November is Family Caregivers Month.
By Mimi B. Kraus, LCSW-C, JCS Therapy Services
When you are middle aged and in the prime of your life, working and raising your family, the first of the dark clouds may come rolling in. These can take the forms of a sudden heart attack, the beginning of a chronic illness, a cancer diagnosis, or a need for surgery. Care may be needed and provided, but full recovery is often within reach.
Later in life, as your energies begin to wane and you start to slow down, is generally the time that more serious physical illnesses and disabilities emerge. The extra level of daily care for your spouse or partner can become tedious, taxing your body and your spirit as well.
Taking care of someone close to you over a period of time can be difficult and painful, leading to feelings of burn-out, resentment, and even depression. Just when your reserves of energy are lower, you find yourself being called upon more urgently. However, providing care can also be meaningful, rewarding and fulfilling. What can often make a crucial difference depends on the kinds of resources and support you find, as well as on your own coping skills, outlook and attitude.
Resources and Support
A chronically ill or disabled person may need adaptive equipment and frequent doctor’s visits and treatments. Resources such as help with transportation or respite care are crucial. Asking others for help is not easy – neither for the caregiver nor the partner. Sometimes the ill person does not want outside help; this means that he or she is asking the partner to assume the entire burden. But when you do ask others, you may find that many people are happy to be helpful.
In addition, supportive organizations such as the American Cancer Society, Alzheimers Association, and American Diabetes Association can provide crucial information and help, including financial resources. On-line forums and chat rooms can also provide useful information and mitigate loneliness that comes with being more home-bound. It is really important for caregivers to seek the support of friends and family. A therapist can also help you to maintain a healthy emotional balance. Visit www.jcsbaltimore.org to learn more about Jewish Community Services’ counseling and other resources.
Coping Skills, Outlook, and Attitude
We humans tend to label experiences as good or bad. Labeling an experience as bad is not helpful because it contributes to a negative outlook. Looking at a situation as challenging instead of bad will help you mobilize and develop new coping and problem-solving skills.
- Stay in the present; worrying about the future only leads to stress, anxiety, or depression.
- Find a balance between caregiving responsibilities and the rest of your life, so you can recharge your energy and then provide better care.
- Notice when you begin to feel irritable and resentful, and take some time for yourself. Plan things regularly that you enjoy doing.
Caring for your partner can deepen feelings of love and intimacy. Personal care given in a loving way can increase feelings of closeness. Your partner who is ill is often vulnerable, and you may be vulnerable too, as together you confront issues of illness, disability, and mortality. The most meaningful human connections arise from the most vulnerable places. Loving touch, communication, and emotional sharing can become part of a deeply cherished mutual experience.
To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.