Caregiving Emotions are Challenging
Caregivers Start on Shakey Ground
Have you seen sandcastles swept out to sea? Houses built on sand have no anchor in the ground to help them stand against waves. They can crumble without that foundation. Adapting to caregiving can feel the same way without possessing the background or skills needed to feel comfortable with the role. Learning by trial and error works; it’s a way to get by, and most of the time, nothing bad happens. Caregivers are cautious and take the right steps to be as careful as possible. However, they often spend their wheels in frustration repeating tasks, wasting expensive supplies, and hanging out on “hold” to figure out what went wrong with a process. After a while, it can become depressing.
Caregiving Requires a Foundation
What could make this situation less frustrating for everyone? Knowledge, resources, and access to information are all tools that can help make a caregiver’s life easier.
Caregivers need a sturdy foundation to help them gain personal strength and self-confidence to survive life’s storms. Without that preparation, they become overwhelmed and feel unprepared when an emergency arises. Their unsteady tower of strength comes crashing down around them, washing their confidence out to sea like waves pulling sand out from under their feet.
No Time to Prepare for Role
Caregivers often acquire their roles without warning. Accepting the role a little at a time is not an option. They cannot mentally prepare or attempt to gain fundamental knowledge or skills in advance if they don’t know a crisis awaits. While in a state of emotional shock, they must pull themselves together and make life-changing decisions. Sometimes, the person affected can help make choices; other times, the caregiver faces them alone. Their need for knowledge and how to gain access to essential information becomes critical and time-sensitive.
Dealing with Caregiving Emotions
All caregivers feel the emotional impact that accompanies the adjustments required due to their change in circumstances. Adjusting is particularly required for full-time caregivers because they often deal with the greatest amount of change and loss of personal freedom. Often caregivers feel guilty about grieving loss and try to run away from it, but it’s an honest emotion that needs addressing to prevent resentment from growing.
Picking Up the Slack
The caregiver must adapt to the seemingly overwhelming burden of picking up the slack. The family member who is ill/injured focuses on their condition and how it impacts their life plans. Their view in a camera lens is a zoom shot–focused entirely on themselves. However, the caregiver’s viewfinder can’t focus on one subject. When they look through their camera’s lens, they must take in a panoramic view. The caregiver must consider the needs of the ill/injured family member and incorporate their therapy/recovery requirements into the household’s landscape. For example, the caregiver picks up the slack or delegates tasks for anything the family member can no longer accomplish. Often, the caregiver coordinates communications with the injured family member’s job, updates other family members on their health status reports, monitors claims submitted to insurance companies and other membership responsibilities held by the family member, etc. The tasks can become unmanageable quickly.
Grief Hits Home
The unpredictable nature of trying to manage someone else’s world and medical condition is beyond the caregiver’s control; however, it remains their responsibility to keep all of “it” running as smoothly as possible. Regular battles with fear, anxiety, anger, and frustration occur. Then, one day, whether from exhaustion or a song heard over the radio, the weight of their unstable block tower shifts, and all the blocks they so carefully constructed come tumbling down. At that moment, the grief for the life they’ve left behind hits them, and reality hits them in the gut. “This” is not going away anytime soon.
As Time Passes, The World Looks Different
“Right Now “
As a caregiver adapts to caregiving, a change occurs in how they look at their world. The caregiver begins to think about “right now” rather than making plans for the future. No longer can they trust that any plans made today will be relevant for tomorrow or possible due to changes in medical status. They have endured so many canceled plans or life-altering events that they know nothing is guaranteed. Life is too unpredictable.
Live in the Moment
Caregivers learn to always be prepared for the unexpected. Therefore, many caregivers learn to “live in the moment” while also “storing up” for the future. Having lived through multiple times of change, they realize nothing is guaranteed. Therefore, it’s important to enjoy the time they have with their family members each day and not assume there will be time to do something down the road. They learn to adapt quickly and not hold on to “things.” Instead, they know what is important to them, how to set priorities accordingly and to live in the moment.
