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Roles breaking our backs

November 8, 2012

Once again, I am uncomfortable about needing to vent here. (Especially when I haven’t been able to respond to comments I do want to respond to.) Both issues have been helping keep me from posting more, but that illustrates at least one of the points I need to vent about today.

Social isolation sucks sometimes. It’s way too easy to get a pressure cooker effect going if you are trying to avoid open conflict, and don’t have anyone else to talk to about the things that are bothering you.

This is another place where the personal is political, which helped me get past my reluctance to talk about some of this stuff more publicly, though it does feel like just complaining and inappropriately airing laundry. It’s about disability, and gender, and other roles having you–whether you like it or not. It’s about social constructions which really are like brick walls sometimes. It’s also about trying to work around the learned helplessness coming from all of the above, and more.

Last night, I started out thinking I was going to blow a gasket, and just ended up weary and discouraged. For the second time in a week, Mr. U came in drunk after midnight, without letting me know what was going on at all. He did not even text me to let me know he was running late, much less that it was an after-work trip to the pub rather than actual work. (I kinda figured that out by 9:00 or so.)

We have had multiple discussions about this–or, at least I have tried to without sounding all angry and blaming–but it keeps happening. Not on a regular enough basis that I have felt justified in just flat-out saying, “that’s really fucked-up inconsiderate behavior that needs to stop NOW”, but I am definitely reaching the point where it feels that way. I didn’t feel like I could say much at all without losing it and slapping the shit out of him when he did finally drag in last night. (Not a good response, no.)

I’m also very aware that this sounds like a very stereotypical housewife complaint, and easy to dismiss because of that. Enter the harmful roles, and some of the ways they collide.

The same things that make it pretty much impossible for me to do any kind of paid work right now also make me a really freaking bad fit for the Housewife By Default role that so many disabled assigned-women fall into. I still try hard, keep having to remind myself that I do work hard under the circumstances and that anybody who would be disappointed at my “laziness” has a problem, and try not to let OCD-level perfectionism paralyze me. But there are still a lot of practical problems there.

In this situation, letting me know whether you’ll be home for supper really is a big deal. Not least because cooking is one of the things I try to make sure that I can do around the house, consistently. If I can’t do anything else “productive” that day, I will cook supper. I may have to take extra pain meds (assuming I do have any) and remember to take breaks so that I am actually able to eat the food once it’s cooked instead of lying down and trying not to vomit, but it makes me feel better in other ways to do that. When I hold off on cooking because I have no idea about timing, I also risk blood sugar crashes. Both from the stress (yes, unpredictability and not knowing what’s going on really is extra-stressful for me) and from not eating on time. Snacks only do so much, and I keep feeling like I should hold off in case it will be time for the proper meal soon. The low blood sugar also causes muscle spasms, more pain, and more anxiety and worry.

Even though I know the lateness is probably either directly work-related or thanks to the pubbing after work culture I’m not even very fond of, I also have trouble not worrying that something bad has happened. I was also actually trained, growing up, that OCD worrying is normal and shows that you care about people, and have to fight that. Then I remember some of those experiences of getting called like 40 times a day, and feel like an intrusive nag if I even text to try to find out what’s going on. (Also enter the Nagging Shrew stereotype.) But, the thing here is, I am even more prone to worrying about this because I know that I really am in a very vulnerable position if Mr. U has a heart attack or gets hit by a bus or something. I don’t think he gets this, even after I ended up e-mailing him to explain this after another similar episode where my mind under the influence of low blood sugar got things worked up to the point that maybe I would have to find new homes for the animals before I ended up on the street.

I am starting to get very resentful of Mr. U’s employer*, and of the not-quite-optional socializing out of work hours that’s expected. (Not just with that particular company, but yeah.) I also get extra-concerned sometimes when he spends hours on end drinking like that, because his father–who he didn’t grow up with, at least–literally drank himself to death when Mr. U was a kid. He doesn’t drink often, but I don’t always like the way his system responds to it. But, his body. I mostly need to know what’s going on.

