It seems to be true that everything feels worse when you’re sick. After two days of helping to care for TC at his parents’ house, Jack and I headed back to DC to try to get well before TC’s big surgery on Friday. Sick with strep and a nasty ear infection, this is the first chance I’ve had to really sit quietly and reflect. So far, I’m not sure I like it. I know my body is trying to send me a message. Perhaps something along the lines of “Hey, you! Slow down! Put down that cup of coffee and let me rest for a minute.” I’ve been running myself ragged 24/7 trying to manage the zillion components of my life that always seem to require immediate attention.
“Don’t forget to take yourself,” is the line I hear most commonly throughout the day and while I agree with the sentiment and understand the value of self-care, I haven’t found a time permissible way to make this happen. So, here I am, almost 3 months later: sleep deprived, 10 lbs lighter, growing gray hairs, and deaf in my left ear from this god awful ear infection. This is the LAST moment in which I want to reflect on the events that have brought me here, but I really have no choice. I’ve lost control.
I knew I’d reach my breaking point sooner rather than later. In fact, I give myself a good deal of credit for surviving as long as I have. Without tears, without meltdowns, I have tried my hardest to be a good mom to my son and a loving wife to my husband. But now that TC is home, the fear is inescapable. This is the rest of my life. And I have to learn how to go on.
TC has a lot to relearn. Yesterday morning I went through flashcards to help him recall and pronounce simple words like “cat.” Although the task was easier for Jack than it was for his dad, TC was determined. If he said the word wrong, he tried it again. If he got it wrong again, I practiced saying it with him until he got it. Once he said the word correctly, I gave him a thumbs up and we moved on. To a bystander, it looked like a sweet moment: a family working together to get well. For me, it was heart wrenching to watch my formerly brilliant husband fail at such a simple task. And then I remembered something my mom had told me recently: this is not about our feelings. It’s about doing what TC deserves.
I am not the first spouse or family member to support someone with a traumatic brain injury. I know I’m not the only one who has had to keep a strong face for their loved one while internally cringing or weeping. For the last 7 years, I have been spoiled rotten by the most intelligent, loving, and thoughtful husband any woman could hope to have. He deserves someone who is willing to work just as hard to give him that same life.
This morning I went on a quick mission to get a chai latte – my favorite sick drink. Out of the blue, I remembered a day last spring when I was at work sick with some kind of ailment. In the middle of the math class I was teaching, TC shyly knocked on my classroom door carrying a chai tea and a bag of medicine. I hadn’t asked him to bring me anything. He just showed up, as he always did, ready to help, trying to take care of me.
I can’t deny that I am running low on strength. Getting sick has diminished my resolve, chipped away my armor, and left me feeling defeated and hopeless. But I have to remember who I am fighting for. I have to remain faithful in his ability to rise above. There is no worthier battle. And there is no brighter future if I give up now. Time to wipe away the tears, flush the self-pity, and recharge.