When talking last weekend about our Door County vacation, Ger said “That was a great vacation. I really enjoyed myself.”
I blinked and said “Really? What parts did you enjoy?”
He began to rattle things off: seeing a new place, seeing how much fun the kids had, all of the good food, the relaxing surroundings. Best vacation ever.
I said “Well. Here’s how the vacation went for me. You really crabby so you were short with me and the kids. You didn’t want to engage. You were so tired that you fell asleep as soon as we got in the car to drive anywhere, plus took naps between every activity. It was a huge burden for me – like dragging around another child, without any help. And I said I wanted to go home early and you refused.”
Upon our arrival, it was like Ger checked out. Months of poor sleeping caught up with him and it was like his body said “Now’s my chance!” I drove everywhere, and as soon as we got into the car, he fell asleep within 30 seconds. He slept at our Airbnb between activities. He fell asleep immediately after dinner and through the night. When he was awake, he was sour, accusatory, or withdrawn. He as so tired that I was nervous about the impact on his driving and insisted that I drive everywhere.
After one full day of that, I said “Time out. Maybe this trip wasn’t a good idea. I thought it would be a chance to get away, but I think being away from our own surroundings is making your anxiety worse. Let’s just go back early.”
Nope. Did not want to do that. Did not want to lose money on the Airbnb.
I pleaded, saying that I could not handle dragging the three kids, plus him, around for three more days. It was too much, and I wasn’t sleeping well in an unfamiliar setting, so I was exhausted and not getting any break.
Nope. Not leaving.
I gently said that if, right after losing Nelle, if someone had told me that I needed to go to a baby shower that lasted four days, I would not have been able to handle it. Putting me in a situation that would have heightened my grief would have sent me into orbit. We needed to go back to our own space, where we could control the situation. We could still take a few days’ break, but at home.
So we plowed through Day 3. His attitude improved a bit, but the extreme fatigue continued. I left him at the Airbnb to sleep while I took the kids to a petting farm by myself. Autumn slept in the car every chance she got, so wanted nothing to do with napping in her pack-n-play. Ger took a nap after lunch and I took her for a lengthy walk.
Again that night I pointed out that we could still leave early. For me – I could not handle it, with so little help from him. The Airbnb was misleading in saying that it had air conditioning, with only one bedroom having a window unit and Autumn and Ger were sleeping in there so the stifling Wisconsin nights were keeping me awake and I was running on fumes.
Day 4 was a bit better. His held it together more than the previous days, began to engage more with the kids. I could see the end in sight. That evening we sat on the back porch of the Airbnb in the silence and stillness of summer.
On Day 5, we woke up early to head home. It was like a switch went off in his brain and he came out of the fog of fatigue. Knowing that we were now in “travel mode” he got the car loaded up quickly and was completely back to his normal self.
Unpacking this later, I tried to point out the breakdowns in what had transpired: the situation was not good for him. He wasn’t in a place to recognize that it wasn’t good. I did see the problem, but when I brought it up, he wouldn’t acknowledge it. He wasn’t in a place to say “Yes, this situation is causing me anxiety and that’s why I’m reacting in this way.”
I rehashed the events with my therapist, wondering if I should have substituted my judgement for his at the time and forced us to leave. She said that it is hard to say – that he needed to learn to understand what was happening and how to communicate what he needed. Even at the price where it made a difficult experience for me.
And as a result, I carried us through those days. After, Ger and I talked through the differences in our perception. He instantly felt bad that he did not recognize at the time what was happening and its impact on me. Promised that he would “make it up to me” by being extra helpful at home in the days that followed.
I reminded him that it is a process. I have years of therapy under my belt that have taught me how to manage my responses to grief. This is just one new experience for him after he started feeling the effects of anxiety earlier this year. We’ll take what we learned and maybe see an incremental difference next time.