Defense Against Murphy’s Law
Living in the moment does not mean failing to plan for the future, however. In fact, many caregivers lean more toward being hoarders than carrying a light load.
Murphy’s law (whatever can go wrong will go wrong and at the worst possible moment) haunts them. When a caregiver goes out, they fear the worst. Therefore, they pack a suitcase of supplies; “just in case” an “accident” occurs, and a change of clothing is needed. Snacks, drinks, medicines, special equipment, entertainment, batteries for said entertainment, blankets for cold offices, arm/leg warmers, hand sanitizers, wet wipes, etc., are necessities for caregivers while being “nice-to-have” for everyone else.
Store Up for Tomorrow
For “special” need items that come in the mail and take weeks to receive or often go on back-order, well, those items have a place in the caregiver’s home designated just for them. In fact, it’s not surprising to find a warehouse and inventory control system right in the caregiver’s home to help them maintain a constant supply stream. Panic ensues if supplies drop below the critical inventory level for fear the precious item will run out before UPS or Fed-ex pulls up with the necessary item on their truck. No kidding, courier services know who are caregivers in the neighborhoods based on frequent “storing up” deliveries.
Caregiving Emotions Include Letting Go of Losses
Caregiving Requires Dream Reassessment
Caregivers realize that dreams they once had must change or go away because the future cannot support them any longer. While the one who needs care is facing their giants, so must the caregiver. Feeling like they must be present 24/7 and struggling with the financial burden imposed by caregiving, many caregivers choose to stop dreaming rather than face disappointment. Caregiving emotions become confusing and filled with both the need to hold on to the past and a desire to move into the future.
Adapting to caregiving requires a reality check. Suddenly, more money is going out than is coming in, and the amount of time spent on essential duties far outweighs the non-essential. At the end of the day, as memories of their lives and dreams tumble through their brain, reminding them of what they’ve lost and what they face, it’s tempting to let fear take control and defeat win.
Change Doesn’t Have to Be Bad
Caregivers need to allow themselves to grieve perceived and real losses and accept the changes that occur. The only way to work through grief is to allow yourself to feel it. I’m not saying you need to drown in it but having a plan to deal with pieces of it a little at a time will help you finally cope with it.
Emotions Build Pressure
Emotions simmer and brew under the surface, building steam and creating pressure inside. The pressure builds and builds until it can’t expand anymore, then a crack forms, a break follows, a crevice appears, and finally, out pours an explosion of emotion. At some point, the body is going to release the pressure building up inside. If you don’t decide how and when it’s coming out in a controlled fashion, it will erupt over a dropped phone call or burnt toast. You’ll have a major emotional breakdown of anger or a crying episode that isn’t proportional to the event.
If that doesn’t happen, and you’re someone who successfully can keep the emotions stuffed down, then the pressure attacks your body like corrosion eating away at pipes. You develop pain, illness, depression, or some other form of suffering.
You honestly have no choice but to deal with emotions. Once you fill up your emotional bucket, something is going to happen. The choice is yours; how the bucket gets emptied. If you work through the emotions, you begin to relieve the pressure and reduce the bucket’s contents. The temporary emotional grief is cleansing and can provide space for new dreams to grow.
Faith Brings Comfort
Where I Found Comfort
Going through the grief process is difficult and hurts. Furthermore, giving up dreams is depressing. When I experienced the emotional pain of grief and loss related to caring, I sought comfort in my faith. As a Christian, I believe that God, not man, is in control of this world. He may not remove the difficulties in my life, but He’s there to walk with me as I go through them. I’ve also found that the struggles I experienced earlier in life prepared me to face challenges that occurred later in my life. In looking back, I know that as hard as the struggle was to endure, it provided me with the skills, self-confidence, and experience I needed for the challenges I faced today. Without those added abilities, I know my suffering now would be greater. I could say that my past struggles are an internship for the rest of my life.