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Camp NaNoWriMo Project Part 3

Previous: Sixteen-year-old Leona Moss’ confused relationship with her father is discovered by her eldest brother Frank, with devastating consequences. Her middle brother, Liam, leaves the family farm to emigrate to England for work.

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Sins of the Son: Nature, Nurture, Torture

Camp NaNoWriMo Project Part 3

Leona sat on the edge of the examination bed. Colm hovered in the corner of the room with his arms tightly crossed.

“Can you tell me where your pain is, Leona?” Aidan requested.

“Here,” Leona said, pointing to one corner of her abdomen. “My back is hurting a lot, too.”

“Does the pain come and go, or is it there all the time?”

“All the time, but it’s worse at night.”

Aidan tensed his brows thoughtfully.

“Have you had any sickness or vomiting at all with the pain?”

“I do feel sick, but I haven’t vomited.”

“And when was your last menstrual cycle?”

There was a long pause before she answered.

“Awhile ago.”

“Right. Could you lie back please?”

Leona reclined back on the bed.

“My hands are cold, I’m sorry.”

Leona winced as Aidan gently massaged the problem area of her stomach in a circular motion with the tips of his fingers.

“There’s pain in my back too,” she murmured. “It’s like needles.”

“I’m just going to have a listen.”

Aidan took his stethoscope from his neck, breathing onto the cold head before pressing it against Leona’s skin.

“Have you taken anything for the pain?”

“No.”

“Aidan paused.

“How old are you now, Leona?”

“Fifteen.”

“You can sit up again.”

Aidan removed his stethoscope and took a seat at his desk.

“I will have to take blood and urine samples and send them away for further tests. I am concerned about the pain, but I will give you something for it.”

“So what’s wrong with her?” Colm asked impatiently.

Aidan sighed.

“It’s pure speculation until the test results come back, but there is a chance that Leona is pregnant.”

Colm turned away, shaking his head and covering his mouth.

“Who do you think the father is?”

“It was a worker I hired.”

Leona looked to her father. Aidan looked from her to Colm.

“I won’t tell Father Braden about this, I promise. But you must let me know if the pain gets any worse, Leona.”

Colm nodded. Leona said nothing, a tear trickling down her cheek.

Once home, Colm sent Leona straight to her room. She lay down on her bed, swallowed by her thoughts. She knew her father was furious, but this is what she had been secretly hoping for all along.

Her mother had died when she was sixteen years old, and since then she had been the woman of the house. She had cooked and cleaned and looked after her family; having a baby of her own would complete the picture.

On Sunday morning, Leona wandered sleepily out of her room. At the bottom of the stairs, her father was putting on his hat and coat.

“Why didn’t you wake me up?” she asked.

“Because you’re not coming,” said Colm. “Stay here. Do not leave the house, you hear?”

Leona watched through the window as her father walked off down the road toward town. With every step he took, her heart sank inside her a little further.

Colm sat in the pews of Saint John’s alongside the other parishioners. After mass had concluded, father Braden approached the family.

“I see Leona isn’t with you today?” the priest cheerily enquired. “Is she unwell?”

“Yes, I’m afraid she is,” said Colm. “A stomach ache. She’s resting at home.”

“Oh dear. Well, I will be praying for her. I hope she starts to feel better soon.”

“T’anks, Father.”

Leona folded her father’s shirts and trousers and placed them on the bed. She caught a glimpse of herself in her mother’s mirror, pausing to regard her reflection. Her body was changing; her breasts had swelled, and her abdomen was growing. She was overwhelmed with joy, but her father maintained a suspicion of her condition, keeping tabs on her with a watchful eye. Since the return of the test results and the confirmation of her pregnancy, Colm had forbidden her to leave the house. He had even suggested that she was pretending.

In the corner of her room was the cane bassinet that Leona had slept in as an infant, as well as her brothers, her mother and her aunts and uncles on her mother’s side of the family. It wouldn’t be long before her baby was sleeping in it.

Leona’s due date of August 6th came and went. When the baby did not arrive, Aidan made a house call to the Moss residence. Colm refused to take his daughter to his office in town.

“I suppose I could have miscalculated the due date,” Aidan speculated.

“Well, how much longer do you think it’s going to be?” Leona urged.

