Throughout your time as a caregiver, you’re going to have all kinds of feelings. Some days, you’ll feel triumphant; other times, you’ll feel defeated. You might feel angry, or resentful. It’s ok; suppressing your feelings is never healthy. That’s why you need to give your feelings permission – permission to just be what they are. There’s a ton of research about the importance of getting your feelings out; here’s a link to a study on the cost of what’s called “Emotional Suppression.” From our own experiences, we know how isolated you probably already feel. And right now – yes, right now – you need to stay physically and emotionally healthy, for yourself and your family.
Obviously, we’re big believers in humor. I mean, how else do you get through cutting all of the pockets out of his pants? We did our best to find the humor in our situations while it was happening, or at least right afterward. That’s what kept us sane. Here are a few examples:
- (Dawne): My mother went through a (mercifully short) phase where she believed we were all imposters, that we’d kidnapped her real family and stolen their clothes and their bodies. We briefly considered donning masks so she’d know she was right. (No we didn’t, but it was fun to talk about.)
- (Kim): My father often believed that I was my mother, which meant that I was his wife, and that my husband was someone with whom I was having an affair. There were many times I cried about this, feeling so said that he had no idea who I was. After he walked into our bedroom at 2 am yelling at my husband to “Get out!”, we knew we had to just accept this and between us find some humor in the situation. (AND YES, WE PUT A LOCK ON OUR DOOR.)
- (Dawne): For awhile, after my mother stopped driving, I drove her to church each Sunday (30 minutes each way, so there went two hours of every Sunday). While en route, the woman who “couldn’t see well enough to read books” was somehow able, from the passenger side, to read the 8-point font numbers on the Oil Change sticker. In her typically passive-aggressive way, she’d say, “That says [INSERT NUMBER] of miles. Are you past that?” She knew darn well I was. I learned that white-out and a Sharpie took care of that; on occasion, I’d actually get the oil changed. And yes, she demanded to see the receipt.
What Worked For Us
In all seriousness, what we can tell you is what worked for us (besides humor). There were plenty of times where we held it in and didn’t let anyone know how we were feeling. But what a relief it was when we did! Here are some ways to remember to acknowledge, and express, your feelings, and stay connected to others:
- If you’re initially uncomfortable talking with others, talk to yourself. Really! (Dawne): This worked very well for me. I’ve always been someone who talked myself through things, good or bad: “Dammit! I’m going to fix that sink no matter what!” or, conversely, “OK, I give up. Time to call a plumber.” Somehow, saying the words out loud does wonders to relieve my stress level. There is a great movie called “Shirley Valentine“; she talked to the walls and it was perfectly adaptive for her. It’s a nice movie if you just need a break.
- Find a support group, or, if you’re more of a one-on-one person, someone who you’re comfortable with who’s been through this before, or is going through it now. There’s nothing like trading stories. Kim and I both found this enormously helpful. And be honest! If you don’t personally know anyone going through this, check your local community resources. 211.org is a great place to start. Operating in the United States and many parts of Canada, they’re available 24/7 and offer free and confidential help. And we’re here to offer you support by providing a place where you can ask questions or share stories with others who understand what you’re going through.
- If you’re not much of an in-person joiner, or if you simply don’t have the time, find a group online, such as our Facebook group (of course!). If your loved one has Alzheimer’s, the Alzheimer’s Association has an online forum, “ALZ Connected“. One of the best things about joining an online group is that you can read and comment at any hour of the day or night.
- Always remember that there are other people are in your shoes, and there’s someone out there who needs someone to talk to, just like you. All you have to do is reach out.
Need a visual reminder with even more tips? Download our free one-pager, Four Tips for Staying Healthy, here; print it out and stick it on the fridge. ♠