I ran into an old friend yesterday. She looks a lot like me but is super happy and enjoys life a lot, ha!
I’ve been having a bit of a nervous break down the last month or so.
I was handling life okay after Ricardo’s stroke. It was awful, horrible, but I was almost obsessively accomplishing things trying to do whatever it took to hold my family together. Then somewhere about month 4, I started unraveling. Finally on May 31st I talked to my therapist about my emotional state, then wrote this note on a facebook group I belong to where I feel close to many people:
“This really isn’t all that pertinent to Mormonism but I just need some support right now emotionally…I’m struggling this week. Most of you probably already know that my husband Ricardo suffered a near-fatal hemorrhagic stoke in December.
“He was in the ICU for a month. The step down unit for 3 weeks and then a rehab center for 3 weeks. Those two months and one day felt like a year. It was sooooo long. During that time I thought he was going to die, thought he was brain dead, and then finally thought he would *only* be severely impaired for the rest of his life.
“He has done INCREDIBLY well, there is absolutely no doubt about that, and honestly I am one lucky woman to have Ricardo doing so well. So, I don’t mean to come across as ungrateful when my husband is a walking miracle (if you believe in them)…
“But I’m tired, I’m jaded, I’m numb, and I feel dead inside. This has seriously been hard for me, and I can’t even imagine what Ricardo is feeling that he can’t/won’t tell me about.
“For a while he couldn’t remember anything about our life together and it has just gradually come back. But he still has large holes in his memory, including his memory of our life together. He’s changed in ways. I can’t talk to him the way I used to be able to. So many little things like that (used to be huge things, at least it’s only lots of little things now). But 6 months of that…6 months of being his caretaker, 6 months of bills, doctors, hospitals, therapy. 6 months of fear, doubt, guilt, anxiety, depression.
“And this all came after him leaving the church 3 years ago and me honestly still struggling a lot with that. My bucket held a pretty small amount of water and now it is totally depleted.
“I’m tired, I’m really tired. And I feel disconnected from life, from myself, and especially from my husband.
“This week I’m ready to cut and run. I want to FEEL again. The things I would do to actually feel like I’m really truly experiencing life rather than becoming proficient at filing medical bills is a little frightening to me. All week I have just been fantasizing about vacations to exotic places for months, moving home to my family and spending my days hiking and fishing, having an affair–anything–just to drastically change life and feel alive for just a month or something.
“But I feel trapped. Ricardo wants and really kind of needs to be here, in therapy, and he needs me here to help him. And bills need to be paid–or at least filed correctly, lol. And lots of other things are kind of all on me right now.
“I’m having a hard time knowing what to do, but all I know is that I am about to lose it here…
“Suggestions anyone ? (and no, I’m not always doing this bad. This week has been particularly hard for some reason).
I had an amazing outpouring of love and support, both emotional support and financial, and people really encouraged me to do whatever it was going to take to “fill my bucket”–go on a vacation, go to a spa, go home for a while–whatever I needed.
I really just needed someone to give me permission and tell me it was okay to do that. Finally, though, thanks to encouragement, I realized that spending money on some vacations was going to end up being a lot less costly than needing to be institutionalized or getting a divorce.
So, we have started making regular dates a priority. I bought a ticket to go see my family and bought one for Ricardo to go see his. Then I went to a Korean Spa last Saturday. Being around a bunch of naked women (nudity was a requirement in the pool area, but it’s segregated) was kind of cool, but also strange for Mormon me. But, overall, I loved the spa and it helped me relax a lot.
This past Tuesday and Wednesday some friends watched Andrew, and Ricardo and I took our dogs and went to stay at a friend’s beach condo (can I just say that I have an incredible support group).
As I mentioned, I have been feeling numb and disconnected from life lately. Honestly, I got to the point where I just couldn’t handle life and I found myself constantly wanting to and trying to (at least mentally) escape my current circumstances. I wanted to feel alive!
I contemplated lots of things, but ultimately I booked us paddle boarding followed by an amusement park. And it was the perfect choice. The paddle boarding was really rewarding for me. I got to do something physical, which always makes me feel good about myself, and it provided this awesome view as we paddled around the bay just off the Atlantic. I also got the thrill of trying really hard not to fall into the jelly fish infested waters (I seriously saw at least 50 of them–they look pretty cool…from a safe distance lol).
Then we hit up the rides. His family will probably hate me for taking Ricardo to an amusement park without clearing it with the docs, but I was desperate. That is my excuse and…well, I really mean it. I felt desperate to really experience something amazing with him.
However numb I have felt myself, it is nothing compared to the detachment I have felt from Ricardo. It’s hard to describe what it is like taking care of someone you love. Part of you, part of me, loves doing it, loves being the one he can count on, the one he needs. But it changes your relationship so dramatically. Somehow, you are supposed to be both mother and spouse to a person, and, at least for me, it was hard mix the two roles. It’s hard to take care of someone, spend all day being their alarm clock, calendar, taxi driver, and parent, and then climb in bed with them and turn the heat on at the end of the night.