“I could have been wrong by a couple of weeks. Let’s make it for September.”

“What it she’s not pregnant at all?” Cathal sneered. “What if she’s making it all up?”

“Da!” Leona exclaimed. “I am pregnant! I’m having a baby!”

“Leona, do you realise how dangerous this situation is?” Colm exclaimed. “If anyone were to find out about this, you’d be dragged off to Tuam! The baby would be pulled from your arms the moment it was born and sent to America, and you’d be working off your board for years!”

“No-one is going to take my baby away from me!” Leona cried. “We’d stay with you at the house! We’ll all stay together. Father Braden will let you look after us. They won’t sent me away if they know we’ll be looked after! And it is only three of us, there will be enough to eat…”

“You’re delusional, girl,” Colm scoffed.

“It is a possibility, Leona, that something else is causing your condition,” Aidan interjected. “And it is cause for concern. It could be serious. Your swollen belly could be a tumour of some sort.”

“Well, how do we find out, then?” Colm insisted.

“She would have to go to hospital…”

“The only reason I’m going to hospital is to have a baby! I am pregnant!

“Shut up, girl!” Colm scolded. “You’ve gone mad! If they don’t drag you off to Tuam I’ve half a mind to take you to St Brigid’s!”

“Let’s wait until September,” Aidan suggested. “If Leona does have a tumour, another month isn’t going to make a difference.”

Weeks passed and September approached. Instead of producing a baby, Leona’s belly began to visibly shrink. Standing in front of the mirror, she desperately searched her reflection for any scrap of remaining evidence of her pregnancy. She could not understand what was happening to her body. But in her young and stubborn nature, she defiantly refused to believe that she did not have a baby inside her. Her father had gladly discarded any scrap of belief he had held, with his suspicions confirmed that she was indeed pretending. But Leona was determined to keep waiting.

September and October came and went, and upon Leona’s insistence, Aidan extended her due date even further. It wasn’t until December that he declined to continue.

The cool morning wind stung like needles against Leona’s face, which was sodden with tears. Standing on the pier in Kinvara, the bay unfolded before her, gusty winds sweeping off the Atlantic Ocean. This was the first time she had been into the village in over a year. The gentle waves lapped up against the shore, over the rocks and clumps of brown seaweed.

Leona’s agonized wails echoed out across the water, and she didn’t care who heard. The shock and heartbreak had taken over her body. She felt sick to her stomach, her face feeling clammy and faint.

Throughout her adolescence, along with crippling menstrual pains and irregularity in her cycles, Leona had also suffered frequently from spells of deep depression. Her suicidal mother had been emotionally absent for as far back at Leona could remember, starving her daughter of love. In the face of the ultimate abandonment, Leona had resorted to the approval of her father, and he had given in to primal indulgence.

All along, Leona had known that deep down he could not let go of his beloved Aisling, and that through resemblance; she had been his pathway back to her.

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2018: What the F%#k was that?? Part Two

We relocated to Coolangatta on the Southern Gold Coast in early September 2018, and this was the hardest house move I have ever done. Greg helped where he could, but he was extremely limited because of his injury and pain. It was mostly up to me to get the place packed up. I also performed the bond clean, with help from my mum and aunty.

After the move I resigned from Jeanswest. The performance expectation placed on staff is high, and I felt that the company was somewhat out of touch with the impact of these tasks and expectations on frontline team members, and personally I would like to see the company place more value on the health and wellbeing of store staff. My expenses had been reduced by the move, and so there was space for me to leave and find something more suitable. By moving house I was purging many stress contributors from my life, and that job was just another stressor I did not need.

Once we had settled in to our new place at Coolangatta, I was keen to get back on track with my writing projects, however it was not as easy as I had thought it would be. I just could not get myself back into routine, and was finding it so hard to get organised and motivated.

In October I started to revise The New Neighbours, my short story collection. This was a task I had on my to-do list for some time, and I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about it, but it needed to be done. Everything was going well. I was excited. The afternoon wore on, and time started running out. Before I knew it, it was dinnertime. Panic set in, as well as a looming sense of incompletion. By 8pm, I was in tears.

I despised the incomplete nature of writing in general. I hated the stories being in pieces. A big idea or change is exciting at first, but then the impact if that change, and the state of incompleteness it leaves the story, is often traumatizing for me. I’m clearly in the wrong game.

