This morning I sat on the back porch with a cup of steaming hot coffee and did nothing but simply listen to the birds waking up. As I watched the first blush of day, I let my mind drift, remembering the mornings when I didn’t have the freedom to execute this simple act. Then unexpectedly, my mind took a turn to the days, and even months following Dad’s passing, when I suddenly had the free time for a morning like this, but found I could not enjoy it. Loneliness and depression had paralyzed me emotionally which, in turn, made even getting out of bed at a normal hour impossible.
Hiding under the covers I would feel despair and a sense of loss; not just from the death of my dad but, just as intensely, from losing my reason to exist. Yes, I have to admit that despair had taken over. I could feel it in my bones. I asked myself over and over again, “What was my reason for living?”
Yes, there had been a form of hopelessness in caring for my dad, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. He (like all the others that struggle from this illness) was on a one-way street, heading toward his concluding address . . . and I knew it. There was nothing I could do to stop this one-way freight train, but I had taken his diagnosis on like an “enemy at the gates,” my sword drawn at every turn. I had thrown myself into the task of finding every way to cope and cope well. This took all of my time and energy, which, in turn, caused isolation.
Isolation is like living under cloudy, overcast skies which never let up. It’s not easily understood how one could feel alone while caring for a patient 24/7. But when treasured conversations dissolve, and you’re barely recognized by your loved one, trust me, loneliness creeps in, surrounding you like a dense fog. This isolation, like the hopelessness and despair, continues to affect caregivers long after the battle is over.
Naturally, this all leads to the big “D” for depression. Here are a few signs to watch for:
• Constant sadness
• Disruptive sleep patterns
• Feeling worthless or guilty
• Significant weight change
• Loss of concentration
Be on guard against the strong temptation to turn to alcohol or medications for escape, forgetting that this only adds weight to the psychological burdens you are already bearing. Physical and mental exhaustion from substance abuse prevents the proper and normal healing process.
Once again, I strongly suggest you share your feelings with a support group made up of folks who are walking, or have walked, in your shoes. There are also several online chat rooms in which former caregivers have an opportunity to vent. Keep in mind though: airing out stressors doesn’t necessarily mend them. It’s often necessary to go back to the origin of the problem.
If you’re worried remember; it’s only natural. Try not to let it beat you up. Stay in touch with family and friends. Sometimes after a simple phone conversation, you’ll feel a burden lift from your chest, at least long enough to catch your second breath.
I’ve found that video chats providing even a better sense of relief. Today’s technology gives you the perfect opportunity to actually see the facial emotions and hear others pouring their hearts out.
Let’s take a moment and think about one of the most natural ways to vent ever created: crying! Maybe this topic makes you uncomfortable. I suppose this means you are a male. Well, male or not, tears are a healing balm. It may take gallons before you feel relief but let them flow! Have you ever vigorously shaken a bottle of soda pop and kept your thumb firmly over the top? What happens? Thousands of bubbles swirl and course around under the glass, looking for a place to escape. That is a portrait, albeit primitive, of what is going through your body. Take your thumb off and watch the liquid fly! This is a simple word picture of why crying is of such value.
Now, persistent crying is, without doubt, a sign of depression. In your case, only you can determine what is too much crying. If you decide it has gone on too long, please seek professional help. Counseling and antidepressant medications have been very effective in treating people suffering from depression and/or anxiety.
If necessary, talk with your physician. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Caregiving is a job most people wouldn’t even attempt in the first place and until they do they truly have no clue of the hardships involved. And then when it is over, the need for counseling often increases.
Do your best to maintain a realistic expectation of what they can do for you. Expecting too much too fast will only bring on additional frustration, possibly causing you to become more emotionally upset.
Above all, do not blame yourself. Take comfort in knowing that what you feel is normal. Be proactive, anticipating these breakdowns. Try to discover what you can do to buffer yourself from the symptoms. These buffers may eventually be part of the solution.