My present is destroying my future.
October 21, 2012 7:03 AM   Subscribe

Parent is the one with the terminal illness, but I (child of parent) feel that my own life is in danger. Career life, social / love life and general happiness of life are all at stake. Would like suggestions / advice how to proceed further. Warning: blizzard ahead.

This has been a while in writing and there's a lot that has built up, so if this seems convoluted and wordy I apologize. The backstory is long and the questions are many. I hope you have the patience to read through it all.

I come from a family of first-generation immigrants, so the parents don't speak English very well. One of my parents was diagnosed with leukemia back during the summer. That's not hir only medical issue; suffice to say that the oncologist along with the rest of us were surprised that s/he made it through hir first chemotherapy treatment as well as s/he did.

I have invested myself entirely into the wellbeing of my parent. Even before the cancer diagnosis, with hir previous problems, I helped hir with med treatments and met with / conferred with the home health nurses. While parent was in the hospital I visited daily and tried to do what I can, and even developed my own sort of therapy treatment for hir since I saw not enough was being done at the hospital. Suffice to say that I've dedicated a lot of my time to hir care.

I feel as though I have no choice but to do all this. My other parent is in the 70s and hence doesn't have energy to do much -- already doing a lot by driving 2-3x a day to the nursing home (or the hospital, depending) to bring meals. (Diseased parent is a picky eater.) Though I have a sibling, s/he is not only in another city several hours away but also has a small child to care for. Hence I am the only one left.

But by investing all my time in caring for my parent, I worry that I am sacrificing my life away. For one, I am not even on a career path. I am now in my early 30s; I left home 7 years ago to teach English and came back home 2 years ago. Since then I haven't even settled into a plan of action: arrived home July 2010, took me 3 months just to get behind the wheel again, and 2011 was spent researching possibly going to grad school and picking up odd jobs semi-related to my areas of interest. I had started a career trajectory and was wondering where to go with it next. But thus far I've never even had a full-time job in the US here, never. I was thinking of going back to school to create a more natural progression from overseas to decent job... but I can't do that without leaving the area, and possibly the region, which means foregoing caregiving duties.

So now with this problem thrown in and possibly needing several years of my life (most likely more), I worry that I won't even be able to start a career. Caregiving for her takes up so much time as it is: though she is in a nursing home, I go to all doctors' appointments with her (she can't speak English well and also I'd like to know what's going on) and I have to arrange for nurses to accompany us during these visits. I also check on her at the nursing home daily to make sure everything is going well and if not discuss with the staff there. You could say this experience is great for someone interested in nursing / elderly care, but that is not where I want to go with my life. If you look at my background, with the years abroad and my academic interests, you can see clearly that I was leaning somewhere else before all this happened.

I have a part-time job; it's a job that looks good on a resume and I do enjoy it somewhat, but it's a VERY part-time job in an ultra-niche field. Basically I would get an assignment 4x per month. Granted I don't need much money now, as I am living at home with the healthy parent -- but am I going to live with the healthy parent indefinitely? Do I enjoy depending on my elderly parent to feed and house me? (NO.)

The job wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't in another city. When I have an assignment I have to drive through my city down the highway to a neighboring city, sometimes all the way to the downtown. It can take up to an hour, one way. And this is for someone who doesn't like driving the highway to begin with. Hence though I do enjoy the job, the commuting gives me a lot of stress which I feel particularly in my right leg from all the gas / braking. If I could find a job that was somewhat related to my career interests in my hometown, then of course I would ditch this gig, but I have combed and found nothing. (My hometown is not known for much international stuff, where my interests lie.)

And lastly, there's my social / love life. Socially I have practically no friends because there is basically no one with the same interests as me in this backwater area; also as said before I'm an ethnic minority (parents are immigrants remember) and most everyone else is on opposite ends of the racial spectrum. So people like me are very rare here. All the people my age are settling down and having kids anyway. Going out is a problem because I agonize over spending every penny since I don't have much income coming in at all. I have gone out and forced myself to buy a drink / appetizer to help myself feel more at ease and less pathetic, but there is always a twinge of guilt hiding in the back of my mind.

Love life is nil. The main crux of the problem is that I am gay and living in a rather conservative area, where all the native gay folk are closeted, repressed and full of guilt. Though I am coming to terms with my sexuality, I find it hard to find potential dates. There are 2 bars / clubs in town, but as I have basically no friends I would have to go to them by myself, which would make me feel stupid and even more lonely. There are the usual websites, Craigslist and all, but those naturally are seedier and not the direction I want to go. And yet there really is no other way for me to meet people except by answering online ads on these websites. My town is big enough to have gay social groups and I've tried going to them, but either everyone is much older than me, or they're incredibly established in their relationships, or they're people who are not interested me / I'm not interested in (again, minority problem). I could try looking around in the neighboring city where I have my assignments, but again the driving would drive me insane.