No matter how amazingly transformative to the story these big changes are, I don’t handle them very well. Especially when its to a book I’ve previously finished and published. I feel like I’m pulling apart something that is perfectly complete. The perfectionist in me HATES that.

And then I feel scared that in trying to make the book better, I’ve actually made it worse.

This revise has been on my to-do list for months. I haven’t raced to do it. I’d much rather be working on something fresh and new. But the book needs a revise, and I want a book I can feel truly confident about.

I’m trying to sprint through this, whilst also doing a thorough job. But like the process of writing a book, the revise is a marathon, NOT a sprint.

After a few tears, I have reviewed my efforts for the day. I listed the small accomplishment of the day: I got the changes made to the last few stories in the collection. That is what I set out to do, and I did it.

When undertaking such a big task as writing or revising a story, it’s so important to recognize the little achievements. It gives you a sense of accomplishment when the end seems so far off.

But what I thought would only take me a week or so blew out into a complete overhaul of the book and all its stories. I hated every minute of it, and it actually caused me significant anxiety. I created absurd and unrealistic timelines to have it all finished. In my haste to get this job over and done with, I was also obsessing over the detail, fearing that I was overlooking mistakes and compromising the revision altogether.

I was craving to work on something new, and once again I denied myself that joy, even for a few minutes a day. Everything I did had to be productive; I couldn’t just write for fun. In the wake of the chaos that had unfolded throughout the year, I felt as if my life was falling apart. My writing was the only aspect I felt I had control over, and I was chanelling that anxiety into the revise of my books. I knew that it wasn’t working, and I was forcing something that not meant to be. My neurotic behaviour was makign me hate writing, turning a joyful activity into a toxic one. But still I pushed and pushed- I needed to feel as if I had achieeved something ths year. I started uploading the short stories individually to Kindle Direct Publishing, with a view to upload the whole collection soon after. I would then press on with the revises of my four other books. And then one day in early November, I received a dreaded email from Kindle Direct Publishing informing me that my account had been disabled.

Some of you may recall last year, two days before Christmas, I recieved an email from Kindle Direct Publishing informing me that they had identified ‘malicious activity’ linked to my books/account, which they refused to expand on. There was no warning and my account was immediately terminated. To this day I still have no idea what happened, if it was something I did (I hadn’t even touched my KDP account for months except for adjusting a few book prices) or if it was the work of spammers.

I have been on the publishing journey since 2011, when I published my first book, The Wilted Rose, through assisted self publishing. That was not sustainable for me because of the cost, which can reach $1000 plus for one title.

In 2016 I started publishing through CreateSpace/KDP, Amazon’s self publishing tools. Everything was fine for two years until last December, when I was shut down the first time.

I started a new account with new details in January this year. This was against KDP’s terms and conditions, but Amazon clearly didn’t have my best interests as an author in mind, so I didn’t care for theirs. They didn’t want to play fair, so why should I? But they’ve obviously made the connection, and once again I find myself in this position.

Once again I was devastated. Since I started my publishing journey, all I had ever wanted to do was share my writing with the world. But I was so sick and tired of the struggle of being an independent author through Amazon. It had been nothing but difficult for the past year.

This second shut down absolutely floored me. I had no idea what I was going to do next. I was back at square one. And just like back then, I still didn’t have $1000s to spend on assisted self publishing. And I was banned for life from publishing on the world’s biggest online retailer. I was devastated and demotivated. This all happened three days before I was scheduled for a book signing at a local bookstore here on the Gold Coast, and I thought seriously about cancelling the event. Why promote my books if I couldn’t produce and distribute them? But I was so glad I did. Everyone reassured me that there are plenty of other avenues, they may not be the biggest, but they do the job and they’re far easier to use and deal with, and they actually care about authors.

I also remembered that while the biggest online bookstore didn’t care, the small independent bookstore I was sitting in WAS supporting me, and so many others like me! I am so truly fortunate to be part of such a wonderful writers community here on the Gold Coast.

I’d had a goal to transition my work over to IngramSpark for awhile, and now that the Amazon/KDP door had slammed firmly shut, I knew it was time. But it is a lot of new information to learn, and being so close to the end of the year, I decided to leave trying to republish my books until 2019.

