In planning for this month’s Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone post, I couldn’t really think of anything I have done recently similar to the activities in my earlier comfort zone posts. Last month, I tried on (purchased and wore) some super skinny Rockstar jeans. In October, while my PC was out of town, I kept myself busy doing a number of activities solo. Applied and was hired(!) for a new part-time job in July. Back in March for my inaugural Comfort Zone post, I shared how I drove to Albuquerque and home (500 miles round trip) with my kitties all by myself. Talk about an adventure! There was a whole lotta meowing coming from the backseat all 4 hours up to ABQ and all 4 hours back home again.
However, this month, I haven’t driven anywhere solita, or started a new job, or even enjoyed a movie by myself. I couldn’t think of anything I could share. Even thought about ‘forgetting’ to post. But that didn’t seem right either.
And then it dawned on me. My family is currently struggling to help my mom through a very difficult time in her life. Sharing a little more about our experience is certainly outside my comfort zone, but it might help others recognize similar concerns in their own elderly loved ones.
Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone, 11.2018
In March for my first post of this series, I did a little research about the benefits of stretching ourselves and enjoying new experiences has a number of benefits. Doing so broadens our horizons, enhances our creativity, feeds our brains and makes the unexpected change easier to handle.
My mother’s recent mental and physical health problems have been unexpected change for my family, although we have been here before.
In the spring of 2011, my mother and father rather hastily decided to move from their apartment to a retirement community. They had downsized from a 6 bedroom house in Tennessee to a 2 bedroom apartment in Kentucky five or six years earlier and it had about killed my mother to do so. My father had been in only fair health for years. So much of that move fell on my mother.
By 2011, my father health’s had deteriorated further. And this second move also became almost solely my mother’s undertaking. My father was just not physically able to help her. They had movers lined up to do the actual transfer of furniture and boxes from one apartment to the next. But my mom insisted on packing up all of the valuables herself. And then one evening, after several days of little rest, and several nights of little sleep, my mother took an overdose of her meds combined with a handful of Tylenol PM, scribbled a suicide note and finally fell asleep.
My father found her in time to save her life. She spent about a week in a ward in a mental health hospital before being released to my care. It was a very difficult time.
The following spring, my father died of kidney failure. The result of a lifetime taking meds for hypertension, congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. My mom was very sad but in some ways relieved to not have my father’s precarious health to worry about. For a few years, she was more lighthearted than I ever remembered seeing her. Mom was on the residents’ board at their apartment complex, she played Bridge, Bingo, and enjoyed exercise three times a week.
But in the fall of 2016, she began having issues. She became preoccupied with the strangest thing. Her bowel movements. I know. I know. TMI? Maybe. But we have now learned that this is not an uncommon problem among the elderly.
Without going into more detail, Mom became so convinced that there was something wrong with her, that, possibly out of fear of a prolonged death, she took another overdose. Beforehand, my brother, sister and I were aware that she was teetering on the edge but nothing we tried to do seemed to help. Mom was an extremely intelligent, capable and otherwise healthy 89 year-old. She was a chemist. She knew what she was doing. And she took this second overdose early in the morning when my brother always called to check on her. When she didn’t answer the phone that October morning, he knew immediately what was happening and he went straight to her apartment instead of heading to work.
Mom was hospitalized and checked out from head to toe for several days. The doctors found nothing wrong in her digestive tract and bowels. Sadly, her problems were not physical but mental. We had to commit our 89 year-old mother to a mental health facility, where she was a resident for several weeks.
Mom was stripped of all privileges. She had a room furnished with only a bed and a chair. She had to be accompanied to the bathroom. She had to wear slip-on shoes because she couldn’t have shoes with laces. We weren’t even allowed to speak with her for several days and then only between 12-1:00 or 6-7:00 pm.
It was a long road back to normalcy but by her 90th birthday, six months later, we had my mom ‘back’ to at least a shadow of her former self. The girls and their girls, my sister and I went up to Kentucky to be be with my mom and brother and to celebrate her big day.
My mom has failed a lot since the second overdose. She has macular degeneration and retina problems that have made daily life and its pleasures more complicated and elusive. She struggles to hear and see the TV. She can no longer read except for large print books which I send her regularly. But even the tyepface in those is not really large enough. Mom struggles to see the cards when she plays Bridge or the numbers when she plays Bingo. Nothing tastes good. Even dressing for the day, which has delighted her more in recent years than ever before in her younger days, has become more of a chore.
Three weeks ago we began realizing how she was struggling again with the same issues that haunted her before the second overdose. My brother took her to the ER, to her doctor but nothing was wrong. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, my mom called him early in the morning on the brink of taking another handful of pills. Kevin hurried to her apartment and spent some time talking her down. But later that afternoon, mom was hysterical again. Kevin bundled her up in the car and they headed to the mental health hospital where she had been taken by EMS in 2011.
Good Samaritan had a bed open but wouldn’t admit my mom. They referred her to The Ridge, where mom had been taken for treatment after the second overdose. My mom and brother sat on plastic chairs in the lobby for hours waiting to be seen by the intake counselor. Finally they were referred to a mobile intake unit for The Ridge located in the parking lot of another hospital. Kevin packed up my mom at midnight and headed for the mobile unit.
Finally, at 4:00 am on Sunday morning, my sweet brother had my sweet mom admitted to The Ridge where we knew she would be safe from herself. And she is still there as I write this post.
Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone, 11.2018
So, you might be asking, how does this all figure into me stepping outside my comfort zone? My brother, sister and I are working to try to understand my mother’s mental health issues. We are working with the doctors and nurses to try to help her overcome her obsessive thoughts. We have an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening when we can try to talk to our mom by phone. She struggles to hear us, understand us and she only wants to talk about one thing. Trying to figure out this chapter in my life, in her life is out of our collective comfort zones.
In October, my mom was giving me ideas for Christmas gifts, requesting a pair of red pants, new necklaces, laughing at the photos I sent of her great granddaughters and looking forward to my visit in December. Three weeks ago, my mom fairly well climbed into bed, stopped going down for meals, stopped playing Bridge and Bingo. Her life became focused on one thing.
This time next week, I will be in Kentucky. My mom may or may not have been released from the behavioral health facility. But I will be there, able to see her. And hopefully comfort her. And relieve my brother of the sole responsibility for our mom for a bit.
Some of you may have aging parents struggling with physical and mental health issues. Suicide among the elderly is on the increase.
Each year more than 6,300 older adults take their own lives, which means nearly 18 older Americans kill themselves each day. Older adults have the highest suicide rate — more than 50% higher than young people or the nation as a whole. Suicide is rarely caused by any single event or reason. Rather, it results from many factors working in combination which produce feelings of hopelessness and depression. Since suicide for the older person is not an impulsive act, you have a window of opportunity to help the older person get help. YOU can help prevent a suicide. [source]
Ten years ago, I would never have dreamed that my mom would have been where she is today. Maybe by sharing our story, we can, in some small way, increase awareness of this alarming trend.
If you have a comfort zone post to share, please link-up with us below.
Thank you for the prayers and kind messages you all have shared with me in the last few weeks. I have struggled with knowing whether to continue blogging and whether to share our story. It is only in the hopes of helping someone else that I have shared this difficult time in our own lives.
Hugs and kisses,