I have a ton of questions, but it all basically boils down to:
***should I continue taking care of my seriously sick parent or not?***
Broken down a bit:

1) Should I try to get a full-time job or stick with my very part-time job? If I get a full-time job, then I won't have time to take care of my parent without going crazy / getting drained / becoming very depressed and tired. There are days when I visit hir and feel really, really terrible looking at hir on the bed. No doubt I would be exhausted every day. But on the other hand, I'm not making much at all from this part-time job and it's not career-track.

2) Do I even have a shot at getting a career? If I continue caregiving, who knows how long that will need.... by the time it's all over I may well be in my 40s and by then I'll be too old for school and no company or boss or supervisor would want me. Optimally I would have a job with a flexible schedule so I could accompany my parent on those appointments...but in this job climate, what boss is willing to give so much to an old newbie?

3) What can I do to improve my social / love life? Websites are out, social groups are out, bars / clubs are out, hobbies are out. But the clock is ticking...already in my 30s and still very clueless how to proceed with this in this conservative area.

Basically, I just worry about my future.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You have a lot going on, for sure. But, it sounds like you're making some assumptions which are just not true. Of course you have a shot at a career - you can absolutely go to school in your 40s, and it is just not true that no job will want you at that point. Yes, it may be harder to find a job at 40 with little experience than at 18 with no experience, but it is by no means impossible.

You also seem to be making an incorrect assumption that internet dating is seedy. I wouldn't date on Craigslist, but what about OKcupid or another dating website? I have used OKcupid, I have lots of friends who have gone online to meet dates - probably more who have than who have not - and I assure you, none of them are seedy or sketchy.
posted by insectosaurus at 7:28 AM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Basically, I just worry about my future.

It sounds like you were worrying about these things but not committing to them, leaning in one direction or another but not deciding, dealing with anxiety issues (driving, social), still coming to terms with your sexuality, etc. before your parent became ill. Of course it makes sense that an obligation forced on you by circumstance is going to ramp up the stress and add clarity and a sense of urgency to what you wish you could be doing but for that obligation ... but I do think it's unfair to blame the caregiving (a recent development) for the career/social/financial issues you've been slowly struggling with for a long time.

So yes, continue taking care of your ill parent, and at the same time continue working toward whatever career/life you want for yourself. If there comes a time that you have an attractive job offer in your field in another city where you want to live, then you can consider other options for your parent (live-in care, etc.)

Try to avoid speculating on how hard different scenarios will be ("If I get a full-time job, then I won't have time to take care of my parent without going crazy / getting drained / becoming very depressed and tired" is defeatist and just keeps you from doing anything other than what you're doing now even though you're unhappy!) And be open to trying other things ("Websites are out, social groups are out, bars / clubs are out, hobbies are out" leaves no options, and keeps you exactly where you are.) CBT therapy is designed to help people reframe harmful/obstructive thinking patterns, you might find it surprisingly helpful.
posted by headnsouth at 7:29 AM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

1) If I get a full-time job, then I won't have time to take care of my parent without going crazy / getting drained / becoming very depressed and tired.

It sounds to me like you are already going crazy/getting drained/becoming depressed and tired. And I wonder if it might be because you're not setting any boundaries, not taking care of yourself at all. I'm curious whether you come from a culture where duty to family is extremely strong, and how much that might be influencing your choices. From my perspective as an American, it sounds like you're trying to do too much for your parent. If you feel guilty about doing less, it might be worth considering that you are getting burned out. If you continue on this path, you will not be able to help your parent any more. It best best not only for you, but also for your parent, if you take care of yourself more.

Nursing homes can be scary places. It's hard to trust that they will take good care of your loved one, and in some cases they don't. In other cases they do a great job. I think most common is the middle ground, that they do the best they can with the resources/staff they have available. Having you around for extra help is surely a benefit to your parent, but at the same time, this facility is staffed to take care of your parent, at least to some minimal standard that shouldn't require your presence. Is it possible that you could cut down on your visits, to give yourself more time for your career/education/personal life/sanity?

2) Do I even have a shot at getting a career?

I believe the answer to this question is always "Yes, if you're willing to work at it." You might need to go back to school. You might need to take on more responsibility at your current job. Or, if family caretaking is more important to you, you might decide that a "career" is less important to you. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't find a job, however menial, that can support you. Being supported and housed by your parent is an ok time to explore your options, but you shouldn't assume that you will always have that support. As you've seen, elderly parents can't stay independent forever, so you need to have a plan for your life when they can no longer provide for you.

