Talking to strangers

I don’t usually talk to strangers. I think of myself as shy, although I’ve been told I look superior and intimidating.

Anyway, on Saturday, I went to buy a paper and started chatting to the woman in the shop. ‘What are they building over the road? A new supermarket! Goodness! And how will that affect you? Oh dear, that’s terrible.’ On my way home I passed a guy with a cute little dog and I started chatting to him. ‘Oh she’s so pretty! What type of dog is she? What’s her name?’

Is this loneliness? I’m happy in my own company, as they say, and I’m used to living on my own but then I had a social life. Now, I spend most of my time with someone who can’t really have a conversation. Mum and I do have chats, although I know she’ll forget them soon enough. Sometimes, when I’ve been out and seen something interesting, I just can’t stop myself telling her about it, even though I know it will probably make things worse because she won’t understand what I’ve said, and I’ll have to repeat myself and explain it over and over again.

In the same way, I always regret making a casual comment – about a news item, for example: thinking aloud, you might call it. Because mum’s a bit deaf, she doesn’t catch what I’ve said, so she wants to know what it was, but she won’t understand why I’ve said it. And in the meantime, the news item has changed so I have to explain it was the item before last but she’s forgotten what that was; or it’s a drama and I lose the thread of the plot while I tell her why I made some minor, off-the-cuff remark. In the end, it’s simpler to try and say nothing at all.

I’ve been reading that isolation is a big problem among carers. I have the phone and emails to keep in touch with friends, but it is bizarre to be with someone and feel unable to communicate. Perhaps this is how au pairs must feel? They’re not by themselves, but they’re cut off from their companions by lack of language. I’m not by myself, but it feels like it’s more trouble than it’s worth to express my thoughts. And that does make me feel solitary in a way that living alone never did.

A Visit to the Doctors

Mum has not had her medication reviewed for a long time. For some time, I have been trying to get her to go and see the Doctor and discuss the pills she takes. But she’s been digging her heels in. ‘I’m 94. I shouldn’t have to go there. He should come and see me.’ Nothing I said could convince her otherwise.

Then, just before Xmas, the pharmacist said they couldn’t repeat her prescription again without a review by the Doctor. I told mum, ‘Whether you like it or not, we have to make an appointment before the medicines run out – which means as soon as possible after the New Year.’

I took the first appointment available, and arranged for a carer to drive us to the surgery, wait with us and drive us back. In the long run, this is not much more expensive than getting two taxis and a lot less hassle as mum gets bored waiting for a cab to arrive.

Mum grumbled and grumbled over and over. The time was inconvenient, she didn’t know the carer who was coming, she didn’t feel well, she was 94 and she didn’t think she should have to go. I just gritted my teeth and concentrated on getting mum to her appointment

The day came. The carer arrived, it was someone mum knew and liked. We went round to the surgery; the doctor was polite and respectful. We discussed her medication – and the possibility of attending a memory clinic (he wasn’t very encouraging.). We came home.

Mum: ‘I should have asked the Doctor about the problem with my face and my problems at night.’

Me: ‘Why didn’t you? You could have made a list.’

Mum: Why didn’t you remind me?

Me: !!! I didn’t know you wanted to ask the Doctor about those problems. You wasted all that time complaining about having to go to the Doctors. You should have realised it was a chance to sort everything out.

This is exactly what happened with the Xmas cards. It wore me out trying to get her to write them, but when cards started arriving from friends and family, she was really pleased she had sent hers already. And, in the same way, it wore me out to get her to the doctors – now she’s frustrated because she lost her chance to sort out things she needed to sort out.

She’s always been a glass half-empty sort of person. But it’s sad when someone is so old and  could enjoy the life that’s left to her so much more, if she just tried to have a more positive attitude. Yet, after all these years she doesn’t seem to have learnt a thing….

I live here too

I don’t know if it’s the New Year, but I woke up today and I thought: I live here too. One of the reasons I’ve been so drained psychologically is that I’m continually trying to adjust to mum’s demands and needs. It is her house after all. But this morning I went out into the garage and began to unpack my books. At the moment, they are lying over the floor in the sun lounge, but tomorrow, hopefully they will get put onto the bookshelves.

My New Year’s resolution was to be more resolute. By that I mean, I must set my own boundaries. I must set timetables and goals, things I want to achieve each day – and not get sucked into the lazy acceptance of watching tv or just dithering around, waiting for her to get up, or the carer to come – or not feeling I can get out my possessions.

Mum has always been very controlling. When I was a kid I dealt with this by being ‘absent’, daydreaming or burying my nose in a book. Then I left home and kept my life private, ‘sharing’ as little as possible. Since I moved back here, I’ve been unconsciously following the same strategies. Burying my nose in a book or my computer but also, hesitating to unpack my things. When I go to someone’s house, I always study their bookshelves, to see what sort of person they are. I don’t want anyone doing that to me here!

But when I did get out my books, it was great, like meeting old friends again. And there are so many I haven’t actually read. I look forward to reading them all. And I’ve started a diary – so that I can differentiate the days; write down things I have achieved for myself, in spite of having to clean up all kinds of mess and having the same conversation over and over again!!

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a positive 2015!