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When you’re facing the possibility of being somebody’s caregiver, it’s easy to imagine that you may feel tired, afraid, or even frustrated sometimes. While caring for a loved one can be a rewarding experience, it can also cause a great deal of stress – especially while trying to manage a full-time job, children, or maintain an active social life. When that stress builds up, it can trigger some surprising, even unpleasant, emotions. These emotions are common and, just because you experience some or all of them, does not mean that you’re a bad caregiver.
Ambivalence is the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone. As an unpaid caregiver, you may waffle in your confidence or dedication. One day you’ll feel proud and encouraged and the next will leave you feeling unsure and anxious. That’s OK.
Caregiver fatigue is real. The daily physical tolls and emotional pressure that comes with caring for another person can build up and eventually overflow. You might be short with the person you’re caring for. You might even raise your voice. And, afterwards, you may feel guilty as a result. Anger is a perfectly normal reaction in stressful situations. Keep in mind that you’re a flawed, frightened, and most likely exhausted human being who is trying your best – so learn to forgive yourself and learn some healthy ways to cope.
This is by no means an excuse for elder abuse. If you suspect that your anger may result in physical assault or emotional abuse, then you need to reassess the caregiving situation. If you believe that your loved one is receiving abuse from somebody who is also caring for them, you should consult with the proper authorities.
You might look at your friends who aren’t caregivers and wish you had all the free time that they seem to have. Some people may be able to afford lavish care facilities that attend to a loved one’s every need. Sometimes, the person you’re caring for may appear to prefer other people’s company to yours. In these kinds of situations, especially when you’re working hard to provide care for somebody, it’s natural to feel a little jealousy. This does not mean that you’re selfish.
Often following close on the heels of jealousy, resentment is a feeling of bitterness towards the person you’re caring for that comes from feeling unappreciated or like you’re being treated unfairly. You might experience the feeling of being “trapped.” At some point during the caregiving process, many caregivers ask themselves, “Why do I have to bear this burden?” You’re not alone. Caregiving is hard work, and you may need to take a night off once in a while.
Despite all the positive feelings of pride you may feel as a caregiver, no matter how close the bond that you share with your loved one, you may feel repulsed when having to deal with the messier aspects of being a caregiver. Helping a parent use the bathroom or bathe can be an uncomfortable experience for anybody. Dealing with incontinence is often jarring and nauseating. If it happens often enough, you may begin to feel like the person is doing it on purpose, just to torment you. You may simply question whether or not you have the stomach to continue these sorts of tasks. After all, the caregiving journey could last for years. Again, you’re not alone. In fact, incontinence is one of the main reasons elderly people get placed in nursing facilities.
If you find that you’re not up to the task, there are services available for hire to help you manage these issues along with a wide variety of webinars and educational materials to guide you along.
Issues like incontinence are difficult enough to deal with when they happen at home. But, when they occur in public, it adds a new level of stress. Even outside of basic bodily functions, a loved one with dementia may make inappropriate comments. Sometimes, the person you’re caring for may refuse to adhere to basic hygiene norms.
When things like this happen, it’s easy to feel responsible. You might feel like you should be able to prevent these mishaps from occurring, but you can’t. Some things are just beyond your control. When staying home isn’t an option, you may find yourself having to make apologies for your loved one. This is a common part of the caregiving journey, so when things get to be too much to handle, turn to people in similar situations for advice and support.
Ironically, spending all your waking hours caring for another human being can be an isolating experience. When your life revolves around another person, it can be difficult to maintain friendships. You’re too tired to go out, so your friends eventually call less often. You feel like you can’t talk about anything besides your caregiver struggles. This takes an emotional toll. Maintaining a close support system is vital to maintaining your mental health.
Roughly 40 - 70% of caregivers experience clinical symptoms of depression. The feelings of hopelessness can lead to problems sleeping and difficulty getting up in the morning. Some days, you’re simply going to want to cry, and that’s OK. Depression is a treatable condition, but be sure to take your health seriously. Talk to a doctor if you’re feeling depressed. Join a support group. Find a counselor. Nobody can be a caregiver alone, so ask for help.
Finally, the act of feeling the above negative emotions may make you feel cold-hearted. Simply getting lunch with a friend may trigger feelings of selfishness. Then the guilt can fuel further resentment, anger, depression, and things can easily devolve into a vicious cycle that’s difficult to break. Then, of course, there are the feelings of guilt that come should your loved one fall down or become ill. Remind yourself that you’re doing your best and remember to take time out for you and your needs.
It’s completely normal to feel some or all of these emotions. You’re not a bad caregiver, you’re not a bad person, and you’re not selfish. When they get to be too much, it’s important to talk to somebody.