Last night (and today), I was extra irritated because last weekend this same freaking pattern caused extra problems. He came in drunk at about 2 a.m., after not letting me know what was going on, and didn’t put his phone on to charge before collapsing into bed. So, the next morning, the dog apparently ran out the gate after him, unawares, when he was heading off for a Saturday of gaming, while I was still asleep, and–as I eventually found out after much panic and crying–ended up in the pound about 15 miles away, with no car and shitty public transport in that direction. I didn’t have the money to bail him out and pay for a cab there and back (which is tricky anyway, because disability), and the damned bank had blocked my debit card again because–surprise!–it keeps getting “suspicious” patterns of activity, because disability. I had to make more phone calls than I had in the past year, also difficult because disability. I had no way of getting in touch with Mr. U at all, and absolutely no way of getting a nervous elderly dog back on my own, with a fireworks display going on across the road from there. It was all a mess, and Mr. U’s going out the next morning to get the poor dog on his own just didn’t address most of the problems there.

So, then he went and did it again, less than a goddamned week later.

While I am sure he feels under extra pressure, and needs to blow off some steam sometimes, because my health has been bad and he’s the only support I’ve got these days–there are ways of handling this, and ways.

But, one of the big points here: I don’t feel like I have much room to complain about any of this. Or much of anything else; I didn’t even feel like I had much say when it looked like we were going to have to do some kind of international move because of work, what with my not even being “economically active”.  Whether I like it or not, whether he likes it or not, there is a huge freaking power imbalance here. All tied up in roles which combine in some ugly ways. It’s hard not to feel like a burdensome nag when I even point out that there are some problems, with more responsibility on me to keep the relationship as pleasant as possible. Even if that means that some of my needs just don’t get met. And nobody to discuss my frustrations with, because social isolation because disability.

This is not right. If he even had to think about it, I’m sure he wouldn’t think it was right. (One of the reasons I am still here, yes, even as vulnerable as my position is right now.) But, indeed, while he talks a good line about egalitarianism, and honestly does seem to believe it, his life is enough on the Lowest Difficulty Setting that he doesn’t even have to think about most of this shit. Much less labor under any version of a Strong Woman myth, which combines really freaking badly with some of the other roles here. (Truth: Strong People Don’t Have Needs & Other Myths That Can Kill You, with content warnings for rape culture. Mostly included for the title.)

Another case where intent isn’t magic. And I am getting fed up with apparent intent and real actions not always matching up so well.

Also, the role bullshit collision thing is actually hurting my health and keeping me less able to do stuff, right now, in a too-familiar ugly cyclic way. As I wrote some about in  before, we’ve still got problems with clutter and mess that I am just not physically able to clear out right now. We also have a bad combo of what seems to be a busted boiler diverter valve–so that we have hot water (thankfully) but not heat–and a busted washing machine pump. The radiators also double as a clothes dryer, which is far from unusual here. It’s pretty much impossible to get things dry outside here except in the middle of the summer (maybe), and the clothes start out wetter if they need to be handwashed (which really hurts if you’ve got a slow-healing pelvic fracture). It’s hard, if not impossible, for me right now to get things cleaned to the point of getting repair people in for either problem. They could physically get in the house–it’s not that bad!–but I would be humiliated, even though Mr. U will need to take off work to deal with the repair people. (Which also makes me feel guilty, but disability and not feeling safe.)

I also don’t feel like I can pay someone to come in and do the cleaning, both because of OCD problems and embarrassment. Though we’re lucky enough to be able to afford it, and have discussed getting some regular help with that once the mess is not so horrible.

So, it’s staying pretty cold and damp in here, even with a space heater going when it’s seriously needed, which is making the lingering osteomalacia bone pain act up so that it keeps feeling like I’ve been hit in the ribs with a bat, etc. Thank goodness that has improved from last winter, though. Plus, we have some neglected mildew and black mold problems from a (thankfully finally fixed) water leak, which is not being helped by the lack of heat and the damp, so I’m staying sick and wheezy from that. Dust and dander were already enough of a problem, but the mold spores have really been doing wonders for my asthma. 😐 Besides fatigue and muscle aches, etc., from allergies and the extra fatigue from living off antihistamines (the non-drowsy ones just don’t work for me).  Running a HEPA filter near the worst of it is helping some, but that’s not a solution. I absolutely cannot try to eradicate the mold, when just going near the undisturbed spores is making me need an inhaler. We are just going to have to call in some specialists to get rid of it, but also see the complications above. I keep being amazed that he does not seem at all concerned about getting this fixed. (We also cannot use the front door because of it. Seriously.)