For the remainder of the year I was going to work on getting the first of my Irish crime novels finished. This book was an ongoing project I’d been working on sporadically for two years. It was my ‘life’s work’, my passion project, the book I was born to write. I knew I would benefit from the burst of creativity. However, I quickly found myself spiralling back down the same obsessive, neurotic rabbit hole I’d fallen into throughout the New Neighbours revise. This project was so far from completion, and I hated that. I found myself in a love/hate relationship with the novel. A year ago I never wanted to stop working on it. Well my wish came true, because just when I thought I was getting closer to finishing, there was more research to be done, more scenes to be written.
Sometimes I felt totally sick of it and wanted to throw it out the window. Some days the story just wouldn’t flow, and ideas constantly contradicted each other. There were nights I’ve stayed awake sobbing over pen and paper trying to draw water from the stone of writer’s block. The perfectionist control freak in me unable to walk away until I finish something, but pushing things doesn’t work. If anything it makes it worse.

By Christmas, I felt completely and utterly depleted. Over the year, bit by bit, the joy of writing had been chipped away. Everything I did in 2018 seemed to be met by challenge and failure, and I wondered whether I was meant to be doing any of it. Maybe I wasn’t destined to be the successful author I aspire to be.

I had gotten to the stage where even the smallest task, or even the shortest amount of writing time, made me feel overwhelmed and incomplete. My self worth has always been wrapped up in writing. If I wasn’t happy with something to do with my writing, I wasn’t happy in myself. I don’t know who I am outside of writing, and I am reluctant to let myself be anything other than that. This is all I’ve ever known. This is what I’ve worked so hard for. I have had to overcome so much criticism of my life’s chosen path, and I feel like if I let myself be anything else, that my critics would be right. Now, the whole framework of my book publishing, everything I have built and become familiar with, has come undone, and I have been forced to see who I am when I am not writing.

I don’t like being demoted back to the start. I’ve always strived to be the best in whatever I was doing. I wanted to be a professional. I had to do this to feel like the sacrifice of taking a ‘normal, more reliable path was justified.

In the weeks leading up to the New Year, I’ve wanted to start setting some goals for 2019, but I have felt so apprehensive. So scared, so resistant to be vulnerable to the excitement and enthusiasm associated with new projects, out of fear it will all just be trampled on. That I will once again be shown exactly why I have locked myself up in recent times, and should not let myself be vulnerable to excitement and enthusiasm of new plans.

The truth is there has been no magical epiphany upon which I have suddenly found all the inspiration, motivation and energy I need to pick myself up out of this funk. Any time I feel anything slightly resembling enthusiasm, my fearful ego swoops in to protect me from the potential disappointment. I know I am the only one who can put a stop to this thinking, and it will be a matter of small habits, step by step, gradually allowing myself to be vulnerable to life again. The lesson that I can see working its way through to the surface is to go bravely for my 2019 goals, but to be prepared for things to not always work out when and how I want. That life is not punishing but redirecting.

A big struggle for me has been putting positive expectations ahead of what I can see in my current reality. Ahead of every piece of evidence I have for the contrary. To put my faith in the notion that good is on its way, before I can see it. When life is collapsing around you, it is hard to put your thoughts ahead of what is happening in your current reality, especially when there is no guarantee that your being vulnerable won’t hurt. I guess I am going into 2019 with a more rational optimism than previous years. I’ve seen how life’s difficulties can take you down a path so much worse than what you expected. But there is still enough spark in me to not want to give up. I want to discover more of who I am without the external factors, the foundation that has held me together when all else has been stripped away.

Thank-you for coming with me on this crazy journey over the past twelve months, and I look forward to your company in 2019. Happy New Year!

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National Carers Week: My Story

One afternoon in mid-January 2017, my fiance Greg came home early from his job as a tiler with lower back pain. He took the weekend to rest up, however Monday came and the pain had not subsided. The days turned into weeks. In early March I set off on a month-long book research trip to Ireland, expecting Greg would be back at work by the time I returned. He wasn’t; he was suffering from a protruding L5/S1 Disc. He was 32 years of age, and had been working as a tiler for seven years.

My role as a carer for Greg started off small; I was doing more of the tasks we usually shared. Carrying the heavy shopping bags, doing the laundry, loading and unloading the dishwasher. Anything that involved lifting and bending, or standing for extended periods of time.

