One thing that the COVID-19 crisis has brought to the forefront is adding additional roles to the ones I was already handling before the stay-at-home order — I’m wearing too many hats. I’ve added the roles of physical, occupational, and vision therapists, psychologist, and stand-up comic to my repertoire. These roles are in addition to my existing hats of full-time caregiver, head of household, parent, husband, etc. The therapist roles are creating new stress for me as I, besides feeling unqualified, worry about if I am doing enough and pushing too hard.
The Therapist Paradox
Nobody wants my wife to recover all of her faculties more than I do. I say that confidently because it appears that she doesn’t even fully realize how much she has lost and changed. My daughter would love a full recovery, but she is sheltered from the hourly/daily difficulties I encounter helping my wife make it through her life. My hope might lead you to believe that I would be happy taking or responsibility for her therapies to take a more active role in her recovery.
The problem with taking on the therapy roles, aside from being exhausting, is that it’s difficult to both push her to do what she needs to and protect her as I’ve grown used to doing in my caregiver role. Clearly, she needs to be exercising and doing occupational and vision activities every day, and not spending too much time in bed or in front of the television. I try… really I do, I have the best intentions but being assertive and consistent is hard.
These activities are hard for her. For example, I desperately want her to talk more. It’s difficult for her to initiate speech, and what I miss most of all is talking to her — after all, she was/is my best friend. I hound her regularly to respond to me verbally rather than nodding. I encourage her all the time to tell me about what she is thinking or feeling, to talk to her daughter or her dad, and to tell me what she needs or wants. She doesn’t get annoyed at me but she also doesn’t seem to benefit from from the nagging. For me, it creates anxiety about how far can I push her, should I be pushing her at all, and am I doing anything useful.
Good Cop, Bad Cop
Similar to how detectives use the “good cop, bad cop” ploy to both intimidate a suspect and gain trust, fulfilling the roles I’ve outlined puts me in an untenable position — you can’t be both the good and bad cop. I’ve become acutely aware that I rely on outside therapists to be the “bad cop”, not that they are expected to intimidate my wife but more like an athletic coach, they are supposed to push her, encourage her to take risks, and be all she can be.
I spent the last 15 years of my career as a professional manager so I know all of the managerial techniques for building trust, encouraging behavior, measuring performance, and dealing with problems, but this is my wife, not my employee. Sure, many companies refer to themselves as “family” and I appreciate that sentiment, but it’s just that, a sentiment. The executives aren’t sharing every moment of their lives with their employees or with each other. They aren’t cleaning up after their employees’ hygiene issues or hand-feeding them or sleeping next to them — wait, the last one isn’t necessarily true for all companies.
I’m Taking My Show on the Road
That last thought brings me back to my role as a “stand-up comic.” I learned early on in life that being funny helps you make friends, as long as they appreciate your sense of humor. My humor can often be cynical, dark, sexual, and just plain wrong, or at times I can be pretty amusing. Yeah, I know my humor doesn’t come through in my blog — I’m working on that.
My point is that I find myself expanding my comedic role trying to entertain my wife, my daughter, and increasingly everyone who follows me across social media platforms in order to lift their spirits and make them laugh. (Personally, I believe if everyone laughed more, the world would be a much nice place) I enjoy this role and would love to find a way to “productize” it — why shouldn’t I have 30 million followers on Twitter? Well, that’s not going to happen, and now I’m starting to feel the pressure of coming up with new material each day. Even just being the curator of existing humor can be stressful dealing with separating the funny stuff from the crap. Are you starting to see a pattern here?
The Ten Percent Happier app that I use for meditation encourages me to cut myself some slack and feel grateful for all I’m able to accomplish. I get it, I really do. And you should too, especially during this craziness, but during normal times as well. We can only accomplish so much … only wear so many hats. We have to stop and take a deep breath, be patient and gentle with ourselves, feel good about our accomplishments, give ourselves a pat on the back and a hug, and let the rest go — at least until the next moment when that overwhelming feeling to do more rears up again. I’d love to know how you manage your roles and how has “stay-at-home” changed your life.