But Mr. U “doesn’t want to worry about the house when he gets home”. As he actually told me in those words, when I was expressing concern about getting the freaking water leak fixed. I honestly didn’t know what to say. These days, I am rarely able to go out, and don’t have the luxury of not thinking about it. And I honestly don’t know what to do, when he is sorry in some abstract way that my health is worse from this stuff, but doesn’t seem able/willing/whatever to make the connection between that and actually trying to fix the situation.

All this also plays into learned helplessness from growing up in a bad financial situation with a hoarder, and someone who enabled said hoarder by acting like I was the one with the problem if I expressed frustration or even just said “the mold in the heating ducts nobody can even get to is making me very sick”. At this point, I really don’t feel like I have any more practical control over my living situation than I did back then. Which is depressing.

And, thanks to the social role bullshit, I am the only one here who is even seen as dealing with any kind of problem at all. (Other than a lousy wife.) As I wrote in the  post, several years back:

This breaks down one hell of a lot when Nigel comes home. Suddenly he doesn’t look nearly as “high-functioning” as I do. The executive function and inertia stuff becomes a problem, and he honestly doesn’t see messes. I thought this was some bad excuse at first–especially having dealt with people who really meant “I am too important to bother seeing a mess, much less to be expected to take care of it”–but it really seems to be true. (OTOH, I just can’t stop seeing the mess, and get overwhelmed and bogged down in helplessness and inertia; not the best combo.)

Now, my executive function isn’t any great shakes, to put it pretty mildly, and I’m unfortunately prone to inertia. The big difference that keeps looming up? I have had to learn to work around it and do household stuff anyway, even if that means I have no time, energy, nor mental processing power left to do anything else. I just don’t have the luxury of not seeing messes. As the woman in charge, I am going to get blamed by an awful lot of people if I don’t clean up any messes that exist, no matter who in the house was responsible for them. And no matter what kind of disabilities I’ve got going…

Nigel can be considered to function well in his life while piling up water bottles in the floor, keeping old unopened moving boxes stacked in the TV room, avoiding hairballs right in the walkway, not noticing that the toilet needs to be cleaned, using a mildewed shower sponge instead of getting a new one, etc. More to the point, he can do this without even seeming impaired to himself, much less anyone else. Nevertheless, without being considered unusually impaired, he is expected to have full-time support staff to take up the slack–which these days is me.

In short, Nigel is not very disabled under the social model, since some of his actual impairments are not even seen as such.

It’s several years later, and I honestly have no idea how to deal with this situation which has continued to get worse since I have been in no physical shape to do most of the work. I love him, and still don’t want to maybe embarrass him by blogging about relationship problems–but the situation has become absolutely ridiculous. It’s not just our relationship. And intent is, indeed, not magic.

And the expectations laid on people by some of these roles can literally break our backs** sometimes, and make us feel like shit about even mentioning that it’s happening.


* From a post I ran across a while back:

Of course, it’s worth noting that while we’re pressured to find some solace in Personal Lives, our employers don’t want us to have one–why would they? To quote the CEO of a large company that employs many people in my area (and whose name I am somehow wary to mention, considering I use their blogging tool…suffice it to say it rhymes with “Snoogle”):

The goal is to strip away everything that gets in our employees’ way. We provide a standard package of fringe benefits, but on top of that are first-class dining facilities, gyms, laundry rooms, massage rooms, haircuts, carwashes, dry cleaning, commuting buses – just about anything a hardworking employee might want. Let’s face it: programmers want to program, they don’t want to do their laundry. So we make it easy for them to do both.

This is supposed to sound like a good thing, a benefit. But I find the statement a little scary. Isn’t a lot of what “gets in employees’ way” stuff like relationships and interests outside of work? It seems like the more our Personal Lives shrink, the more they are expected to save us from the chronic stress of work (or, let’s not forget, looking for work).

Exactly. And, at the risk of sounding even shittier, it hasn’t escaped me who is considered to deserve that kind of help, when some of us are truly having problems keeping ourselves adequately fed, etc. (Never mind the economic considerations there, which are a different story entirely.) I am sure these are also daily living concerns for some of their employees, but yeah. Those of us disabled enough to have trouble doing high-paid work don’t have food, etc.,  made readily available like that, though it would make a lot of people more able to get shit done. I blame the economic system we’re living under, yes.

Shame this blog never took off. From the sole intro post:

Google Widow: A phrase to describe a spouse/partner of a Google employee. Similar to a “Golf Widow” the partner of a Google member of staff, may feel a sense of separation due to extreme working conditions because of the sense of responsibility to an employee. Usually caused by frequent trips abroad and/or late night working sessions.

