“I know how you feel…”
Licensed clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior includes this phrase as one of the worst to say to a friend who is suffering. “Even if you’ve been through a similar experience, differences in our psychological characteristics and other variables can create very different mixtures of feelings.” Acting as a caregiver to your aging parents is often overwhelming and can feel like you’re alone and mired in quicksand. You can convince yourself that nobody knows how you feel.
It’s essential to an individual’s well being to be able to relate to someone else’s story and find comfort in knowing they’re not the only one who feels a certain way. Other people’s stories help us better understand our own experiences and ourselves. However, caregivers are often reluctant to seek out support or express their feelings about caring for their aging parents.
It is often difficult for a caregiver to address her own needs when constantly faced with the quandary of who will provide care if she takes time out for herself? Unfortunately, however, caregiving is stressful and demanding and asking for help is a critical step. If we are programmed to cringe when a good-natured friend says she “knows how we feel”, seeking out fellow caregivers for support is a viable option. We know our friends mean well, but do they really understand what it’s like to watch your own parent deteriorate in front of your very eyes?
Talking about this sense of sadness and hearing the stories of others who are suffering a similar plight helps us understand ourselves and each other. It can feel risky to voice the underlying feelings of anger and frustration that often accompany caregiving. Friends who claim to “know how you feel”, may look at you sideways when you share your exasperation with Dad’s incontinence or what a nuisance it is that Mom asks you the same exact question 15 times in an hour! Like it or not, though, negative emotions are integral to our existence.
Reluctance to share your caregiving-related aggravation with a friend who very well may NOT know how you feel can be a logical defense mechanism. However, your anger can motivate you to take action! Author Matthew Hutson says that anger can boost your confidence and give you the necessary strength and resolve. There’s a lot of shame in feeling negative feelings that arise from caregiving. These emotions, however, allow us to trust one another.
It’s okay to create a new circle of friends made up of community and support systems. As a caregiver, you need predictability (not ambiguity) about whom you can talk to and count on for help. Does your community offer help and social support? Spiritual support? Recreation and respite? Information support? Seek it out and take advantage! If you don’t know where to begin, a geriatric care manager can help.
ALWAYS check on your own health. Seek professional help if you:
• Feel depressed, physically sick or hopeless.
• Feel like hurting yourself or hurting or yelling at the person you care for.
• Depend too heavily on alcohol or recreational drugs.
• Fight with your spouse, children, stepchildren, or other family members and friends.
• No longer take care of yourself.
Your story and struggles give you meaning and empower you to face the problems of caregiving head-on. Allow your emotional discomfort to inspire problem solving.
A geriatric care manager may not know how you feel, but we do understand the stress, guilt, and even the frustration. You are NOT alone.