My husband and I have reversed roles; and I am still adjusting to this change even after 5 years. I still see myself as the one who held our home together, juggling work and household obligations. And doing it all with aplomb, I might add! But when I truthfully look at “today,” I see that I am no longer capable of doing it all, being a 21st century women who has eight arms and three brains. And I miss that old me; the one that everyone relied on, most of all, my husband.
Sometimes when I think back to the women I was (not so long ago), I feel like I am thinking of a character in a story. I couldn’t possibly have been capable of so much, could I? Yet, I was.
While living in Boston, I remember waking in the wee morning hours and getting dressed in the dark so as not to disturb my ever-sleeping husband. Out the door, I would truck across lanes of traffic, deftly moving out of the way of on-coming cars (that feat alone amazes me; I can’t even imagine having to cross the street at anything faster than a limp, drag, stumble these days!). Climbing a steep incline I would arrive at the transit stop to catch the cross town bus. On the days I just missed it, I would merely shrug, hold tightly to my (heavily loaded!) briefcase, lunch sack and ever-present coffee mug and hoof it a couple miles to the B.U. bridge, crossing The Charles over to Cambridge where my office sat overlooking the serene waters. And I wouldn’t even break a sweat! Arriving at the job I truly adored, Director of a large child care center (135 kids and 35 staff!) I would begin work at 7a.m. and continue non-stop through my days until, many times, 11 hours later. I was constantly on the go; up and down the stairs, up and off the floor from playing with the children who made every day worth the effort, interacting with staff and parents, juggling financials and accounts, trainings, meetings, the list goes on and on. I excelled at my job and was often rewarded with company bonuses. This “excellence” came from a deep passion for my career. The company I worked for emphasized the fact that “the buck stops with the director.” And I loved this responsibility. I adored working with young children and creating an environment where not only the children, but the staff would thrive and grow.
And my day didn’t stop when I locked up the doors for the night. If I ended any later than 6:15 (which was often), I missed the last bus and would return home by foot, once again. Then it would be a stop at the market where I would load up with groceries (how in the world did I lug bags laden with water and milk jugs along with all my work gear?!). Arriving home, I would clean up, make dinner, do work projects as well as squeezing in social activities almost nightly… getting together with friends, playing pool in the league, going out to bars or to dinner, seeing live music. How the heck did I do it all?! Week-ends were equally filled, many times including spontaneous trips to hike the Appalachian Trail or overnights in a quaint New England town. And everything was planned by and implemented by me.
For many years, my husband battled debilitating depression and I was the one-woman army that held our unit together. Fast forward to today where the tables have completely turned. Something I would never have predicted. I watched my mother growing up hold our family together and having this seemingly unending supply of energy to complete a multitude of tasks (she’s still this way, working almost full-time at 67). This was my inherited role, and for many years, I confidently filled it.
No doubt, there’s a part of me that wonders if this contributed to the development of my autoimmune illnesses. It’s not uncommon to read reports stating that the common denominator in people who develop these types of chronic conditions (from Fibromyalgia to Multiple Sclerosis to Migraine Disease and Lupus and of course, Polychondritis) is: “women in their late 20’s to early 30’s that are Type-A personalities.” Sound familiar?!
But I didn’t heed any warning call and slow down before it was too late. I came to a screeching halt upon facing the train-wreck that is my current life. God put the brakes on for me. And just like suddenly coming upon an accident that you have to immediately react to, I had no transition period between being “the woman who can do it all” and “the woman who can barely do anything.”
For a couple years, our home fell into a state of complete disarray. I was far too sick to even think about cleaning up my external environment when my internal landscape was rapidly being consumed by raging fires. An apt analogy, because during those years, that was all either my husband or I could do, put out one fire after another, with no energy left to put towards clean-up efforts. We relied on friends and family to help. But, for the most part, we just ignored it as dirty dishes and un-paid bills piled up. (Did I mention I was also responsible for all our financial book-keeping, too?).
Then things changed. As I got sicker, my husband got healthier. And he started to step up to the plate and take responsibility for our home. I have to admit, at first, it felt good. To be the one sitting back while he juggled all the tasks required in maintaining a home. His eyes were opened to all the things I had been doing, mostly unrecognized, for over a decade. And I soothed my anxious mind over doing nothing, by reminding myself that it was “his turn.” Of course, that’s when I thought it was temporary! I figured once I got better and more able-bodied, we would be able to divide the labors, both acting as equal participants.
But, at least so far, we’ve never reached that equilibrium. Now, it is my husband who truly does it all. And, oh, how I struggle with this! Of course, I “look” able-bodied on the outside. But even the simplest of tasks can throw me into a flare. For example, I decide to try and cut and prep the veggies for dinner and I end up with cramped, swollen hands, shooting pains in my back, and deep fatigue. And then I am disappointed when the cheering section doesn’t pop out of the closet, with a “Rah-rah! Sis-boom-bah! Hooray for Tamara. She’s the bomb!” There is no one celebrating these minor accomplishments that I view as major achievements. And now that Dave is “super hubbie,” our family and friends see our home clean and our bellies fed, and assume we are handling everything just fine. But I know the strain this puts on one person. All I want to do is talk my body into getting off this chair and going into action mode! Alas, that is not the answer either.
So, I bring myself back to “just for today.” Obviously, I don’t know what the future holds so there is no reason for me to try and figure it out. Instead of focusing on all the ways in which I feel “lacking,” I am choosing to focus on all the ways my husband is excelling. And this fills me with gratitude. I am extremely blessed to have someone to care for me. And that’s really the most important thing, after all, isn’t it?