My husband Sem recently wrote in a blog post, “I left my native county of Caithness fifty-odd years ago and I never imagined that I would return. Unfortunate circumstances brought me here and it surprises me to find that I am grateful. Caithness fits me like an old, well-worn glove, and I find that unexpectedly comforting.”
I can sense that, in him. He loved our wee village in Sutherland too; after all, he lived there for 20 years. Here, though, he is very much at ease in a way that's different to how he seemed to me, in the village. He understands these Caithnessians; they are his people and this is his background. It is lovely to see him settle in.
Me? I'm a bit lost.
I don't mean “lost” in the sense that I don't know where I am, though getting around “the toon” can certainly be challenging sometimes. No, I mean that I am sort of all at sea on the inside, here. I miss the familiar sights in our former village, and it is very strange to not see well-known faces everywhere I go. It's a little bit like when I infrequently went to the mall in my 30s. Having been somewhat of a “mall rat” in my teens, I expected to see school friends around every corner even all that time later. But all of the faces were unknown, fresh generations of teenagers having taken over where I'd left off so long ago.
I've mentioned before that I didn't manage to make any very close friends in the village, but I am realizing that there is a lot to be said for familiarity. I know this place in a general sense but I don't know it intimately like I did the village. It is a little bit too big here for me to be able to do that, though I'm getting better at navigating to where we want to be. What takes getting used to is the fact that no matter how many faces I peer at, it will be very seldom that I see any I know, at least for a while.
My strange sense of being adrift is more than those obvious things, though. Since Sem started dialysis in 2011 I've been his only caregiver, solely responsible (well, along with him) for his treatments, ordering of medicines and medical supplies, organization of appointments and the coordination of more specialists than we ever thought we'd see. I was glad to do it, and grateful that I could devote my time to whatever Sem needed. I did vow “for better or worse” and I meant it. For about five years we had things down to a well-honed routine, and that only changed when Sem had to switch from peritoneal dialysis at home to hemodialysis in the renal unit. When that happened my hands-on involvement with his treatments ceased. For the first few weeks I made the 140 mile round trip to spend each day with him at the hospital while he recovered from peritonitis and surgery, and then for the better part of nine months after that, we spent many hours a week traveling to and from dialysis. Then came the move, and all that went with it, and I was busy with unpacking and moving furniture around, plus all the paperwork (project still ongoing!) that is involved with a house-move.
Things have settled quite a lot by now, and I find myself at loose ends while Sem is at dialysis these days. It used to be that I hung around in the hospital cafeteria during his dialysis, reading books or writing articles and blog entries. The people I got to know there who became our move-to-the-north cheerleaders often said, “It'll be grand once you move; you'll be able to go home during Sem's treatments rather than sitting here!”
They weren't wrong; it is nice to no longer sit shivering in a freezing hospital cafeteria on uncomfortable chairs, waiting for the time to go by. I have big chunks of time to do with what I will. My plans were (and are) ambitious: start an exercise routine, write for at least an hour each day, be a better housekeeper, and work my way through address changes, to name a few. Now that we've been here for two and a half months, all of that should be well in hand, right?
You'd think so, but here I am... a little bit lost. Now that the “heavy lifting” of the move is over, I feel heavy-limbed and sluggish, out-of-sorts and woolly-headed. Directionless. Since 2011 my entire focus has been on Sem's care, but now he is in the very capable and kind hands of his dialysis nurses. I am grateful to them, but it is a strange feeling, not to be needed.
I must be clear about the fact that none of this is a complaint. What we have now – where we are now – is fine. It will take getting used to, but as towns go, it's a pretty nice one. It will just take me longer to settle in here, than it did for Sem. He's never lived in this town but Caithness is his home county, and the places and people are familiar to him in a way that they could never be, for me.
In the same blog post I quoted above Sem went on to say, “Now I'm revisiting places I last saw as a child, and finding them unaltered. In a rapidly changing world that provides a welcome stability.”
I think that's a large part of why Sem has fit in to our new life up here so quickly and so well. I'm glad for that, for him, because the changes in his life over this last year have been enormous in every possible way, and not always for the better. Knowing that he feels at ease here, and that he enjoys being in Caithness more than he expected to makes me very happy indeed.
For me, though, nothing feels very stable right now as I find my footing in not just a new place, but in a very different life than the one we had before it all changed. These first ten weeks have been hard, I won't lie. Having so much time to myself has not been a good thing, I think, but I'm slowly coming out of a somewhat dark mindset. I've stopped playing Solitaire for hours and reading mindless articles on Reddit. I've started doing the odd push-up or three, and composing articles and stories in my mind, if not yet committing them to screen. I am hopeful that I'm not quite such a big pain in the behind to Sem, as I find my way out of the mire.
I'm trying – I've been trying all along – to adjust to so many changes, in very stressful times, and what I'm working hard on now is finding my way under a new sub-title. For so long I've been Deb: Wife, Companion, and Caregiver. I'm still Deb, and I'm still a wife and companion, and even in some ways still a caregiver, but no longer with a capital-C. So what am I, now? I'm not sure yet, but I know that whatever it is, it really can be almost anything I want it to be.
I just have to find my way there.