Mary Ann and I have now had our fifteen minutes of fame.  The article on our situation, with picture and all, was published  in our local paper yesterday morning.  The fame has already faded.  Oh well.  Who wants to be plagued by the paparazzi anyway. 

At various times during the day today, I stopped by the computer to read  posts on the spouses of those with Lewy Body Dementia online support group.  Since there is an expectation of confidentiality in that group, I will use no names. 

One member of the group wrote a very graphic and painful post, venting a level of frustration she feared would shock all of us.  She revealed a depth of pain that is almost beyond description.  What drove her to write was not just a passing moment of feeling sorry for herself.  It is hard to imagine anyone going through the impossible dynamics of her circumstances and surviving. 

What is more frightening is that no one was shocked at her shocking vent.  They understood.  She just put into words feelings that many in the group experience.  What is frightening about it is that it revealed just how much pain there is out there.  What is frightening about it is that those of us who are not yet experiencing the later stages of the dementia in our spouses have that level of pain to look forward to. 

One of my first thoughts was thanksgiving that Mary Ann has a comparatively mild level of dementia at this point in its progression.  We have a quality of life that would be the envy of many who are immersed in the worst of the dementia.  We can get out to eat — maybe a little messiness, but the job gets done.  Mary Ann’s memory is still better than mine.  That is pretty scary!   Since she is lighter than I am; I can still provide the physical help needed to get basic needs met.  Our communication is limited, but it still happens.  We can travel, with some difficulty, but we can do it.  Mary Ann’s needs are still within the range of our friends who volunteer to spend time with her while I do other things.  Most nights she sleeps reasonably well. 

As I have revealed in some of these posts, we have frustrating challenges that push us to the limit.  We live in a narrow margin of functionality.  We are one fall away from the end of being able to manage here at home.  Any compromise to my health could destroy our system here with one another.  None of the other options out there is acceptable to either of us.  One or the other of them might become necessary, but they are still not acceptable. 

While the difficulty of our situation does not measure up to so many others’ situations, venting frustrations is still a necessary safety valve.  Those of us to do the caregiving and those who receive it need to release some pressure once in a while to stay sane! 

I am convinced that it is healthier to name the pain we are in once in a while, to admit to ourselves and whomever we trust enough to do so, that we just can’t handle it any more.  It is far healthier to vent than it is to try somehow to sustain the illusion that we are fine when we are not always fine.  We may want everyone to think we are noble, self-giving, saints who just love caring for our Loved One every moment of every day.   The price we will pay for maintaining that fiction will at some point be a psychic meltdown — probably a physical one too. 

The challenge is to find ways to vent our frustrations without hurting ourselves or anyone else.  One of the best ways seems to me to be just what the person in our online group did when she wrote out all those thoughts that seemed to her to be so horrible.   Another way to vent effectively would be to have a trusted friend or cluster of friends who can listen to some ranting and raving without getting upset with you, or worse yet, telling you that it isn’t as bad as you think. 

Some work out their frustrations in other ways.  The occasional, “oh fiddlesticks” or “gee willikers” spoken with great gusto can release a little tension.  Just make sure that the grandchildren are not within earshot.   One of my vents of choice is to string together a long, loud and involved rational explanation as to why what just happened should not have happened.  My kids just loved those lectures.  They would often say, “Dad, can we hear that lecture again, it would be so good for us.”

I have said this in former posts.  Taking the time to process what we are going through and writing about it in this blog has provided a surprisingly powerful mechanism for working out my frustrations.  Maybe it is as simple as talking the frustrations to death.  (And  you wonder why my posts are so long.)

There is a piece of reality that frees me to take off the rose-colored glasses, look past any illusions about my goodness, or strength of character, and expose the nastiness in me, the ugly character flaws.  I understand the One who made me to love me so powerfully that my nastiness, character flaws, even my doubts and anger are not strong enough to ward it off.  I can vent to my heart’s content and remain safe and secure, able to get on with life in a meaningful way after the safety valve has released some pressure. 

For those of you who do not share my understanding of reality, the same is so.  Setting aside the pretense and the illusions and facing down the harsh realities of who and what we are, provides us with a sort of reality therapy that allows us to get through the worst times and come out able to live meaningfully in the face of terrible circumstances. 

Caregivers need to vent frustrations.  Just don’t hurt yourself or anyone else when you do the venting!

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