Managing Partner iTherapy
Twenty- Nine Percent of the U.S. adult population are providing care to someone. I have had the opportunity and the gift to be a caregiver, twice in my life, for both my mother and father. My father was diagnosed with cancer and we cared for him at home, for what seemed too short of a time to for us to be with him and too long of a time for him to be suffering, actually it was about 8 weeks. My mother was the primary caregiver and we received lots of support from family and friends.
Later, I was the primary caregiver for my mother and the situation was much different, as it spanned 10 years and many different levels of care. By the time she began her decline, most of her friends and family were deceased and her needs ultimately required placement in assisted living. I am now watching many of my friends and co-workers juggle the responsibilities of caring for two parents at the same time.
I have also participated as collateral support for other family members and friends as needed. My brother passed away in his 50’s after a long battle with cancer. I helped when I could, but mostly I observed his four young daughters and his wife deal with hope, fear, anger, sadness, grief and the endless emotions that are part of care giving and watching some one we love suffer. As his illness lasted a few years, there was time for talking, healing, laughing , crying and creating wonderful memories . There seemed to be enough time for closure, but then you find there is never enough time.
Care giving situations are always a little different, and many are not associate with death, but may involve care giving after a surgery or care giving for a lifetime. but the stress and emotional toll placed on the caregivers seems to be similar. Care giving is a gift and honor, a way to care for those who have cared for us. However, sometimes the people we are providing care for may not have been kind to us and that makes the emotions even more complex. The emotions and feelings can be overwhelming and confusing, one moment there is sadness and pain, and the next moment joy and laughter and for most exhaustion.
In addition to providing care, we may now have to interact with parents and siblings in a way we never have before. This can create enormous stress and tension, or it may bring you closer together. Many caregivers are part of the “Sandwich Generation”, caring for their parents or family members while still raising their own families. The caregiver may have to manage their loved ones home, finances, legal issues, insurance, and correspondence, in addition to their own. Just corresponding with doctors, helpers, family and friends to provide updates can take up as much time as a fulltime job.
I have been through the care giving and the grieving process personally and also providing support to friends and family. I have also counseled many individuals and families professionally. I know that talking to someone helps, sometimes you don’t want to share your feelings with friends or family as you may be private, or maybe you don’t want to burden them, or maybe you think that they will think poorly of you if you complain. A professional can listen to you objectively and provide support where you need it and maybe even some helpful suggestions to reduce the stress. Sometimes you just need to be able to say I don’t mind doing this, but it is a burden.
Many caregivers suffer from:
- Anger or resentment – You may feel angry or resentful toward the person you’re caring for, even though you know it’s irrational. Or you might be angry at the world in general, or resentful of other friends or family members who don’t have your responsibilities.
- Guilt – You may feel guilty for not doing more, being a “better” caregiver, having more patience, accepting your situation with more equanimity, or in the case of long distance care giving, not being available more often.
- Grief – There are many losses that can come with care giving (the healthy future you envisioned with your spouse or child; the goals and dreams you’ve had to set aside). If the person you’re caring for is terminally ill, you’re also dealing with that grief.
- Anxiety, Depression, Emotional Stress, Exhaustion, are just some of the psychological symptoms of care giving.
- Poor Physical Health– due to lack of self care, due to lack of sleep, and no time for exercise or relaxation.
- Increased use of alcohol or other substances in order to relax or self- soothe.
The National Alliance for Care giving and AARP study found that those who are more likely to rate physical strain of care giving “high” are female (17% vs. 10% males) and older (21% are 65+ vs. 11% at 18-49). They have lower incomes (19% vs. 11% of those with an annual income of $50,000+), a higher level of burden (31% vs. 9%, of those with a moderate level of burden and 5% of those with a low level), and are living with their care recipient (29% vs. 11% who don’t live together).
Providers at iTherapy are waiting to help: www.irx.thedotsmedia.com/all-service-providersHaving experienced being a Caregiver as a person and as a professional and one thing I know is that you will feel better if you share your feelings with someone.