that was like a spiritual or physical trial. So having a sort of strategy helped me with this... and I often thought about Jesus on the Via Dolorosa and how He stumbled and fell 3 times, so it was consoling to realize that you can be doing well and STILL fall under the weight sometimes. God doesn't require us to be superhuman.

Another thing that sometimes has the potential to drag me down -- a feeling of regret over past mistakes. When in a very difficult situation, it's important to let these go. Sure, learn from the mistakes but move on. I don't know if this is a problem for you since you didn't mention it but in my experience most older moms and dads with some grown children have SOME regrets. It's important to just deal with it, hand it to God and not let it leach out the strength you need to deal with what's going on currently. God can work with our mistakes and our sins if we let Him.


Beate said...

Thanks Willa :-)

Chari said...

did you write this for me?

signed, the overwhelmed

(and that is WITHOUT a major crisis in my life!)

Chari said...

ps.LOVE the squirrels!!

Willa said...

I miss you ... why do you have to live so far away.... and be so busy??..sigh... even the ellipses remind me of you : )

Talking to Chari but I wish Beate lived closer, too, and Sabine!