What is the difference between a healthy caregiver and a loving family member? Unless a family member approaches caregiving with a commitment to care for their own health FIRST, they will become an unhealthy caregiver and potentially, in the case of marriage, a soon-to-be ex-family member. How does this happen? I went from loving wife to mother to jailor. I did this, not him. While my intentions may have been laudable, my actions were based on fear, fear that he would “die” on my watch. Clearly there was a little ego in my actions, as well.
Mary Robinson Reynolds named my failure this way, “If a chick is helped out of its shell, it will die. If a butterfly is helped out of it’s cocoon, it will die. The gift, or the service you can provide to humanity is to let the struggle take place, as with your own struggle to not over-do or over-give for people. Miracles happen when people get so in touch with their desires that they start asking for what they want. When they do this, they start sending new vibrations out. Miracles happen when we decide it’s OK to not struggle or suffer any more. There is nothing valiant about suffering.” And I suffered because I did not ask for what I wanted. I did not ask for help… I struggled with where Bill ended and I began. And today, I know that what I experienced is normal and I have forgiven myself for my failure to cope.
If you have any doubt about the “normalcy” of my failure to cope, consider these statements from experts in the field.
- Suzanne Mintz, president and co-founder of the National Family Caregivers Association, states that “Spousal family caregivers' risk of depression is six times greater than that of non-caregivers... And, they are less likely to reach out for help... To protect their health… family caregivers to spread the work load. Caregiving is much more than a one-person job... Often… caregivers do not want to ask for or take help..." (2/10/08 HealthDay News).
- Adults who care for a sick or disabled family member “often have medical problems of their own, lack health insurance and are stressed by medical bills. 45 percent of the caregivers have one or more chronic health problems, compared to 24% of those who are not caregivers. It looks like they are having a difficult time." (8/24/05 HealthDay News).
- "The added responsibility that someone has after a loved one leaves the hospital can lead to feelings of isolation, increase depression, and make them not eat as well as they should," explained lead researcher Dr. Lori Mosca, director of preventive cardiology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City.
- “Depression often helps boost the health risks associated with caregiving... In fact, measures of psychological strain were significantly higher among study participants with depression and low social support, she said. We don't know if high caregiving strain leads to depression, or if depression increases the sense of strain." (3/12/08 HealthDay News).
What did I learn from my caregiving experience?
What can I share with others who have or will experience caring for a family member or friend? If you take apart the word, “stress,” from which we surely suffer, there are answers for us all.
- Nobody is super man or super woman. We all have feet of clay and need help when we move into situations like this that are so far outside our experience base.
- There are organizations that can help you sort through these issues. Check out www.hospitalstayhandbook.com for a list.
- Caregiving statistics repeatedly predict the pattern I experienced, with the same outcome - death of relationship and/or disability/death of care provider.