Open question: The struggle over doing it yourself

•September 24, 2021 • 2 Comments

[I use “learned incapacity” in this post to mean: a declining capacity to do a task over time, based on the fact that someone else does it. There appears to be a lot of social science jargon adjacent to this term, but I am not referencing any of it.]

About a month ago, Dad’s decline crossed the tentative line I had drawn in my mind about when I would have to stop taking care of him myself. I had drawn this particular line not because I thought I was incapable of giving that kind of care, but because he was simply unwilling to accept it. In the days after the stroke, when I had had to give it, it distressed him so much and later made him concretely, physically hostile. According to reports from the assisted living, he is both distressed and hostile: but I am not the target any more. This development should rationally put an end to the qualms I have felt since April about whether the move to assisted living was absolutely necessary or if I couldn’t have figured out a way, somehow, to facilitate keeping him out of a facility. That doesn’t mean that they are gone from my mind, but I have grown to feel like guilt about what I am not doing is mostly about me, not about him, as with minor exceptions he gets much better care there, not least because they all love him. I’m not exaggerating. He’s tremendously popular.

A friend of mine who’s never met him said to me recently that he is just an unconscious fighter, and I find that assessment correct. It’s true that the almost-three years of intensified watching over him were marked by constant arguments about what he could and could not do and also that this conflict was part of what made caregiving so exhausting. The exhaustion came not just from trying to get dad to stay within certain boundaries, but additionally from explaining to outsiders why I still “let” him do so much. Often the answer was that I’d calculated how much argument I had the energy for in any given week. I am not naturally pugnacious, but as I’ve mentioned before, my father knows where all my buttons are, and it is a fact that thirty-five years of ACOA adult life have made me much more aware of and willing to defend my own boundaries. Had I had a different adulthood, had I never forgotten how to prioritize him first, I might have had an easier time acquiescing to dad’s demands.

An anecdote from the annals of caregiving stupidity: We went nine rounds over control of his pillbox (I thought I had written about this before, but if so, I can’t find it now.) The short version is that the doctor was frustrated that he was unable to take his meds accurately according to plan, and dad was angry at me when I tried to supervise it. In the end I had to take over the task completely to make sure it got done correctly, deciding in favor of the doctor’s priorities over dad’s, but victory was ultimately pyrrhic. Dad developed a learned incapacity to take his own pills, even temporarily. So when I wanted to leave for London, I needed to find someone who could give the meds, and that turned into a huge hassle as well, one of the two largest obstacles to my own freedom in that situation. And, of course, we now pay the full price for med administration in assisted living as opposed to the option where he takes care of that himself. (It doubles the price of the pills, but the money isn’t the issue so much for us — although I have heard horror stories about this problem — as is the larger question of the value of “doing it for yourself.”)

On the other hand, there are things that he never struggled for, learned incapacities of his that he colluded in. The biggest example of this was his inability to cook / nourish himself, which contributed to his decline after mom’s death. They were actually proud of this and joked about it: “your father would eat water soup, but I’d have to warm it up for him.” He built a few of these into my own persona (machine repair and operation are high on the list) and the struggle against them has been hard. But it’s kind of stupid: I operate all kinds of kitchen machinery, and I have driven a car since I was sixteen, so why wouldn’t I be able to operate lawn machinery? The answer is that all these lines were enforced in service of my parents’ ideas about gender roles and class attitudes and what they thought well-raised daughters of the middle class in the US should and shouldn’t do. Well, in the end, I figured out the zero-turn mower and this summer I got a battery operated string trimmer. But it will never come easily.

On the other hand, how much does learned incapacity even matter?

The latest thing is that dad doesn’t feel much like walking anymore, since the second heart attack. After the first one he did cardiac rehab and kept walking, but since his enrollment in hospice, he’s no longer all that interested, and essentially, he can’t walk anymore, beyond a few steps. Ultimately it’s going to create an accessibility problem, because if he fell while he was at home with me, I can’t dead-lift 125 lbs by myself, and the house is not really set up to accommodate a wheelchair. And my car is small, so carrying one around with me would also be a challenge. He will be able to continue going to breakfast, but in eight weeks or so, the outside entries and walkways will start to be slippery. So on top of the problem I referred to in the first paragraph, it will be practically extremely difficult for him to leave assisted living at all.

Ultimately I am feeling like there’s been a diffuse tension in the last three years — the warning from therapists that “if he doesn’t relearn how to do it, he never will” — the list of areas in which dad wanted to assert control or refused to surrender it vs those which he didn’t care that much about — and the question of areas in which a health care professional wanted control asserted (either by me or someone else) in order to make life safer or easier. It’s such a weird balance beam to have to stand on.

Surely not

•September 24, 2021 • 1 Comment

Mike Bartlett (Love, Love, Love) will have a revival of his 2009 play. This is the ad as I saw it in my gmail:



Like who’s not gonna click on that?

Also on the theme of collateral attractions, Taran Egerton stars.

That looks like a soutane

•September 24, 2021 • 11 Comments

Oooh. Roman-style cassock? I wouldn’t mind seeing him in the cape, either.Although I guess Father Quart wears a suit.

Sorry, Mr Armitage, but I am looking forward to this

•September 22, 2021 • 7 Comments

Hobbit bling

•September 22, 2021 • Leave a Comment

NZ Post is having one of its periodic sales, and this time it’s discounted a number of items dating from the Hobbit trilogy movies — including the double coin Thorin / Azog set. Here.

Not even for Richard Armitage

•September 21, 2021 • 12 Comments

would I get an subscription again. Hopefully I’m not jinxing that decision by saying it but I find the company’s business model punishing to the consumer. (Last time I subscribed I wasn’t even given the advertised three month discount I thought I was signing up for, and titles I wanted disappeared during the subscription period.) I could say more but it really bugs me that Richard Armitage is now apparently an Audible shill. This kind of thing used to embarrass him, and I am wondering why I put up with this crap.




Signal boost

•September 21, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Many longtime readers will remember the steamy Guy of Gisborne novel trilogy of Charlotte Hawkins, inspired by the characters and actors of the BBC Robin Hood, esp. The Tempest. She’s currently seeking help for her sister, who through no fault of her own is in a chronic state of medical and financial emergency of the kind familiar to a lot of US Americans. If you enjoy her novels and have a little extra to share, a donation (via FB or at Gofundme) would be a huge help to her. And if you’re unfamiliar with the novels, you might want to get one. Either way, thanks for considering it.

May you have an easy fast

•September 15, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Walking shadow

•September 11, 2021 • 2 Comments

Truly sad news. Armitage fans may think mostly of Sher’s Macbeth (in a production directed by Doran), for which he won no awards but plenty of acclaim, sometimes in spite of himself. Here‘s an interesting piece by Sher commenting on images from Macbeth, with interesting comments on that production and the play’s alleged “curse” toward the end.

I also found myself thinking of Thrain, all of whose scenes in BOTFA were cut from the theatrical release, but who was given such profound things to say that I wished Thorin had managed to find his father.

And there it is

•September 10, 2021 • 26 Comments

Thanks to Richard Armitage, Guylty, and of course to everyone who has read and commented.

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