On top of these increased responsibilities at home, I was also working part-time as an Attractions Presenter at Warner Brothers Movie World on the Gold Coast. At the end of May 2017 I left that job, a position I had held for over four years. I had landed a full-time position as a travel agent in Broadbeach. It was my dream job.

In June 2017 Greg underwent a discectomy, a procedure to surgically remove the damaged disc tissue. He was unable to drive for several weeks following the surgery, not only because of his physical incapacity but also the heavy pain relief drugs he was taking.

This procedure failed and the remainder of his damaged disc continued to deteriorate.

It was around this time that the gravity of Greg’s situation was beginning to dawn on us. Greg’s future was becoming more and more uncertain, and understandably he was becoming increasingly worried. Being home alone with his thoughts only distressed him further. I was often the only person Greg saw or spoke to all day, and when I arrived home from work, he would offload his ruminations from the day onto me. My work days were long in my new job; I had an eight-hour work day, and an hour’s commute home to Edens Landing in Logan, north of the Gold Coast. I was exhausted by the time I arrived home, and coping with Greg’s increasing anxiety was becoming difficult.

Being a travel consultant was also proving to be more stressful than I had ever imagined. I was utterly overwhelmed; despite my hard work, and many hours of unpaid overtime, I was not reaching my sales targets. My probationary period was approaching, and I was warned by my superiors that if my performance did not improve, I would be let go at the end of my probationary period at the end of September. I was utterly devastated; Greg and I had already made plans to move to Broadbeach, to a unit which was walking distance to my work. Nevertheless, Greg was insistent that both of us view the situation as positive. He would be glad to see me less stressed, and assured me that together we would figure out the rest.

Despite my pending job insecurity, we continued with our plan to relocate to Broadbeach. Due to his back injury, Greg wasn’t able to help with the packing or heavy lifting, so I assumed the responsibility of getting this done. We had help moving from some family and friends. Three weeks later, Greg returned to hospital for a a spinal fusion. Once again, he was unable to drive. I had to do all the organising to have our utilities and bills changed to our new address. I had to get Greg to and from his medical appointments. I had to do the grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning.

Knowing I was not going to be able to achieve my monthly sales target, I resigned from my job as a travel consultant before my probationary period was over. I was nervous about being unemployed, but at the same time relieved I would no longer be faced with the pressure associated with that job.

Following Greg’s spinal fusion, and despite the structure of his back being restored, he suffered debilitating ongoing sciatic nerve pain and numbness in his right leg and foot. To treat this pain he received a cortisone injection, after which he was once again unable to drive for a period of time. Not only did this procedure do nothing to relieve the pain, it aggravated it further. He couldn’t even do the minimal amount of walking and hydrotherapy exercise he had been prescribed by his physiotherapist.

His mental state deteriorated further: he was stuck at home day in and day out watching TV. He had had to give up everything he loved; boxing training, playing cricket, riding his motorbike, caring for our cars. He couldn’t even stand in the kitchen to cook a meal without feeling pain. There was nothing I could do or say to make things better. I felt helpless, and as a result I too became severely depressed.

The financial stress of my unemployment loomed like a dark cloud of uncertainty over us. There were many sleepless nights wondering how we would get through. I hated it; I had always been so independent, and I despised being in such a vulnerable state. I was reluctant to ask for help from my family; I thought I didn’t deserve the help. I thought maybe if I’d studied and gotten a better job, that we wouldn’t be under such financial stress now. There were people in much more dire need than I was that didn’t have family as supportive as mine, so why did I deserve it?

Christmas/New Year was the lowest, darkest period of my life. I couldn’t even get joy out of writing, which was usually the one thing that could cheer me up. Greg and I were both deeply depressed, and neither of us were able to pick the other up. With most of our friends and family living an hour away in Brisbane, we were extremely isolated. It was easier for most people just to send their thoughts and prayers rather than make the trip to see us. Our situation was too confronting; they didn’t know how to deal with it, or what to say to us.

My mum, who was coming to visit me regularly at Broadbeach, was the one who alerted me to the desperate state of our situation, and insisted I needed to seek help. I could no longer carry the physical, emotional and mental weight of being Greg’s carer all on my own.

