This last year has been unfairly difficult. At a time when my six-year-old daughter is obsessed with fairness, or rather, the unfairness of the world, I’ve found it harder than usual to come to terms with the same thing myself, lately.
Things aren’t fair. We all learn this at some point, hopefully sooner rather than later in our lives, so that we can also learn how to deal with that fact and move on with life in a productive and happy way. Dwelling on unfairness into your adulthood just sets you up for a life of disappointment and frustration. Life is not fair.
Sometimes it’s pretty much impossible for me not to list all the unfair things that have happened in the last year, even though I know it does me no good. Right off the top, of course, there’s cancer – also known as life’s big Fuck You to fairness. No one can tell me why I got cancer. Every so often, when I can’t sleep at night, my brain starts listing all the possible things that might have caused it, like childhood exposure to contaminants, or adulthood exposure to contaminants, or maybe I dyed my hair one too many times, or maybe I ate too many pesticides, and the list goes on and on and on. There is no smoking gun, but I somehow got cancer, and it wasn’t fair. And so far I have beaten cancer, which, of course, also isn’t fair, if you happen to be someone else who isn’t as lucky as me.
And sometimes I think about how my kids are growing up without much contact with our extended families, and without that family tribe that I see around me in other people’s families, and it makes me sad how that’s unfair for them. Or I selfishly wish I could just leave the kids with their grandparents for a night so I can have a tiny one- or two-night vacation with my husband wherein we can sleep and recharge and maybe ride bikes together, because that’s one of those things that only grandparents can do… but no. Not an option for us. Difficult year or not, we are not able to recharge without asking far more of our friends than we are willing to. I want to be six and stamp my feet and slam a door and yell about the unfairness of it all. I try not to.
Yes, I would like to own my home…
Last year we nearly decided to buy a townhouse. We shopped, we looked at places, we even put in an offer on a place, but when we sat down to go over the actual monthly costs of home ownership over renting, when considering expenses like the depressingly large amount of money we spend on daycare, we realized that we could not afford it.
Between us Adam and I make what could be considered a very reasonable income if we lived almost anywhere else in the country. The kind of income that, on paper, means we are perfectly capable of home ownership. But due to a combination of unfair things, like the cost of homes in the Metro Vancouver area (the perfect 3-bedroom townhouse for our family is listed at around $400,000) and the extremely large chunk of money we pay for childcare, it’s out of the question, at least until daycare is no longer such an expense.
And here’s the (unfair) kicker: when daycare is no longer an expense, there will be a brand new skytrain in our neighbourhood, which will effectively drive the housing prices of our current area, the one we want very much to stay in, outside of a reasonable price range. It also means that buying now would be a good investment, because the skytrain is going to drive prices up. But we can’t. At least, not and be able to continue to do fun things like eat food..
Most days I am serene and calm and have come to terms with that. Some days I am just depressed about it.
But the most challenging and unfair thing I’ve had to deal with in the last year has been completely unexpected, and unfair in ways I never could have imagined.
Relationships – They aren’t fair
It’s a part of the promise you make in any serious relationship to take care of each other, even (and especially) when one of you is sick. We certainly had to call on that promise last year when I was going through chemo. As rock-solid as I was mentally and emotionally about the whole thing, I just wasn’t physically capable of a lot of things, and Adam had to step up and take over with much of the day-to-day running of our house. What had been a partnership tilted in one direction for a while. It wasn’t fair, but that’s what it was.
And then, sometime in March, I started to feel human again. I was finished chemotherapy. The effects were starting to disappear and I could feel my energy slowly coming back, along with a new sense of ownership over my life. I was so happy to be returning to normal, and the entire cancer experience had me actively evaluating my life down to the tiniest detail: Is this worth doing? If yes, then why not just go ahead and do it? If no, then abolish it completely. My willingness to commit to things I wanted to do had skyrocketed, and I wanted more than anything to get out in the world and DO ALL THE THINGS.
