Sunday, May 27, 2012

Comments Welcome: A Caregiver’s Journal

The beach is open

Yesterday. A day off the day job. Meaning a longer and more arduous day—its hours expanded from 14 to 18 (2 on the phone, 4 on the desk, 12 on the road), and all of them, not just half, devoted to the more exacting and more equivocally paid tasks of caregiving.

So many problems to tackle—and so few (and those provisional) solutions. The money vanishing into thin air—$120 yesterday, $140 the week before. The dead plant’s withered stalks watered and repotted. The fresh blooms and their soil overflowing the garbage. Lost keys, lost names, lost things. “Broken” appliances, their unplugged wires dangling. Frailty that draws company, some predatory; weird talk, vacancy, that repels companionship, tries even love. Disorder permeating everything, like mildew.

Strange problems, some would say. And the fact that they are not, and in memory never have been, strange to me, must be in part why, more and more, they fall to my keeping alone. Estrangement from mind’s failings brings insulation—a comfort bubble, though hardly, even in my weakest moments, one to envy.

Driving home in the familiar slump of absolute exhaustion. Physical, mental, emotional, spiritual—if the compound seems to include something extra, beyond all these, it is perhaps because their sum total is so seldom felt with ordinary tasks, of ordinary duration. Like a hollowing out from inside. Like accelerated aging, a waning I feel as it’s happening (some kind of sped-up film of myself slowing to a stop—except I’m in it, not watching it).

Burnout. It sounds like what it is: a charred pit. Not, though, as is usually implied, a terminal point; rather, for a time at least, a scorched place with roots still glowing under the black ground, red filaments which a few hours sleep, even an hour to myself in a coffee shop, can reignite into spurts of treacherous flame.

Home. Segbingway has had a visitor to her new website, asking how she may follow her on Facebook. I feel a splash of happiness at this, but feel also how happiness cannot quite show clearly through the mask tiredness has made of my face.

It is not until the next day, today, sitting over People and uncompleted Sudoku for several hours in Honda’s service department—brakes, seals, timing belt blown early from all the driving—that I think of this blog begun three and a half years ago.

. Because it was begun on the first day of that year. No author listed, though over time the links to my books and talks made it clear enough to anyone who cared to know.

The first thing I did, that New Year’s Day, was to disable the Comments function. I could not have begun otherwise. What I needed, then, was a place to put messages in bottles and release them to tides. Naming my own beach, much less marking a way back to it, would have stopped my hand. Would have stopped my mind before my hand.

My memoir of mental illness just published, a breakdown weathered in the wake of it, I felt skinless, my nerves raw and leaking. I wanted to edge back into writing in public without becoming quite, or easily, reachable.

Now, consumed by caregiving these past 15 months, with so much of what I called my private life abandoned—reading, writing, friendships, time at home with Segbingway—I feel all-public. But public in a flayed, off-kilter way. Turned inside-out by care for others, with nothing behind that outward striving but the burning hollow core that powers it.

Now, ironically, one of the few means available to me to reclaim a private life is to provide the long-missing coordinates to this beach I post from. It will be perfectly understandable to me if there is no one there to float a bottle back.

But for now, in this journal within a blog, I mean to write about the life of caregiving—and, who knows, of other matters that may surprise within it.

For now, the beach is open.

Mike Barnes


  1. Welcome to the beach, Mike. I have been following 2009 since you appeared, and it has been a constant source of care-giving to myself. An online compilation of your words and images is greedily monitored by this reader. Congratulations to you and Segbingway on The Reasonable Ogre, and, as well, to "Atlas" in the current issue of The Walrus. (Don't swim out too far.)

    1. thanks, dawn. and thanks for confirming for me that i had re-enabled the Comments function correctly (after so long i wasn't sure, and i still don't think it allows comments to previous posts.)i'll try to follow your swimming caution. in the meantime, it was great to find your bottle with note corked inside...there's nothing quite as daunting (or boring) as a pristine beach. mike


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