When I needed to get things done for mom and dad I was so singularly on task that I would go at doing what needed to be done for them for however long it took until there would be a break in the action. I think there were times when I had an out of body experience almost when I had to do some very hard things. There would be an emergency and I’d take a deep breath and part of me would step back while the other would dive right in. I saw blood, pain, sadness, wounds, amputations, injuries, and eventually death and didn’t whine, whimper, cry, or even bat an eye when I was in the moment.
I once stared down a doctor who got snippy with me about a wound my dad had that wasn’t healing from his diabetes. I was questioning if amputation was really necessary; was there any other way. He pulled back the dressing and – well I won’t say what I saw but it wasn’t pretty – thinking it would just make me squeal like a little girl. At that moment part of me stepped behind me and cringed while the other part of me was quite deadpan. The amputation had to be done but I wasn’t going to let dad sign a thing until I was totally convinced there was no other way. When it came to taking care of my parents I was a force to be reckoned with; no room or time to wimp out.
But what about when those moments were over? Between emergencies I was in a constant state of stand-by. Never turned off my phone, would be hesitant to go on vacation, neglected to feed myself sometimes, developed panic attacks which I never had before, had irregular sleeping habits, and sometimes would have bursts of anger and/or tears out of nowhere. I don’t recall having any nightmares but I did have some oddball dreams once in awhile. When my care giving days were over I sat there in a fog wondering what was I going to do now. I had been so focused on my job as a caregiver that even though there was a sigh of relief over not having to do it anymore and that my parents were no longer suffering; I was lost. I almost missed doing it and actually felt useless.
Even now when I see, read, hear of, or talk to someone about care giving or Alzheimer’s or diabetes I have a bit of a inner twitch; it pings memories. I acknowledge those feelings and then they fade away – most of the time – unless it’s just one of those days where something as simple as an old picture or seeing a mother and daughter out together for lunch sets me off and I fight back the tears…or just cry and cry. And I won’t even mention the panic that seizes me sometimes when I can’t remember where I put the keys, someones name, a word, or why did I just walk into this room. I have to go through my training and tell myself “You know the difference between just momentary forgetfulness and dementia, calm down!”
Being a caregiver takes a lot out of you. You are taking care of someone but who is there to take care of you? We all need help sometimes and there is no shame in asking for or seeking out help. In fact it’s one of the best and smartest things you can do; nothing embarrassing about admitting you need help.