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Caregiving Reality

When Emotions Weigh Us Down

Sadness Weighs Down

credit: Yogesh Mhatre

Emotions are powerful things. They can make us feel like we are on the highest of heights, or the deepest of depths. I have walked those paths. I have felt darkness, aloneness, and grief that rose like a monstrous wave to consume me. I have felt like a weak pathetic thing abused and tossed about by my own emotions.

If you haven’t yet, you will feel those things too. One day. Probably one day soon.

Being a caregiver of any kind is a very emotional role to occupy. Those who wish to avoid emotional roller coasters need not apply. On any given day a caregiver can face the best and the worst of emotions. Oh how we cherish the emotional sunbeams, but so often it can seem like caregiving for a sick person is filled with a lot more of the bad feelings than the good.

When I was caring for my grandparents I face some very hard emotional times. That is the neat and tidy way of summing up a hurricane of feelings. There were the simple bad days when someone was sick, had to make an emergency trip to the hospital, or was just incredibly disagreeable. Blah. Those days could be hard. But even harder for me were the periods of time (days, weeks, or even months) where ugly feelings hung over me like a cloud that wouldn’t go away. In those bleak times it could feel like I wouldn’t make it through, and that I had seen my last happy day.

No Smiling Day

credit: Alan Cleaver

Ugly feelings are bad because they make us feel wretched, but they also have the insidious effect of distorting our perception of reality. So often we don’t even realize this latter effect is even happening. As a caregiver, falling into the trap of believing that our emotions are accurately reflecting the world can have disastrous results. We feel something negative–and then we think it is true just because we felt it.

For example:

  • We feel like a failure so we think that we are a failure
  • We feel like what we are doing is meaningless and so we think it is meaningless
  • We feel like we can’t go on, and so we think that we can’t go on.
  • We feel worthless and so we think that we are worthless
  • We feel like the journey will never end, and so we think that it will never end.

The list could go on and on. As a caregiver I have felt many such things–every caregiver does. We can’t escape those feelings–it is part of the caregiving journey, part of the battle. But the real danger is when we start believing that because we feel those ugly things they must be true; “I feel like a terrible caregiver. I must be a terrible caregiver.”

The first step to escaping that trap is recognizing that our feelings do not define reality. We feel many things in life–and some of them are true and some are not. It is no different from the fact that we think many things in life–and some of those things we think are true and some are not. We have to deal with our emotions, but we don’t have to accept that they are defining the truth of the world.

In this struggle it is immensely helpful to have trusted people in your life with whom you can safely share you feelings. If you have a good friend to whom you can go and tell them how you feel like a failure as a caregiver, and that everything you have done is meaningless–well, that friend is not caught in the middle of those feelings like you. They can shine a light into the dark storm of emotion you are facing. Like a lighthouse on the shore of a ink black night, they can bring clarity and a different perspective. A hand holding yours will help you navigate those emotions that say you can’t go on.

Sometimes, the first step to being set free from those strangling emotions is to voice them. And sometimes what we need is to have another person who knows what we are going through, and is standing beside us.

Emotions can weigh us down. But they are not the end of the story. When your feelings overwhelm you and it feels like you are about to drown in despair–remember that the darkness you feel is not the end. There is light, if you will seek it.

Are you struggling with emotional storms in your caregiving journey? Share your story in the comments below.

A good hug

credit: Tania Cataldo

2 comments… add one
  • Cindy September 6, 2015, 1:28 pm

    Hi Rundy! Sometimes it feels that the muddled bubble of caregiving we live in is a slow motion dance with death and our emotions seem to get stuck in there with it, while the world around us is spinning furiously out of control as well, which only adds to our stress. For me, if I didn’t ground myself in my faith, I would never make it through a day. Thank you for reminding us that often what we feel is not who we are, and that there is life after caregiving. It was so good to see you smiling on that mountain, enjoying life again!

  • Denise France November 1, 2015, 1:47 am

    I’m enjoying your articles they help me threw the ruff days I enjoyed your book. My journey has it highs and lows sometimes it seems I can do or say anything right. I just take it one day at a time.

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