I have been my husband’s only caregiver for over 10 years now, and I can truly say it gives me great joy. I must admit, it was very difficult in the beginning.
Taking care of a loved one with an illness or disability can stir up some complicated emotions. You may have great days when you feel a deep sense of fulfillment and connection. And hard days, filled with guilt, grief, or anger. You might even have conflicting feelings, like love and resentment, at the same time. It can be challenging, and if you don’t pay attention, it’ll wear you down.
No two caregiving experiences are the same. What triggers one person may not be an issue for another. You have your own relationship to your loved one, rich and complex with your shared history. So it’s important to know there’s no formula for what you’ll feel or when. And there are no feelings you “should” or “shouldn’t” have. Emotions just arise whether you want them to or not.
To give the best care you can, it helps to know the kinds of feelings that might come up, how to recognize them, and what you can do to manage them.
What You Might Feel
Anger and resentment. From being unappreciated to feeling trapped, caregiving stress can set off your anger. You might lose your temper or blurt out something that you normally wouldn’t.
Many people have these challenging feelings, at least sometimes. And these emotions can show up in different ways, day to day.
Fear and anxiety. You may have a long list of concerns: “What if I’m not around when something goes wrong? What if I make a mistake?” Anxiety happens when we feel out of control. It’s also a warning to pay attention and tend to your own needs.
What you can do: Try to avoid focusing too much on what ifs. Keep your attention on things you can control, like making a backup plan for when you can’t be around.
Grief. People usually think of grief when someone dies, but it’s really about loss. When a loved one gets sick, it changes this person you know so well, which affects your relationship, too. That’s a loss.
What you can do: You may need to grieve. Sometimes, you’ll just need to cry. And that’s OK. It’s one way your body releases that pressure.
Guilt. This is very familiar for many caregivers: Guilt that you’re not doing enough, that you should be better at it, that you just want it to end. It’s a swamp you could sink in, but that doesn’t help you or your loved one.
What you can do: Go easy on yourself. If you feel like you’re not doing enough, imagine if you weren’t there—look at the difference you make every day.
Sadness and depression. Every day, you confront loss and change. Sadness is bound to pop up. If it won’t let go and you think you might be depressed, get help right away.
What you can do: You can start with your doctor or by talking with a therapist. Also, exercise and social activities are great ways to handle sadness and depression. Although they don’t fix the issue, they give you stress relief, energy, a better mood, and a social connection if you work out with other people.
I pray I’ve helped those of you who are having problems with guilt and other caregiver emotions. Next month’s topic will be: How to Manage Those Feelings
by Lola Johnson of Bowie, Maryland, and caregiver of a Gulf War Veteran