Ch.26. Caregiver Meltdown.
I am writing this piece almost exactly 24 hours after I had a gigantic, ugly, scary meltdown. Things hadn’t been going well between Pat and myself over the last several days. I felt she was regularly criticizing me over trivial issues. She said I was being oversensitive and misreading her remarks. I’d become frustrated many times during this period but only said anything a few times. When I did say something it only seemed to make things worse. Previously satisfying times together, such as our morning shower, were becoming increasingly uncomfortable and anxiety producing. Rather than really trying to figure out what was going wrong, I started avoiding Pat. I didn’t talk with her or anyone else about my increasing frustration.
I was beginning to make supper when Pat told me she was going outside for a while. That was ok. But when I stepped outside to call her for dinner, I found myself staring at our quarter horse Lakota. Big Lakota. Lakota untethered. He was standing near Pat, who was looking remarkably unconcerned about Lakota’s presence or her safety.
I held myself in check for one question. “How did he get out?” I asked. “Oh, I let him out,” Pat replied. And that’s when I blew.
“Why the f… did you do that? “; “How the F… will we get him back in?” “F…F….F….” My vocabulary was whittled down to one word in barely ten seconds.
Pat cried. She defended herself. She yelled a little, but she didn’t swear. Meanwhile, I got a rope and convinced Lakota, who was too busy eating sunflower seeds to concern himself with our argument, to walk back into his fenced field. And about then is when I started to feel like an idiot. If only I had stayed calm, I could have taken Lakota back to his field without incident. I had managed to convert a “3” on the problem scale into a “10.”
An addictions counselor named Sondra Smalley used the term “tolerance break” to describe moments like this. Tolerance breaks occur when a caregiver ignores his or her feelings, wants and needs too long in the name of caring for another. The ensuing meltdown may take many forms: depression, anxiety, apathy, etc. My tolerance break took the form of very loud, angry swearing.
I want to give Pat credit here. Not only did she stay relatively calm during my meltdown but later that evening she helped me process what had happened. She also encouraged me to call my brother Don so I could arrange for him to be my support person when I feel upset or emotionally drained. Additionally, I am contacting my children to arrange a weekend getaway for myself soon. My hope is to have learned enough from this meltdown to prevent another one in the future.
Pat’s comments on Caregiver’s Meltdown:
Ron has become more critical of me lately, and has had some
tolerance breaks, that have included meanness which hasn’t let up right away.
I felt awful during Ron’s meltdown, yelling and swearing at me. Otherwise, if we could figure out how to master the strong reactions that came out here, I would be fine with his being here and staying here and being my husband. I married him without meltdowns. They’ve been few and far between. We get over arguments quickly in general. That doesn’t worry me. But this meltdown has me worried. I’M BEGINNING TO FEEL MORE FRIGHTENED THAT HE IS ON HIS WAY OUT.
If taking a weekend off means having our kids or someone else taking care of me, that disturbs me. I want to be trusted and I think I am trustable. Ron always says it’s about safety, but he has yet to show me in a lot of clear ways that it is about safety. If Ron or somebody else has to be here you’re not talking safety. You’re talking guardianship. That’s part of what is freaking me out. I want to be Ron’s wife, not him be my guardian. And I think with some additional teaching I could be a good guardian of my safety, but I don’t always get educated in that way yet.
I believe I could get along here at home on my own. Some of the time we each have to be able to be independently safe.