3) Websites are out, social groups are out, bars / clubs are out, hobbies are out.

This is super not true, and I think you know it. It sounds like you went to these social things once or twice and decided "There's nobody for me here." How many other people in your area do you think have done the same thing, but not on the night you showed up? You can't expect to just walk into such a group and find your perfect person on the first attempt. You keep going back, time and again, meeting new people, meeting people who aren't good fits for you but might know someone else who is, becoming more comfortable in that social arena so that when somebody great comes along you will not feel so nervous striking up a conversation, etc. Same deal with hobbies. You have to actually commit to spending some time with these things, instead of ruling them out after one or two tries, for them to help your social life.

And again, that boils down to "How do you get more time for yourself?" I think the answer is to take a hard look at how much of the caretaking you're doing is truly necessary. I have no doubt that most of what you're doing is helpful, but you also need to be able to help yourself. Maybe fear of career problems and social problems is making you over-commit to caregiving, so you feel like you have a valid excuse for not succeeding in those areas? Maybe not, I'm just someone on the internet who doesn't have the whole picture. But I think you need to start having your own life, separate from this caregiving. It doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing gig, and it would be better for you (and probably for your parents too!) if you also pursued your own life.
posted by vytae at 7:40 AM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Honestly, I think you could probably benefit from some counseling to sort out your cross-cutting anxieties and conflicted feelings.

That said, I wonder what it is you're doing for the parent in the nursing home, and why.Your parent is there so s/he can be cared for now that hir condition is beyond reasonable home care. It sounds to me like you're fighting that hypo if your day to day involvement is such that it would rule out full time work.

Going to the doctors appointments is nice, but is there some reason your healthy parent can't do that, especially if accompanied by a nurse?

Not to be presumptuous but might you be using this situation to avoid having to confront work/life/love stasis? Is that what your ailing parent would want?

Career -- I'm 32, and still in school, so I sure hope it isn't too late.

Commute -- plenty of people commute on hour each way on a daily basis in L.A...I suggest you try to be happy about having this gig until you can find something better, and make the most of the time in the other city as you suggested. Might you get more assignments if your employers had the sense you were around there? In fact, it might be healthy to move there, if more work would follow, in order to escape your parents' orbit a bit.

Romance -- hard for me to advise on being gay in a small town, but you should emphatically not rule out websites just because they haven't worked yet.

In short, you should keep helping but perhaps not in such an all consuming way, and you should make sure that it leaves time for real career development and relationship finding, at least equal to what you're investing in your parent(s).

I say all this as someone who's involved in a similar dynamic, though more on the sidelines, with my mother and my ailing grandmother (full time in-home nursing, but my mom still feels compelled to direct and supervise what goes on more that she probably needs to.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:42 AM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not gay, but I didn't have many friends back in '02. I forced myself to go to a bar where I at least knew I'd like the music. I went solo, and yeah, I felt like a dork. After a couple visits on low-key nights, I started talking to people, and though the bar is now long gone, i still have friends from that era.

As for the "not having a career" thing, my mom stayed at home and raised us kids, then went back to school and got her Master's at 50. She now teaches at the community college full time.
posted by notsnot at 8:26 AM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

As far as being gay in your setting is concerned:

You need to keep going back to those gay groups. Make them a part of your life. You aren't going to meet someone there on the first or even fourth try, but the point is to make yourself into part of the community. Gay communities in places like yours are full of support and friendship and help for people like you, and there's a lot more you can find there than just shopping for a partner. Ultimately, if you place yourself within their midst, you'll find other members of the community will be helping with your partner hunt and will be introducing you to people they know who are also single and gay and in your area. But you have to BE THERE and have to BE KNOWN before this will happen.

Ditto with the bars. Gay bars in places like yours serve two functions -- pick up joints and community centers. Don't be afraid to go to the bar alone, but don't go there and then be afraid to talk to people. You will have to put on your gregarious face and take an extra bravery pill, but go there and be comfortable to be in a safe space and talk to people. Challenge someone to a game of pool (or ask them to teach you how to play if you don't already know). Participate in karaoke, even if that means you just attend and don't sing. (Complementing someone on their karaoke performance is a great way to start up a conversation with a stranger.) Again, the point is that you have to BE THERE and BE KNOWN. You'll discover that after a while, people there will start to greet you when you walk in, and over time you will build a social network and won't feel so alone and may even find a partner, either directly or indirectly. (Also, most bars around here have a buy once, free refills policy for sodas due to the emphasis on designated drivers, so you could be there for a long time without having to pay much money.)

