What’s difficult to explain about anxiety from complex trauma is our bodies keep score; they remember.
Four years ago today, my aunt’s breast cancer had become so advanced that her breast had begun bleeding. Her wish was for no medical intervention, not even painkillers, and she was moved to a care facility whose job it was to keep her wound clean, keep her eating, and provide 24/7 support.
I got the call from my mom that my aunt had been moved, and after work I rushed to the care facility. I stopped at home and as an afterthought I grabbed a teddy bear. I placed it in the front seat and thought about how vulnerable my aunt must feel in a completely new place. I buckled the teddy bear into the seat belt gently, as if the tenderness would ripple through the universe in a tidal wave of love towards my aunt.
I look back at this picture like I’m witnessing an event horizon, where I’m on the edge and I know I’m going to fall.
I’m going to spend four months taking care of my aunt and holding nothing back in terms of being a caretaker. She’s going to die in six months. I’m going to spend a year traumatized past the point of belief at the pain and suffering I witness firsthand. I’m going to lose my religion. I’m going to spend two years crawling my way out of depression. I am going to lose my faith. I will be forever changed.
I don’t write this post for pity, attention, condolences, or likes.
I write it because somewhere, someone is taking care of a sick loved one, and maybe they’ve held nothing back, not a single ounce of themselves, and they’ll read this, and they’ll listen when I tell them that they have full permission to hold back, to take care of themselves first, to eat before their family member does, to sleep when they are tired, to laugh at jokes they worry they have no right to laugh at, to delight at pink skies and buckled in teddy bears and extra pudding slipped to them by nurses.
You have every right to survive this, full-well knowing that they won’t. You WILL survive this. You’ll be kinder for it.
Gentle reminder: no one gets out alive. So what matters most on the journey is the kindness you extend toward yourself first, others second. In that order.