It has been 4 years since my stroke and I have been reflecting about my predicament. When I get distressed and upset, I try to find words to describe how I am feeling. So here I go. My attempt. It feels as if I cannot escape, I don’t know what to do with myself, there is a rising lump from deep down in my belly and I need to run and get away, to find a safe space from which to escape this sense of life being unbearable, and which might be my lot for years and years”
This evening I watched the programme Caring for Derek (worth a watch on ITV) made by Kate Garraway as Derek her husband survives and lives through the long-term damaging impact of Covid. “It’s just an impossible task that you must make possible every day” Kate says. It reminded me of how I was at the beginning of my stroke (well that is how Duncan described me). The film of Derek, the description of his life and for Kate came across as impossible and harrowing and very much felt like my own experience.
This made me reflect further that there is much in life that can be described as unbearable. After my early retirement and in my last job, we recognised that the death of a child or young person had a massive impact on the family and the community surrounding them. It is unbearable. Then more, I have witnessed others with the unexpected or even the expected death of a partner which is totally devastating, heart-breaking, horrific and I cannot imagine how that would feel.
All this makes me feel that in comparison my unbearable seems insignificant. However, it is my reality, and therefore feels unbearable. When I was a child, life at times felt unbearable. After the acrimonious separation of my parents, I would be terrified, sick in my stomach if I knew they were going to meet and see each other. Not a good way to start life, and now as I face my final years (I can hear some people tickle me with the words “drama Queen”) it can feel unbearable. My distress causes me to recognise that after my stroke I am not able to do much to even look after myself, such as getting dressed, tying my shoe laces, which are some examples of how I am unable to carry out my necessary daily activities, those that previously, I did not even think about. I certainly cannot do a lot of the other activities I was looking forward to, such as gardening, cycling, piano playing or cliff walking. I cannot even contemplate doing these things ever again. It gives me a huge sense of loss and pain. I have been robbed at the end of my life.
I looked across to Duncan after supper the other evening and said “I am not sure I can bear this anymore”. It was one of those moments when, for me it felt unbearable – not being able to do very much, certainly not what I had hoped for in my retirement. Yet for a lot of the time I do bear it. I have no choice, I have to “get on with it” and as some often say, “suck it up” (by the way, I hate that expression). When I am in the middle of my unbearable I somehow find the strength to carry on. For me the reality of my circumstance can come and go, in waves rather like the experience of grief, thus offering respite.
The other evening, I watched the programme “portraits of the Holocaust” describing the unimaginable stories of those who had survived. The stories the survivors told were harrowing. Indeed, their circumstances seemed to me to be unbearable. “How can I complain” I thought? Yet they survived to tell their stories
I often ask why this has happened to me. It feels unfair and unjust. But there is much I can continue to do. My cognitive skills are in intact and I can use that for my own benefit as well as for others. Yet I must be careful and be honest and not let my natural (positive) personality defend me against my loss and pain.
I am a type 7 in the enneagram, a typology system that describes human personality as a number of interconnected personality types (www.verywellmind.com) According to my typology I have a positive, idealism, radiating joy and optimism (oh goody!), but all of this is there to defend against my underlying need to avoid pain. So here I am bearing an unbearable burden, but with a personality that tends to see a cup half full, not half empty. Will this enable the bearing of the unbearable? This is the challenge that I face as I look to the future.