And don't count out dating websites. I find Craigslist isn't the best pool of people as far as the gay scene goes -- all kinds of people with closet issues and twisted ideas of what it means to be gay and such... but OKCupid or or the like... You may not find someone there immediately, but if you're serious about trying to make this work for yourself, you'll invest the time and effort it takes to represent yourself accurately on such a website and you might find yourself surprised in the end.

Also... buy yourself a smartphone or an iPod Touch and get all the gay social networking apps -- Grindr, Scruff, Mister, and all the others. They're free to download and use, and while most of them have premium memberships, none of them are so locked off that you won't find some minimal value in using them. Since the way they locate other members is location-based, you'll know how far away people are from you, so you won't end up talking to someone 300 miles away when what you're looking for is someone within your county.

Is where you live someplace which has a gay newspaper? If so, pick it up regularly and find out what the greater community is doing. If you're the church-going type, there are probably churches which are Open And Affirming which you could attend. And other things may be going on. If there's a Pride committee, volunteer there. If there's a Meals On Wheels program which targets gay and lesbian people, volunteer there. You might even find that working outside the gay community doing volunteerism is helpful in your search -- being an out normal unashamed person in a community setting may have straight allies introducing you to people they know once they get to know you.
posted by hippybear at 8:34 AM on October 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

My town is big enough to have gay social groups and I've tried going to them, but either everyone is much older than me, or they're incredibly established in their relationships, or they're people who are not interested me / I'm not interested in (again, minority problem).

Social groups aren't only for meeting partners. People incredibly established in their relationships know other people too.

If you're really only interested in romantic partners that are of the same minority group as you then that's your prerogative. But if you're also only willing to have a social group of that same makeup then you're going to need to focus on social activities where that's the primary grouping, not sexuality. Unless you're in a much larger city than you are now.

You're a good kid for making these sacrifices for your mom. Some other sacrifices we make not out of goodness but necessity. You might be the person in those social groups who is there for friends when most are there for romance. You might feel a little odd in your other social grouping if you're one of the few gay folks. But you're more than any one of those things, and even if there'd be value for you in finding a place where you fit in perfectly you just may not have access to one.

Doesn't mean you can't find happiness and things to fulfill you. Maybe they're not exactly what you'd choose in other life circumstances but don't reject them just because they're only 70% of what you want. Rejecting them leaves you with 0% of what you want. I know it's hard but don't give up on what you want because it's challenging.
posted by phearlez at 9:54 AM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've been through a decade + some of caring for ailing parents and grandparents. During that time, I worked, but it was just work, and I dated, but with no enthusiasm. It was tough. Now, it's over, and though I really miss those I have lost, I am beginning to feel there is time for me. And although I'm almost 50, there are endless possibilities in romance and career-wise and it's amazing.
At this point, I have no regrets at all. I can recognize your feelings, I've felt them. But caring for my loved ones has given me a lot, too. Life is longer than one thinks.
posted by mumimor at 3:50 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you need to think seriously about whether it would be possible to move both your parents to a location that would be better for you and your career. Of course you can't abandon them at this point, but I don't think it would be unreasonable to talk to them about moving all together; I am sure they too want you to have successful, rewarding work. I do think that in exchange for the devotion you are showing them they owe you a little flexibility so that this isn't such a massive sacrifice. What about moving so that you are all closer to your other sibling? If they have a small child, it might bring everyone a lot of joy to have the grandparents closer by; it would take a lot of the strain off you and it might even be possible for your healthy parent to be involved with childcare a little.

Moving a sick and frail person from one nursing home to another can be daunting, but it isn't necessarily a disaster. My family moved my grandmother from Rickmansworth to West London a year before she died at the age of 93, and although it was for myriad and complicated reasons it improved her life (it was a better home) a great deal, and in the process made it easier for her relatives to visit her. It was the right decision for her and my father/uncles/aunts and it may end up being the right decision for you.

What you want, ideally, is somewhere:
-In a city where you could find work or study, and perhaps have more of a social life
-Where you and healthy parent could live fairly close to a high-quality nursing home, so that it isn't so exhausting for healthy parent to travel there each day. (Imagine if you were within walking distance!)
-Ideally close to your sibling.
-If that's not doable, maybe somewhere with a significant population from your national/ethnic group: it sounds like this would make things less stressful for you and your parents, and it might also make it easier for you go get casual TEFL jobs while you look for other work.

This may be a big ask - I don't know how big an ask, because I don't know enough of the specifics of your situation - but it may also be achievable if you start looking and thinking now. It's not selfish to think about your future as well - who will look after you when you are old? What money will you live on? You need to have these discussions with your parents.
posted by Acheman at 3:56 PM on October 21, 2012

« Older Exercise classes for fat people   |   Asus Laptop Left Click Button Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.