Carers Week: Strange love stories
This week is Carers Week in the UK. This is a sensitive subject for me, as I have no official carers as such, but I am well aware of the fact that without my husband doing the laundry, washing the dishes, and walking the dog at weekends, without my cleaner catching up with weekly housework, without the supermarket delivering shopping, the house would fall to pieces, and so would I. The only chores I perform are making dinner (usually something simple like a baked potato thrown into the oven) and filling the car with petrol. It’s an effort to drag myself to medical appointments, and energy has to be saved, or I pay for it later.
I spend a lot of time sleeping, due to strong painkillers, and when I am awake it’s often a compromised version of me who props themself up in front of the computer screen or TV. I’ve realised that the painkillers are diminishing my drive and personality so I’m cutting them back, meaning that right now I’m at a halfway point where I have the zombie side effects, but I’m still in pain. It feels like I can’t win! I spend much of my day in bed, contributing nothing while my wonderful, dependable husband quietly gets on with things, be it going to work, picking up laundry, or feeding himself while I doze. I wonder why he bothers.
Then I read this desparately sad blog article written by Simon (aka Pommieknight on Twitter). This man cares for his wife, who has progressive Multiple Sclerosis and is clearly in a far worse condition than me; he helps her to the toilet, while I can toilet and wash myself (with aids), he showers her, cleans her up, feeds her… and “when all this is done, I am also her husband”.
I had a lump in my throat as I read of his fears for his wife, that with every degeneration in her condition he is terrified that she might think “That’s it. Enough” and ask him to take her to Dignitas, to end her life. It is clear that, no matter how her condition has reduced her physical capabilities, he fiercely loves his wife. And this was an epiphany for me.
You see, I have many disabled friends. Some have worn down their partners – the husband of one friend is frustrated that she doesn’t seem able to do anything for herself, just get depressed and sit around in pain. But of course, he still loves her. Another of my friends has a caring partner who clearly dotes on her and doesn’t mind helping out, he’d do anything he could for her. All of my disabled, partnered, friends have found some balance in their relationships, it’s not equal, but it’s how they get by.
Reading Simon’s blog made me think of my own situation. Until now I’ve been concerned that I am contributing little to the household. I have barely any income, and unlike other stay-at-home wives I don’t do housework, or care for children. I suppose I am organised, and keep the household diary, but otherwise I just sit around, arrange some voluntary activities by email, and feel pretty useless. I try to take part in normal activities but it saps me. Every time I need a lift because I’m too tired to drive, or go out in my wheelchair and need to be pushed, I feel guilty that my husband has to do this on top of his full time job and tasks around the house. I’ve always thought about me; whether I contribute enough or whether my husband will get fed up with his duty of care to me. Does he feel trapped? Me, me, me. But hang on, what does he think?
Now I’ve come to realise that things don’t have to be equal. After all, why are so many people carers for their partner, officially or otherwise?
It’s simple: sometimes love is enough.