I will speak candidly about my personal experience with the subject matter.
Let me continue by saying that after reading the guidelines from the American Psychiatric Association website page titled ‘Words Matter: Reporting on Mental Health Conditions’, I will do my best to not offend anybody as my intention is to share knowledge and help people connect with resources to help keep everyone involved feeling physically strong, mentally stable and emotionally supported.
Living with any type of mental health concern, such as a medically diagnosed mental health condition requiring a physician’s continuous care, Alzheimer’s, Dementia or Traumatic Brain Injury (‘TBI’) can be a literal hell on earth.
Everyone knows someone who has a loved one living with some type of mental health concern. As our society is aging, those people born in the 1950’s, and earlier, are now entering the end stages of their human life cycle. Bodies and minds are starting to deteriorate and shut down.
Recently, my Uncle was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In speaking to my Aunt on the phone today, I could hear in her voice how frustrated she is at how different things have become in such a short period of time. They have been married over 45 years and have been through many good and bad times, but this challenge is something brand new and awful.
When I got off the phone, all I could visualize was my Uncle not being able to operate the television remote. She had been through it with him countless times. She had written it down and left it in a very visible place, but he still couldn’t figure it out. I can’t imagine the anguish he must feel at not being able to accomplish a simple, routine task he had done for decades without thought.
My uncle is in his mid-80’s and a highly decorated and high-ranking retired Officer of the Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry, Canadian Armed Forces. He commanded and trained countless troops of men and women to prepare for war, yet he now can’t figure out how to change the channel. I gotta say it – growing old is no holiday.
Watching a loved one age or mentally and physically deteriorate is an incredibly emotional experience to go through. No one in the immediate circle of the affected person goes untouched. Caregivers and spouses can become overwhelmed with the changes not only in personality and behaviors, but in what was simple, everyday routine.
Many caregivers, especially women, kick into overdrive and are able to pile their elderly and failing parent or family member onto their pile of things to worry about and be responsible for. The days become longer getting filled up with people to visit, doctors to talk to, appointments to make, kids and pets to look after, work to go to, housework to be done and for the love of mercy, could someone else please cook dinner tonight!
Ask any one of these caregivers if they take time for themselves. Nine times out of ten, the response is “I’m too busy. I’m okay. I’m fine.” Ask a caregiver if they have reached out to a friend or family member for a break. The response usually is “They are too busy. They have lives/kids/jobs. I’m fine – it’s not that bad.” Don’t even think about talking about the noticeable increase in alcohol or drug consumption. Everything is just peachy keen, thank you very much.
Pride goeth before a fall; or something like that. I know the path of “I’m fine. I’m okay.” is a dangerous one to go down. I have watched the mental and emotional crash happen from a few angles, including my own experiences and perspectives.
My Aunt was the primary caregiver for my Grandmother who had Schizophrenia since, well, forever. My Gram’s Schizophrenia was joined with early stage Dementia right before her passing. There is a big difference between the two diagnosis.
These two particular medical conditions scare all of us in my family because we have watched what it does to a person. It is terrifying to think we might go through it someday, too. Now, my Aunt has to care for her ailing, dearly loved husband. She can’t catch a break.
I was the caregiver to my Mother after she collided with a car and her brain was severely damaged. My Aunt and I had no time to support each other. All we could do was tag-team and hope for the best in the 10 years between the accident and my mother’s death. My mother was only 54 years young.
Writing this article has made me a bit sad realizing that my entire family, on both my Mother and Father’s sides, has suffered with the long term effects of mental illness and family cyclic dysfunction and addiction.
Sometimes I deeply question my sanity and motives. Now, I guess, I can lighten up a bit. I’m as ‘normal’ as I am going to get. If my genetics and family history are a somewhat reliable indication, I might as well enjoy the ride while I can still remember I am on it.
If you have gotten this far and you are, or you know, someone who is a caregiver for anyone that is experiencing mental health concerns, One Perspective welcomes your advice on self-care and offers a safe place to share your story with others.
What do you do to keep you mentally and emotionally balanced? What was your first step to reach out for help? Are you thinking about asking for help for yourself or someone else? What do you find are the biggest challenges in caring for a loved one or yourself?
No matter where a person lives, there are always social agencies that can help with all manner of things to make life a little easier while dodging the maze of mental health services. Sometimes, all it takes is the commitment to go to a Yoga class once a week. When the responsibilities get to be too much, bigger and more support based help is needed.
My biggest message to anyone that is burning the candle at both ends trying to keep and stay on top of things is to go ahead and say things like ‘Hey! I’m a little damn tired and overwhelmed over here!’, ‘Would it be okay if I could sit down and read a book for an hour?’, ‘Can someone else watch mom/dad/grandparent/child for a couple hours so I can go escape into a movie or go shopping or go (insert activity here)?’
People would be surprised at the wonders a nice, long, hot bath can do to relax and rejuvenate the mind, body and spirit.
Self care is as important as caring for the one experiencing the medical condition. I wish I had of taken more care of myself when I was caring for my mother, my Gram, my husband, my friends – everyone, except me. There is no shame in reaching out to get some ‘me’ time.
Remember to be kind to yourself. Eat some chocolate. Take a nice long bath. Read a book. Ask for help. Know that you are not alone in your journey and there will always be people and services to help you when you are ready to ask for their assistance.