Or not-quite-optional pubbing, yeah. 😦 The business trips have also been a problem I have just needed to suck up. Why would employees even need personal lives?

** Yes, I am reasonably sure I got at least one vertebral insufficiency fracture from trying to clean up the house. That would be besides the at least one “all in my head” one from slinging sacks of potatoes around that ended my last attempt at a paid job. (Plus several others, from pushing too hard.)

12 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2012 11:40 pm

    You have my great sympathies, U. I have been a similar position to you and it is tremendously tough. I strongly recommend that you too talk about this stuff, which is especially hard when your time together is being encroached upon by work and work-related socialising. One way of doing it might be to exchange e-mails, so you can each say what you want to at a time that suits you, you have the chance to think about your words and you don’t have to allocate quality time to have an emotionally-loaded discussion.

    I could say a lot more about the issues you cover here – so much! But for now, I’m just sorry you feel so cornered and hope that something changes to give you the leeway you need.

    • urocyon permalink*
      November 12, 2012 3:30 pm

      Thanks for the support.

      We are just going to have to talk more about this crap. I have tried e-mail before over other concerns, because it’s easier for me to say what I need to say in writing–which also seems to be the case for him–but that has usually not even gotten a response, which is very frustrating. (He doesn’t read this blog regularly, so that was not a double purpose here.) I may try it again, and insist on discussion afterward.

      He also has a rather different style of strong conflict avoidant behavior going, after growing up in a not-so-great situation, which can cause some extra problems. (I also try harder not to yell and sound like I’m nagging because that just makes him switch off.) I am also aware that I learned some not exactly helpful patterns of interacting with people, and am trying to fix that; maybe he should consider the same. The “ignore it and hope it just goes away” approach really doesn’t work with everything. 😐 Except possibly by driving away some of the people in your life through not trying to solve problems. It’s not quite to that point yet, but yeah.

  2. November 11, 2012 1:26 am

    I’m also sorry you’re in this predicament. I don’t have any helpful advice, though — just that you’re not wrong or lazy or overly demanding, and your husband seems to have forgotten that you need actual HELP.

    And lack of control DOES suck, as does being unable to go places because the person who can drive/has a car is always gone.

    I guess I’m just here to (loudly) gainsay that inner voice you mention telling you not to raise these issues, not to be a burden or a nag or a shrew. You need a certain amount of support to be able to live. You are not getting it. That needs to change.

    • urocyon permalink*
      November 12, 2012 3:12 pm

      Thanks. Self-doubt can be a problem there, so I do appreciate the validation.

      Actually, he is trying to get his license now (never had one before, living around Stockholm and then London), but I would have been even more pissed off if he kept taking off with the only car. Much less driving drunk. OTOH, not having a license here has been stressful for me; like most people in the US, especialy in semi-rural areas, I got mine and a car as soon as I could. Public transport is seriously overloading and the jolting causes pain, and right now I can’t cycle or walk around town like I was doing to avoid that. When I was back home, I managed to get a lot more done less stressfully, even under very stressful general circumstances looking after my mom, because I could just jump in the car and go wherever and whenever I wanted. Including easily being able to just go somewhere to decompress a while.

      Here, I have been put off even applying by some overly harsh and frankly discriminatory medical reporting requirements. I know I am not any kind of danger on the road, but I do still have a (never undiagnosed, bullshit) bipolar diagnosis in my records–and I don’t even have a GP right now because medical PTSD, much less “treatment” for that (which would probably make me officially unfit to drive from the meds anyway, besides the “hell no!” factor). As I interpret things, just ever having been diagnosed with any kind of mental health problem, including depression, means that you need to send your application straight through medical review. At least in Virginia, you only have to report if you are on some kind of medication that’s affecting your driving (barring epilepsy, etc.), with no separate application process–and I had no problem at all there, even when I was seriously overmedicated. (I did avoid driving at times, on my own, because I have some sense.) It’s a mess.

      Didn’t mean to rant about that, but yeah. It’s a continuing problem. I may go ahead and try without the medical review anyway, under the interpretation that I’m not currently experiencing anything beyond mild-moderate depression that isn’t considered an impairing condition by the DVLA. That would surely help with feeling less trapped, in general.

      You need a certain amount of support to be able to live. You are not getting it. That needs to change.

      Again, thanks for the validation. Things really have been getting untenable, in some ways.

