Trials and tribulations
I discovered that the clinical trial I am in ran out of funding early, or lost funding, or something, so it’s not a five-year commitment. Just a one-time visit for me. It was a lengthy visit, and really interesting. This study is looking at genetic markers in Alzheimer’s caregivers, as well as some general health characteristics, and then seeks tons of information about depression and anxiety. So after signing consent forms, I had a visit with a nurse in our institution’s clinical research center. She took my height and weight, BP (which was a little high, perhaps because I was concerned about the amount of blood I had to give). And then came the stick. I am not really skittish about blood draws, but I usually have to give just a tube or two at any given time. This time, eight tubes were lined up beside my arm. I have small veins, too, so sometimes they’re hard to find. This nurse was a pro and very gentle, so after the stick, she started asking me questions to distract me while she filled all the tubes. My inadequate vein held up well. It was a little uncomfortable, but nothing I couldn’t handle. No lightheadedness, no stomach ache. And today, not even a little bruise. Then she took measures of my waist and hips. I held the measuring tape on my side and twirled around – this is the technique intended to give the most accurate measurement, she told me. I’m sure those numbers say something unpleasant about my girth, but she didn’t tell me the numbers and I didn’t care to know them. I really try hard not to obsess about the size of my body, but instead focus on its health and ability to get me around. I do exercise, because my mantra is blood flow to the brain, blood flow to the brain. But I do not restrict my eating. I try to eat healthful foods and think of food as fuel. And that’s enough about that.
I returned to the dreary little office in which the rest of the clinical trial interviewing took place. I completed one questionnaire about my exercise habits and other general health information. Then research coordinator Lisa came in to conduct three interviews tracking my moods for the past 24 hours, the past three months, and for my entire life. The past 24 hours were easy. The past three months weren’t so bad, either. I have been feeling more intensely in general about my caregiving status, and I have definitely had some symptoms that might be called depression, especially in the area of concentration, which is very difficult for me to do these days. Then, looking back on my entire life, I essentially had to pin down a span of time during which I had classic symptoms of depression, and another during which I had classic symptoms of anxiety. It wasn’t difficult, necessarily, to look back and select some clear tough spots, but it was hard to pick months and years that marked the beginning and end of these “episodes,” as they were called. But I did OK, I think, as far as the accuracy goes. I recall clearly the difficult months I spent at my first job after college, dealing with a break-up, intense loneliness, and recognition that I was the child of an alcoholic and all that might entail. And then later, when I seemed to have everything going for me, a happy marriage and a good job and the usual things that keep a person in her early 30s satisfied, I spent most of my time second-guessing my every move, sure that I was fucking up my work and relationships because I was an utter failure at everything. Meds helped fix that and though I was never suicidal, I consider those meds life-savers.
Recalling this period also influences my feelings about my body now. Hating myself was no fun. It was damaging to people around me and to myself. So really, what is the use of hating the size of my body and doing unkind things to it, like starving, so it will look more aesthetically pleasing to a certain segment of society (a BIG one) that DOES care about the size of everybody’s body? I spent lots of time hating it and trying to hide it as a younger person, thinking I was fat, and I look at pictures now from my 20s and 30s and SO regret how terrible I felt about my appearance because, in my current opinion, I think I was more proportional, or whatever, than I am now. So my body was a better size, but my mind was unclear and unhappy. I wasted lots of time on self-loathing that I simply do not want to repeat.
I brought home one last questionnaire that we weren’t able to finish within the scheduled time – 22 pages about my feelings related to all things caregiving. What are Mom’s various behaviors, and do they bother me, and if so, how much? I have recited these things a number of times, or written them down, because of my required participation in the two clinical trials that Mom was in. What I can see as time has passed is that I am more used to many of her behaviors, and while they might bother me, they usually don’t bother me very much or for very long. I still feel frustrated, or even angry, sometimes, but my focus has shifted so that when Mom is exhibiting some behavior that is weird, my main concern is whether she is in a state of upset herself. First, calm her. Then think about how I feel. Then eventually leave her and those feelings behind. I do dwell on the caregiving a lot, and have thoughts about Mom drift in and out of my head even when I do not want them to. But they are sort of big-picture concerns rather than isolated incidents, at least most of the time. I suppose I can also predict a little more about her behavior now, as well, at least for the time being, until she declines some more. She hasn’t done lots of things I have heard and read about, like raging, ranting, hitting, running around naked, stuff like that. And I am grateful for that. But I also realize some or all of that could be in her future, and in mine.