Maternal Exhaustion

I’m tired. I mean what they call bone tired. I can feel the depletion in every cell in my body. I’m just tired.

I’ve been so tired for so long that I started to think it was permanent. I thought well this is it, old age is here! My mother told me this would happen, that I wouldn’t always have the boundless energy of youth. I didn’t believe her. I don’t know why I didn’t believe her, she has never lied to me and I know I’m not immortal but ah, the hubris of youth! I believed I was invincible. Turns out, I’m not.

My oldest son was in a horrible car wreck on October 3, 2015. As I sit here writing this, it is January 10, 2017. That’s 15 months, well over a year. Doesn’t seem like I should still be recovering from that. I don’t know why, he is. But I wasn’t physically hurt. Just emotionally.

Then I finally realized that his accident wasn’t just a thing that happened then it was over. The repercussions go on and on like ripples in the water when you send a stone skipping out. His wreck happened and life as we both knew it just stopped. Everything that came before is part of a different life. We live this one now.

First there were the months in the hospital and rehab. I would leave the hospital around nine or ten at night, make the hour drive home to spend a few minutes with my other children, dropped exhausted into bed only to jerk away long before I had gotten eight hours in. Unable to return to sleep, I would just get up and head back to the hospital, long before my other children were out of bed.

At one point, my youngest child, four at the time, handed me a drawing she made, pointed to the scribbles under the picture and said, “That means I miss you.” I know to her it seemed I had disappeared from her life.

I wasn’t eating. I lost ten pounds in two months. No matter how hungry I was on the drive there, once inside the hospital, I had no appetite at all. None of that touches the emotional toil it takes to watch your child suffer and be helpless to do anything about it. Dealing with his emotions on top of everything else wasn’t easy either. He was devastated, of course. What 24 year old wants to hear that they will never walk again? In those first few weeks, we didn’t even know if he’d ever be able to even sit up, much less stand or walk.

Then he was discharged and went home with his father and grandmother and I thought I would catch up on some sleep. Wrong. Back to work after two months, I was way underwater, completely swamped. Then there was the driving. He was four hours away from me, almost six during the time he spent at a second phase of rehab in Houston. I would often make that round trip in a day so I could attend doctors appointments and therapy sessions, to see his progress and evaluate needs for myself and help make decisions.

Then he came to spend the summer here. I continued to work 40 hours a week while getting him to physical therapy three times a week as well as mental health counseling. I had help; I’m not saying no one else ever pitched in. But I did most of it. He also had to make the trip all the way back to Bryan to finish his assessments with the neuropsychologist. Who even knew that was a thing before all this?

The physical toil it took wasn’t even the worst part. The emotional one was. We have had a contentious relationship since about the time he hit puberty. I kept thinking it was a phase and waiting for it to pass. The brain injury did nothing to improve the hostility and anger. Situational depression on top of a brain injury that is known to cause anger outburst on top of the issues that were already there. It was hard.

He went back to stay with his grandmother in September and on October 5, 2016, two days after the anniversary of his wreck, his father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. I went down for the funeral. I grieved. It doesn’t matter that he was my ex. The point is, he was also my husband once and we shared much of my young adult life together, and a child. But my grief is nothing compared to his mothers or his brothers or his son. Our son.

All of these hits just kept coming and in October I got the worse case of bronchitis I have ever had in my life. It started before Halloween. I had to get treatment for it, the second time, just before Christmas. It’s now after New Years and I still have the lingering cough. I never stopped working a full time job, I never stopped doing activities with the younger kids. The doctor assured me that I wasn’t contagious so there was no reason to take time off or stop going to activities. Even though the worst symptom was a deep, awful fatigue that I could not overcome, I went on. During the middle of this, I planned, shopped for and cooked Thanksgiving dinner for our entire extended family.

I’m not saying any of this for sympathy or to complain but because, shockingly, I had to sit and type all this out before I realized why I’ve been so tired. During my protracted illness, my brain was so fuzzy, I really couldn’t figure out why I was tired all the time. I have just now realized that the last 15 months have just been one thing cascading into another in a never ending flood.

After my son had to move back in with his grandmother, I spent months drowning in guilt and self doubt. Beating myself up emotionally for not being able to help him, for not being able to fix everything for him. Is it really any wonder I succumbed to a physical illness? I was beat down, physically and emotionally.

Then I plunged headlong into the holidays. I’m not kidding, I asked for time off in December back in October. Yes, I had to plan and schedule my down time to try and recover from the worst physical ailment I’ve had in years and I had to schedule it two months out. Not because my supervisor wouldn’t have been understanding and given the time off, she would have. But because I have obligations and responsibilities that I didn’t feel like I could just set down.

From Christmas day through New Year’s Day I did literally nothing. I didn’t leave the house; we cancelled play dates and field trips. I didn’t read to the kids, I didn’t go to the grocery store or run a single errand and I didn’t do work during my off time (much).

Yeah, ok, I worked a little. But I have a care giving type of job. My clients depend on me; their lives don’t stop just because I’m off work. Caregiver burn out? You’d think so. But I feel like what I’ve been through with my son has given me a deeper understanding of what the families I work with are going through. What it really feels like to be a special needs parent. What it feels like to grieve the loss of the life you thought your child would have.

His dreams of becoming a firefighter are over.

And I am by no means comparing my struggles to his. I’m not the one in a wheelchair. I’m not the one having to come to terms with living with a spinal cord injury.

But still, I’m tired.

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