  3. November 11, 2012 6:41 pm

    Yes… I have been there. It is not just bad because disability, it is bad because patriarchy.
    If there is any way for you to get more social support, that might help.

    • urocyon permalink*
      November 12, 2012 3:50 pm

      Definitely agreed about the patriarchy component of the problem. I was mainly focusing on disability here, partly because I often need to remind myself that there are good reasons I have trouble doing some things, but yeah. I have been particularly troubled by getting sucked into some of the nastier expectations of the housewife role (and Western “wife” in general), in spite of being aware of some of the problems there and really not wanting to at all.

      With some of the interactions there, no wonder disabled women are living under such a high rate of domestic violence and other kinds of abuse. And it’s pretty messed up when you find yourself feeling “lucky” not to be in that bad a situation, when some of the power dynamics are making things difficult enough as it stands.

  4. November 11, 2012 6:44 pm

    Also, I would advise going on strike. If there is separate space in the house, make a space for yourself and make it your home. I did this to some extent and it helped me imagine a new independent life. I still had to maintain everything else to some extent, but I restructured my own space as best as I could, and stopped trying to be the angel in the house for my nigel…

    • urocyon permalink*
      November 12, 2012 4:03 pm

      Thanks for the support.

      I have been seriously considering that, especially being (haha) painfully aware that I have been slowing down the healing of that sacral fracture through stubbornly pushing on. I’m too hyper a person for full bed rest to have even been possible (one of the few things it’s still recommended for early on, because there’s basically nothing you can do without putting stress on the sacrum). But, the amount of time I’ve been spending on my feet and doing kinds of work that help displace it has obviously not been helping.

      Plus, I’m starting to get seriously pissed off. I have resorted to a couple of at least partial quiet housework strikes in past, and things just didn’t get done. At all. That is a problem, dealing with someone who can tolerate much higher levels of mess than you can. 😦 I don’t know if it will help get him to actually do more stuff, even explicitly saying I’m on strike, but it’s worth a try from the perspective of trying to take better care of my own health, if nothing else.

      We need some serious discussion about this, including the fact that I am not that far from being totally unable/unwilling to continue living in this situation. We’ll just have to see if the urge to continue with the bizarre entitlement attitude is stronger than the urge to keep me around. *sigh* Things really are reaching that point.

      • urocyon permalink*
        November 12, 2012 4:35 pm

        I forgot to add that I have, at least, gone on a quiet laundry strike. I’ve been taking care of things like kitchen towels, some of my own clothes, and unexpected problems like one of the cats peeing on the dog’s bed cover. (Happened again earlier today, actually. :/ )

        But, if he wants clean clothes, he can hump bags of stuff to the laundromat. I went along the first time, and it hurt, so not doing that again. But, apparently he’d rather dig dirty socks out of the pile, because he just sat around in his bathrobe in front of the PS3 this past weekend. Guess he’ll have extra to carry next time. 😐 Not my problem (she reminds herself).

      • Freya permalink
        November 19, 2012 4:22 am

        My own version of a strike is to fold all my partner’s undies and arrange them overly neatly (we normally just stuff them into our respective drawers). They hate it, particularly when I sort them by colour (and shade) or fold them into each other so the can’t just pull out one without looking. They KNOW that they need to fix something I’m unhappy about when that happens…

        Also, the folding is soothing to the part of me that needs monotonous routine, which helps to calm me down and put me closer to my happy place. And I can do it sitting down, which is important to me, because allowing myself to be justifiably angry takes up resources I don’t have, just as much as stuffing the anger down and just putting up with things.

  5. urocyon permalink*
    November 29, 2012 2:56 pm

    Sorry for the late reply, Freya. Also, the nesting seems to have reached its limit for replies in the thread.

    And I can do it sitting down, which is important to me, because allowing myself to be justifiably angry takes up resources I don’t have, just as much as stuffing the anger down and just putting up with things.

    And lightbulbs go off! It really does eat a lot of resources, too. Thanks for pointing this out.

  6. August 2, 2013 11:43 pm

    This ‘might’ help: “in the Normalistic world, Everything is Social, and the whole of life is a matter of Power and Control.”. Hence, the Only part of his ‘labor’ that actually matters is the “pubbing” – and everything else is in fact a smokescreen. The pub is where the hierarchical power relations are established and confirmed. He is paid on the basis of how Socially Dominant he is – which makes pub-crawling a Mandatory matter, and all else more or less optional.

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