Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Broken Brains

I have two friends who simply are not who they were on this day in 2018. It isn't their fault. Kathy is suffering from some form of undiagnosed dementia, and Henry is still feeling the after effects of the collision between his bike and a Chevy Van.

I struggle with how to deal with them. For while the situations they find themselves in are not their fault, I am frustrated by how they are coping (or not coping) with their mental health issues. I want to hang on, want to remain close to both of them, but I'm vexed.

Kathy. She sent me a text, saying that if I'm "bored" I should call. I wasn't bored, but I figured she might be feeling isolated so I called her. She didn't pick up. My honest reaction? That I'd dodged a bullet. 

She called me back and asked me what TV shows I've been watching lately. I told her I'd just finished a sexy, suspenseful old thriller called Night Must Fall (1937). I'd never seen it, never heard of it before, but really enjoyed it.

"Why did you watch it?" she asked.

"It was introduced by my favorite TCM host, Eddie Muller, so ..."

"What is a TCM host?" she interrupted.

Kathy knows I went to the TCM Film Festival in 2019. I sent her a postcard. We talked about it when I got home. But she forgot. That's OK.

"TCM is Turner Classic Movies. It's my favorite cable channel. Hosts introduce the movies and ..."

"You know I don't have cable! I can't watch this TCM!" She sounded annoyed with me. I was only telling her about this because she asked. Moments ago. Had she forgotten that, too? 

We segued to Covid. She has been very thoughtful during my battle with the virus and I'm grateful. She asked if I was going to get the vaccine and I said of course. I trust my own physician and I trust Dr. Fauci. I mentioned his work with AIDS and she said, "What's that?" I thought she meant she didn't know Fauci had been an early AIDS researcher. No. She forgot what acquired immunodeficiency syndrome is. This is scary.

Then she tells me -- as she always does -- that she once, recently had a brain problem but it fixed itself. She insists she won't discuss it with a doctor because she's fine now. She knows she's not fine. She must be terrified.

She has Medicare. She could be checked at little or no cost. She might have a thyroid problem or a vitamin deficiency. But she chooses to live like this.

An hour talking to Kathy feels like two. It's frustrating and depressing.

Henry. He and his husband Reg are fighting again. Henry maintains Reg doesn't understand him, doesn't fight for him when the world is against him as "a brown gay man in Trump's America." I don't dispute that President Trump made people more comfortable with their biogtry. But I don't think people who are predisposed to discriminate against gays or Hispanics would move to Key West. Plus, Henry had an unfortunate penchant for blaming dark conspiracies when things go wrong in his life, even before the accident. His TBI has only exacerbated this.

Reg gets short-tempered. He is exhausted and feels underappreciated. I understand. Henry is completely unreasonable at times. But they say cruel things to one another, things that would make your blood run cold.

But they are both at fault. Henry now has a neurologist that he likes, trusts and won't see. He also has a therapist that he likes, trusts and won't see. The problem, you see, is not him. It's the bigoted coworkers and customers he encounters every day in Trump's America.

There are online support groups Reg could consult. He could enjoy the comfort of sharing with other caregivers who truly understand the challenges he faces. He won't do it. "I feel like Henry is my responsibility," he says.

They cling so tightly to their problems that Henry and Reg now identify themselves, and one another, by them. Henry sees himself as a victim because no one understands him. Reg sees himself as a victim because he has a husband who, because of a traumatic brain injury, both hates him and depends on him. They seem almost frightened to break this cycle and get help.

Me. I am happy every time the phone rings and it isn't Kathy or Henry. I know everyone is doing the best they can, and I love them, but they exhaust me. Add my oldest friend -- who is battling clinical depression -- and I just want to hide. 

I have to be more patient, less judgemental. I also have to allow myself the space to not pick up. I'm beginning to feel depleted. I can't be there for my friends if I don't have anything to give them.


3 comments:

  1. It's a bit of a conundrum--do you pick up and dread the conversation or do you avoid the conversation and feel the guilt of not picking up?

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  2. You are absolutely right to think you need time to yourself. The number one rule of taking care of someone with dementia or some other brain injury is to take care of yourself. Always. If you are stressed, you can't give them what they need, either.

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  3. Maybe there is a way to have shorter phone conversations so you don't feel so drained. I understand wanting to be there and help; I also understand how demanding that can be. You have to take care of yourself and do what is best for you.

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