On top of the weird spouse-caretaker gig we have going on…Ricardo almost died, and I believed he was going to die. When he didn’t die, and he finally started answering questions, he couldn’t remember anything about our life together. Somewhere in the weeks that felt like months where I was trying to cope with all this, I reached a moment where it just was too much, it hurt too much, so, click, I turned it off. I detached. I stopped crying about things that were sad and I stopped being happy about things that were amazing. And when it came to Ricardo, I detached the very most. There was too much I didn’t (and sometimes still don’t) know, and too much that was excruciatingly painful. For a while, numb worked great, but in the long run, well, long story short, it left me wanting to feel alive, and just generally wanting to feel…anything.
Then add to that, the changes in our communication (this is a BIG, HARD (lol, somebody tell me you just said, “that’s what she said”) thing for me). Since his stroke, sitting down to have a deep conversation, for Ricardo, is probably the mental equivalent of taking a foreign language exam in a language you’ve never learned. For whatever reason, asking Ricardo a question like, “What is hard in life for you right now?” gets exactly one response… … tabula rasa. My therapist made a great comment a couple weeks ago. She said that what you really fall in love with about someone isn’t so much their looks, it’s their mind. That hit home with me. And in a pretty huge way, Ricardo’s mind has been basically inaccessible to me. And for someone who kind of thrives on real, genuine, gritty kinds of relationships, not the fluffy surface kind of stuff, having my relationship with Ricardo change to talking about soccer and the weather kind of bites the big one.
Of course there is the fact that I could have never been able to communicate with him at all, so I try to count my blessings…but still, choose your favorite four letter word and (fill in the blank) ____, it’s been hard.
So, back to our super kick butt get away…In the six years (in a week :)) we’ve been married, we have never gone to an amusement park together. In fact, it has been a long time since either of us has been on a roller coaster. Going was the Best. Idea. Ever. Loved it!
Ricardo got dizzy when we were paddle boating and had to be towed back to shore (don’t tell him I told you that). So, I was kind of questioning my sanity when we purchased our tickets to go get thrown around like rag dolls. Turns out Ricardo is fine being spun in circles at rocket speeds, it’s just floating peacefully on the ocean that gets him 😛
I am a little terrified of roller coasters–well honestly, I’m just a big chicken in general. In fact, I rode one roller coaster when I was about 8, HATED IT, and didn’t ride another amusement park ride (that actually counts) until I was like 17 and my best friend literally dragged me onto it, where I then proceeded to see my life flash before my eyes for 3 minutes, had the ride finally stop, took a deep breath, and said, “wow, that was crazy…[moment of realization] and that was awesome!” I find amusement parks pretty terrifying–which is exactly why I find them so exhilarating–which is of course why going to an amusement park, with Ricardo, was the single best idea EVER!
I think it was somewhere between the fourth romantic spin on the Farris Wheel (yes, I drove us an extra hour and a half so I could find a Farris Wheel that overlooked the ocean and it was totally worth it) and being thrown backwards and upside-down and in circles all at once until my screaming made my voice harsh, all while Ricardo laughed hysterically–at me–right beside me, that I remembered I still love this crazy fool, even after everything we’ve been through :). And…deep down, there is still a Wyoming girl in there somewhere that kinda really digs tough men, and it was really hot that Ricardo was not even a pinch scared 🙂
So then we drove the long drive back to the condo on the beach and got home about 1am. We had seriously not had a romantic night like that in…I don’t even remember…a long time. Which brings me rapidly to a third area of pretty challenging changes in our relationship–sex. Yep, here it comes, I’m going to talk about my sex life (ES friends, you know who you are, get out your graham crackers). (I’ll put some lovely asterisks at the beginning and end of my sex life talk if you want to skip it, lol).
You would not believe the amount of high level cognition that goes into sex. Surprising maybe? But believe me.
Foreplay takes the ability to read people’s responses and react accordingly. It also is pretty crucial to have the ability to initiate an activity and follow through to the end, not to mention the ability to come up with your own creative ideas about what to do. It also helps to have your memory so you can remember what worked and what didn’t the last time you tried it, whatever particular caress or movement “it” is.
The Ricardo I have been married to for six years, if he’s not the King of foreplay, he’s at least the Prince.
Foreplay since his stroke: let’s just say it’s more of a solo act, for a whole variety of reasons, only some of which I mentioned above. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t give up on foreplay if it took the cognitive equivalent of planning a presidential campaign. I can’t blame him. But I kind of hate it…because I kind of really love foreplay.