In January 2018 I sought counselling for myself. I was diagnosed with severe depression and moderate anxiety. I realised just how much I was carrying all on my own. I couldn’t try and hold Greg above water while I too was drowning.

I felt guilty at the prospect of getting on with my life, about going to see friends, going out for a walk or a bike ride. These were things that Greg couldn’t do, so I felt guilty for doing them, or even talking about them with him. But it was imperative that I did, for my own wellbeing.

Around this time I also started the process of applying for assistance from Centrelink. I applied for the Newstart allowance as well as two separate carer’s payments. I was denied all three. This was my true breaking point; I sat on my living room floor and wailed in tears. These payments could have given Greg and I a little financial reprieve in our time of need, one less thing to worry about. But I couldn’t even get that.

It was pouring rain outside, but I got in the car and drove to Centrelink. When I got there, the staff member informed me that my applications had been rejected because Greg received a worker’s compensation payment, which they deemed enough to cover all of our weekly expenses.

I walked back to my car through the rain, sobbing out loud, not caring who heard me. I called Greg, but he reassured me that we would be okay. We were fighters. We’d gotten this far, we would keep going. And one day we would look back at all we had overcome, and laugh at all the people who didn’t help us.

In February 2018 Greg received a Radio Frequency Neurotomy, a procedure during which a heat lesion is created on certain nerves with the goal of interrupting the pain signals to the brain. Still, Greg’s pain persisted. The next procedure would be the insertion of spinal chord stimulator, an electrical device positioned under the skin near the spine which delivers a pulsed current to the spinal cord which interrupts the pain signals being sent to the brain.

In March I I had a cervical cancer scare. Abnormal pap smear results are common, but scary nonetheless. I was also suffering severe tension headaches. I have had a VP shunt since infancy, and suffered epilepsy during childhood. These headaches became so bad I was physically sick a number of times over several weeks. On one occasion, unable to even keep water down, I ended up in the emergency room.

In July 2018 Greg and I were given a notice to leave our apartment at Broadbeach. The owners wanted to renovate the property, so we had to move out. We relocated to Coolangatta on the Southern Gold Coast, which was the hardest house move we have ever done. Greg helped where he could, but once again, it was mostly up to me to get the place packed up. I also performed the bond clean, with help from my mum and aunty.

In late September, Greg had another surgery to implant the external spinal chord stimulator for an eight-day trial. The day before the surgery, as we drove up to Brisbane, the engine light came on in my car. The timing could not have been worse. I could not believe this was happening, right before Greg was going into hospital. While it was okay for Greg to be admitted to hospital alone, they would not allow him to be released without someone else there to pick him up.

The following day Greg caught a taxi to the hospital while I sourced a mechanic. Once again my Mum came to the rescue, organising for me to have a free inspection with her mechanic. It was a non-urgent problem with the transmission, and I would be able to drive the car back to the Gold Coast and have it seen to locally.

It was not that I don’t like having to deal with situations like this on my own. It is that as a couple, usually you deal with problems together, as a partnership. And throughout my carer’s journey, I have had to deal with so much on my own.

During the eight-day trial, Greg and his specialist assessed the benefit of the stimulator. The results were mixed, so Greg will undergo a second trial mid-November. If this trial is deemed successful, he will have the stimulator permanently implanted, but this procedure will most likely take place in early 2019, further prolonging his recovery.

Following the abnormal pap result, upon further examination I was given the all-clear. X-rays showed no problems with my neck and back, and MRI tests showed no complications with my shunt and no fluid retention in my brain. My headaches were put down to stress-related muscle tension, and I am receiving positive results through physiotherapy. These health scares were a big wake up call to me to ensure I was looking after myself properly.

My role as Greg’s carer has been tough. It has been lonely. It has been unfair. I’ve taken on so much, physically, emotionally and mentally. Greg’s and my relationship has reached breaking point many times. I am 29, and have pondered the impact Greg’s condition could have on my own life long-term, and whether that was the life I want to lead. But I was determined not to let what had happened to us, a year and a half of hell, destroy what we have build over eight years together. Sometimes its hard to see the end to this saga, especially with the more time that passes. I know that although my experience as a carer has been incredibly hard, there are carers out there who have it a lot harder than me. Our situation could be much worse, and I am grateful for how fortunate we are.

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