One day you’re a husband or wife, or son or daughter, then a shift in the ability or health of a loved one changes your role to that of caregiver. You may see it as your duty as a spouse or adult child. You may welcome it as a way to show your love and appreciation. The truth is we each come to caregiving with different expectations and responsibilities, different relationships with our loved ones, varied access to services and support, and many responsibilities which we suddenly need to balance.
All caregivers can agree
While each caregiving experience is quite unique and personal, it’s a path that most of us will travel. And whether you chose the role or assumed it, there are a few things we can all agree on:
- You will probably need to handle tasks way outside of your comfort zone
- The tasks will be both physically and emotionally draining
- It won’t be clear where you are headed or what you should expect
- You will be confronted with new emotions
The emotions of caregiving
Caregivers experience a vast range of emotions; some they may have never felt toward their loved ones before. It can run the gambit from ambivalence to resentment. Very common emotions are grief, anger, and guilt – any combination can hit you within the same day. It can be a rollercoaster. And to make matters worse, most believe they must always put on a happy face and never complain. But the truth is these emotions are perfectly normal. More than that, they are healthy, and we need to find appropriate ways to feel and express them.
What emotions to expect
There are many emotions you may experience, and each situation is different. Even so, the most frequently felt emotions are:
Grief and Loss
How can we mourn a person who is still alive? Grief is an emotion we experience whenever we lose something. Your loved one’s chronic illness has taken something from you. Perhaps it’s the loss of your independence or your plans for the future. It could be the loss of control over your own life. Maybe it’s the loss of your partner or parent as you knew them. It could be all of these. Although it feels different from traditional grief because there isn’t a physical loss of a loved one, the feeling of loss is natural. Family members and friends may not recognize your loss, leaving you feeling even more alone. The isolation causes feelings of anger, which leads to guilt, and the destructive cycle can persist.
Ambivalence may seem like an odd emotion for the circumstance, but it is quite common. There are probably times when you feel as if caring for your loved one is a blessing. You’re honored to share this intimate experience with them. You may cherish the added time together. Then there are times when caregiving feels like an endless trial. These indecisive feelings are simply the recognition of the reality of your situation. It’s your mind’s way of processing your many conflicting emotions.
Anger is a familiar human emotion, yet so many caregivers struggle with it. The reason for the struggle is that anger feels shameful. We think we should have better self-control. Also, anger feels selfish. We wonder why we are focusing on our needs when we should be focused on our loved one’s needs. Lastly, anger feels a little dangerous. Most of us are programmed to avoid conflict. All the reasons we think we should not be angry get in the way and prevent us from dealing with the frustration, resentment, sadness, and worry that are all natural feelings for a caregiver.
Oh, the guilt! Guilt is a verdict passed down from the jury in our heads. It tells us that no matter what we are doing, we are not doing enough. It accuses us of faults that are just part of the human condition and are completely unavoidable. Some of these faults are not even real – simply imagined. As caregivers and humans, we shoulder the expectations of our family, culture, and faith. It makes us our own worst critics – the judge and jury. The fact is that caregivers are often forced to make difficult decisions, decisions which, by their very nature, leave us no good choice. And that leaves room for doubt, internal conflict, and regret.
Channel your emotions for good
Emotions will come with your role as a caregiver. However, you don’t have to let your emotions bowl you over. You can channel them for good. But how?
- You can learn to assess your feelings and use them as a guide to set up personal boundaries. There may even be times when they can motivate you to say “No” when appropriate, when you may be so conditioned to say “Yes.”
- You can leverage your emotions to help you in your advocacy on behalf of your loved one. You will need to be a strong advocate with medical providers, social service agencies, and policymakers.
- You can recognize that your emotions can be effective warning signs when your own wellness needs are being neglected.
How to live with the emotional rollercoaster of caregiving
While emotions are healthy, and you can use them for good, learning to live with them is not easy. Fortunately, there are things you can do right now that will help you acknowledge, accept, and live with the emotional rollercoaster of caregiving:
- Be reasonable and focus on what you can do
- Be realistic and set small achievable goals for yourself
- Build a care team and accept help from them – a loved one, family member, or trusted person
- Pay attention to your emotions; they’re valid and important
- Don’t be so hard on yourself; we’re all human
- Recognize the importance of self-care
- Locate professional, quality programs for Assisted Living and Memory Care like those offered at The Cabana at Jensen Dunes. https://www.jensendunes.com/
As someone who provides care to a loved one, you are counted on by many. That’s a tremendous responsibility. You’re expected to be supportive, always strong, and never wavering. The fact is that no one can live up to those unattainable expectations. Caring for someone you love is hard work that can quickly take a toll on your mental and physical wellness. It’s important to be kind to yourself and seek relief and assistance. The Cabana at Jensen Dunes https://www.jensendunes.com/ is here for you to provide the support you and your loved one need. We can help you navigate the journey today and tomorrow with our Assisted Living and Memory Care communities.
Give us a call any time. We’re happy to answer your questions.