While all this was happening, Adam was going through unexplained, undiagnosed, mystery abdominal pain. It left him often incapacitated, exhausted, and unable to function at a normal level. There were many nights when I’d come home from work and send him away to lie down while I handled kids and dinner. There were weekends that we stayed mostly close to home and made no plans because we never knew if he’d feel up to doing anything (and usually he didn’t).
Chronic pain had taken over his life, and the fact that doctor after doctor couldn’t tell him what was wrong pushed him over the edge into some bouts of anxiety that just made everything worse. He went through the fear of cancer, gallstones, kidney stones, heart problems, ulcers, digestive issues, and every other abdominal issue he, or the doctors, could come up with.
It started in January, before I was even done chemo. It continued on into February, and then March. By April, I was starting to feel like I was at about 80% of my former energy levels, and he was in too much pain to function as a partner for a good portion of the time. We had effectively switched places on the see-saw of relationship balance: I was doing my best to keep everything together, taking on more work at home and with the girls while taking care of him. None of it was fair.
By May and June he wasn’t doing any better, and doctors still told him that they didn’t know what was wrong with him. He wasn’t happy being the mystery abdominal pain patient. By that point, though, he had at least come to terms with there not being something life-threatening wrong with him, and he wasn’t going to emergency every few weeks. But he was still in pain, and it was still giving him a lot of anxiety, and making him exhausted almost all the time.
I was still holding the fort, and still feeling more driven to get out and do things. I managed it okay most of the time, but sometimes the unfairness of it all came back and hit me hard, and I broke down. It happened more than once, and it made life hard. All the while I just wanted to get on with living, and I felt like I couldn’t because I was being held back, taking care of someone who should have been living it with me.
I can see, now, something that I’ve never really been able to see before. I always took for granted that of course we would take care of each other if we were sick. Of course we would. Because we love each other and that’s what you do. And when I was going through chemo last year, Adam took care of me. And when he was hit with chronic pain issues, I took care of him. Unfairly, his chronic pain has been an ongoing problem for longer than my chemo was.
I can’t speak for Adam on this, but what I realized in the last few months, while trying to keep everything together and feeling so keenly how imbalanced we were, is that this is much more difficult than you ever expect it to be. Of course we take care of each other. But when the imbalance goes on for a long time, you start to wonder how long you can actually do it. When you don’t have other family around to help you out, you wonder how people manage. And then that corner of your brain that likes to throw intrusive thoughts at you (you know, the one that screams inside your head brutally inappropriate statements that should never be heard by any human being and make you ashamed that you even thought them) for just a moment breaks through and tries to suggest that everything would be easier if you had fewer variables in your life. And by variables it means people. And then you beat it into submission for even suggesting that you’d think that, because no, you will not be abandoning anyone who needs you, dammit! Even writing about thinking thoughts like that is difficult. I don’t want to admit to that sort of self-perceived weakness…
But now I get it when people have reached that point, when they’ve had too much unfairness, when the imbalance has gone on for so long that the intrusive thoughts aren’t intrusive anymore. And then they have to leave, for their own sake. Where I used to think, “how could anyone leave someone they love when they need them so much?” I now understand. I’ve only had the smallest taste of that feeling of overwhelming imbalance, and I know that it will end, and that there will be more times in the future when Adam takes care of me, and when I take care of him. Relationships are not static. Sometimes, though, when there’s no end in sight, I can understand why sometimes people have to leave. I get it.
I can see the end of the imbalance now. He’s been feeling better, mostly, for the past month. They have ruled out all the major abdominal problems that could have been the cause, and are fairly convinced that it’s probably muscular, in the abdominal wall, and exacerbated by stress. Of which he’s had NONE in the last year, am I right? And his bouts of anxiety have lessened, although it’s certainly been a good lesson in the impact anxiety issues have on individuals and their close family members. But we’re coming back towards the centre, when we both contribute in different but mostly equal ways to keeping our family running.
I keep thinking that there will be some kind of marker, a turning point, something I can look at and say with surety, “This is the end of our year of suck.” This year hasn’t been fair. I’m ready to be done with it. But maybe instead of a specific point in time where the sucking ends, it will just kind of fizzle out and our lives will be normal, happy, and uneventful for a little while.
In an unfair world, that’s the most I can ask for.