Really, our whole sexual relationship is kind of in the back to basics stage. The only problem is that, well, for me, we’ve had a sexual relationship for about 6 years, and I kind of remember really super well how incredibly amazing it has always been (we have seriously been blessed in that camp). I keep expecting incredible and amazing the way it used to be, and it’s just not like that any more.
It’s limited. Very limited. It’s rudimentary. It’s the basics. And we were way past the basics, which was awesome, because we spent years building to the point we were at, and we built that beautiful sexual life together.
So, honestly, sometimes it is just more fun to actually just make it a solo act for real instead of actually trying to have a sexual relationship and just being reminded of how drastically different it is now.
Anyway, back to the story. We get back from said romantic, Farris Wheel, Flying craziness, paddle boating adventure, and the mood is set. To skip the juicy details I know a few of you are hoping for, lol, certain things went much better than they normally do, but I guess I got my expectations too high (still kind of stuck on how it used to be I guess) and it just didn’t end well. It came to a very abrupt halt and ended with me sobbing, frustrated, and him turning off the light and going to bed.
Before we would have always talked about it. And here’s getting back to what is really the hardest thing in our relationship right now…communication. The problem is that I tried to talk about what happened. I tried to take the approach of, “okay, let’s figure this out.” But that approach doesn’t work very well when one person is almost completely incapable of expressing their feelings and emotions. So we never talk about our issues anymore, because we can’t.
And the distance between us grows.
Well, Wednesday arrives and we decide to forget all about the bad ending and just remember Tuesday for the incredible day it really, honestly was. Or, at least, that’s what I tried to tell myself (and him). We sleep in past sunrise over the Atlantic, which I was really hoping to watch (but we didn’t go to sleep until after 2am, and the sunrise comes awfully early in June :S). Then we drive to our boat tour which I had already had to reschedule due to the captain not having enough clients for the sunset tour. We get lost. We arrive on the boat dock just as the boat is pulling away. Boooo. By this point, the roll over from the previous night’s drama mixed with the day’s first two disappointments were a little much for me, and I was throwing a royal fit.
Ricardo kept trying to remind me that none of that was a very big deal. True. But does that really matter to someone who thinks it’s a big deal at that moment? Not really (remember that Alicia, when your toddler is throwing a tantrum :)). We head to breakfast and manage to have a nice time and I relax a little. I’m still hung over from sleep deprivation (like I will be tomorrow, lol) so we decide to head back for a nap, which I could tell I really needed to get my emotions under control.
Four hours later, two sleepy bears wake up. Ricardo can see the somber expression is still on my face (though a little sleep helped a lot). I’m trying to decide whether to suck it up and pretend I’m fine or attempt, probably for the worse, to talk about parts of our relationship I am struggling with most.
I’m not sure if the salty ocean air had anything to do with it–I’m pretty sure our oober, gushing fun day before had everything to do with it–but magic happened.
I decided to stay present in our relationship. I decided not to shut him out. I decided not to run off to fantasy land with one of the thousand imaginary (or semi-imaginary ;)) men and scenarios I make up to escape how hard I sometimes find my current life situation. I’ve tried to stay present before, to not run away, and to confront the issues head-on, as has always been my specialty. I’ve tried to communicate before, but nearly all of those attempts since Ricardo’s stroke have either made him angry, frustrated, or sad. They’ve all ended in, “aaaaggggg, just stop bugging me about it,” or “can’t we just talk about this later” (i.e. never), or “I don’t want to talk about it.”
But there was some sort of magic in the air for him too that Wednesday afternoon in the middle of June, and he listened patiently as I talked to him about how frustrated I felt in our relationship, about how much I missed him even though I spent every day with him. He listened, and I talked, and at the end, he told me he wanted to try harder to communicate with me, even if it was difficult.
That meant the world to me!
I asked him if he meant it, and he said he did. So I asked him what he loved about me? 🙂
“You’re perfect,” he answered. “That’s a cop out. Try again,” I said humorously. “You are wonderful.” “Ummm…still not going to cut it. Come on, one or two things. Just try.”
Ricardo thought for long while, “You’re fun. I have a good time with you.”
And at that moment, I really, truly felt love for him again.
He trusted me. He was trying, even though it was hard, he was trying to let me in. It brought tears to my eyes, tears of joy that have been the especially infrequent tears the last months.
And then magic really happened 😛 No…it wasn’t exactly the same as it used to be, but I felt close to him for the first time in a long time, and that seemed to make all the difference.
We spent the rest of the day watching the sunset on the beach, swimming in the salty surf, and searching for sea shells. We ate out at Hooters (okay, Denver’s Hooters was a fail, but these wings from the other night were seriously the best chicken wings I’ve ever eaten) and watched our ice cream cones melt faster than we could eat them as we walked along the boardwalk.
And for the first time in a long time, I feel really hopeful about our future 🙂
Thank you to those who have been there for me, in big ways or small ways, emotionally or financially, during these hard months. I promise you have really made a difference for me.