|"You want me to stop being bipolar and stop spending money?"I asked in dismay. I knew she listened to the soctor's explanation that I don't always have control over my emotions and behaviours.
Roberta held her breath, exhaling slowly, speaking with an especially argumentative tone. Her heart was pounding, and the blood rushing to her face splashed a wordless emotive wave of eternal frustration into the kitchen air.
"No, I didn't say that," Gladys replied, somewhat gingerly, advancing fraily toward the kitchen table for support.
At 81, Gladys was of general ill health. Her daily life consisted of consuming medication for congestive heart failure, spinal deterioration due to osteoporosis, and a painful tear in her right rotator cuff disc.
She had additional pain medication for severe nerve pain from her back, shoulders, arms, abdomen, arm and legs.
She either hurt in parts or all over. Pain showed up in her attitude, which is not statistically unusual. People who feel badly don't act like they're on top of the world.
Some days, Gladys felt great, then she overexerted and experienced the pain of the day after. She never realizes that she overexerts herself. She was just living a life of retirement at home with her loyal dog of ten years.
The red fluff of Chow was extremely protective of Gladys. Roberta was accepted as family by the dog, but Gladys was the only "mummy." The Chow was Roberta's sister, so to speak, and Gladys often mispoke and called her daughter "Regal."
Gladys suffers from pollen, mold, fungus, and food allergies. Digesting is a problem. Her diet is bland.
Her home is also unadorned. Her bathroom is simple, convenient, and appropriately furnished for extended stays. Her life is simple, and she wants to keep it that way. Often when I have an episode, she has a reaction in one way or another. She knows I don't always have control!"
The two had just returned from an afternoon lunch at the pancake house. It was one of the few restaurants Gladys considered to offer food healthy enough to meet her diet guidelines and restrictions. Her internal medicine doctor rebuked Gladys regularly about her chlorestoral.
Gladys took medications for that, and medications for an irregular heartbeat, and a heart murur. She takes many, many pills in a 24-hour period.
Monthly, her pacemaker is monitered with a special phone hook-up to check the strength of her pacemaker battery. The battery was 10 years old, and beating on borrowed time.
A year before, during a medical window of opportunity, Gladys had planned to have mitral valve replacement surgery, the pig sort. But, just before Christmas day, her mother had entered the hospital because of a pinched nerve affecting her right leg. Though she had been healthy during Roberta's youth, Gladys' years now found her unable to do as she pleased.
Leg pain is debilitating. Severe pain eats at the core of your human spirit, perhaps a separation anxiety complex of some sort, a reason for a spirit to separate from the body.
Bodies don't last forever, but the insurance companies know their demographics. Even insurance doesn't make everything better-- sometimes.
Gladys didn't eat many foods, because she did, indeed, heed her doctors' advice. She experienced digestive problems on an hourly basis. She recounted these in detail to her daughter during their daily phone chats.
Gladys, with beautiful short, curly, gray hair, sat across the kitchen table from Roberta.
Gladys wore a sikly black and white striped blouse and scarf set that she had worn when she worked as a bank administrator 18 years before.
Her mother looked sixty, or fifty, or forty to Roberta. She looked just as Roberta remembered when her mother was forty, but her hair was gray now. She hardly noticed the laugh lines on her mother's face when she laughed. The more she hurts the less she smiles and laughs. When in pain, she is dull and withdrawn.
Roberta remembered how her mother's hair had proceeded from a coloring of more pepper to more salt. Gladys' hair was pure white now.
Mother enjoyed weekly trips to the beauty shop. No one under fifty frequented this particular shop, but the older ladies kept the gossip going.
Gravity had been kind to Gladys. Roberta often said her mother was "well preserved." No refernces were ever made to being pickled, as her mother never drank alcohol, and didn't approve when her daughter did. Especially Mothers notice when something is wrong. Daughters have the same capacity.
That afternoon leaving the pulmonary doctor's office, the older gentleman attendent in the parking garage flirted with Gladys as she signed out, and he opened the gate leaving the basement area of parking at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas. Gladys looked pretty today. She giggled and smiled.
One meal and an hour later, neither the mother nor daughter was smiling. The tension in the room was like turnpike concrete under stress.
The winter afternoon sun shone brightly through the west window, and Gladys's pale face exuded raw and weathered emotion.
Roberta had spent time learning the do's and don't's of codependent relationships. Fifteen years before, Roberta spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in the mental hospital to ensure that she didn't commit suicide. She read books by Melodie Beatty, and skimmed lots of Hazeldon books. She tried not to live her mother's life for her.
Roberta 's perspective was a bit broader than an undiagnosed bipolar, but her emotions still flared--as a bipolar's emotions are apt to do.
She had let her emotions, full force, at her mother, saying things she wish she could take back. If she were lucky, her mother would forget this incident in a few days. Sometimes Gladys' brain let things slip by without leaving a trail of recollection triggers.
"I didn't mean to hurt your feelings," Roberta said as she walked across the room and embraced her mother, tears sprinking down Roberta's back. "Sometimes words come out of your mouth, and I can't help respond to what you say. Sometimes you don't say what you think you said."
A new pattern was developing. Because they were codependent, and dysfunctionally responding to feelings rather than situations, Roberta felt she knew what her mother meant, even if it wasn't exactly what she said. This time she had reacted to the words that were spoken, not what Roberta had meant to say.
"I'm not psychic." She stopped herself.
Confusion and futility and fueled anger would be the result of any effort towards explanation. Her mother's face carried such pain and sadness. It was as if a new physical ailment had descened upon Gladys as the result of habitual words, repeated naturally from many previous discussions on the same subject.
Roberta walked around the kitchen table and put her long arms around the stately woman, grown dimished in stature from time, toil, and the passage of many years. Her hug was as gentle as if she had been holding an eggshell.
"What are we going to do about us? We can't live apart, and we can't manage to stay happy when we're together."
Gladys looked into her daughters tear filled eyes, and her own eyes teared, though she wasn't sure why. Just a minute ago, weren't they talking about the garden they would plant next spring?
"Are you taking your medication dear?" Gladys supervised her daughter's need to make an appointment with the psychiatrist. This must have all started because Roberta hasn't been taking her meds, she thought to herself. Gladys rose from her chair, walked to the file cabinet, and began rummaging for receipts to see when Roberta had last had an appointment with which of her doctors.
Roberta sat, watching her mother in perplexity. Could she continue this conversation to a logical happy ending, or would some new emergency arise from the files. When her mother presented papers to her face, Roberta knew it meant trouble. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, counting to ten, to help the bad-word urge pass. Sometimes you need to walk away from a situation to maintain your cool. If it doesn't feel right to be where you are, you can always go to some other place.
"I think I'd better go Mom. Do you have enough groceries? Do you need fruit? I don't see any bananas." How fast could she get out of the door, into her car, and at least physically away from this tverbal volley torment?
Even if she escaped the afternoon vist, there would be others. Practice was not making the transition for child to parent easy. for Roberta. The more emotion she felt, the less she was able to show it and maintain her demeanor.
This transition will continue, all over the United States, as the Baby Boomers tend the needs of their parents, as parents did their children. It's the verity of our generation, and theirs. We learn so much when we thing about the other person's perspective and "walk one mile in our brother's shoes." After all, we walk this world together.