A Plea for Caregivers Who Think They Are Invincible
Thursday, July 13, 2017
When is enough just enough and when is it too much? How can the habit of invincibility kill us? This is all going though my mind as the son of a close friend grapples with his choices and his health at a hospital in a mental ward.
Nurturing loved ones can be an honor and a privilege. As young people we think we are invincible. We work a job, or two, go to college and party all night. A toll is exacted and we learn to moderate and to simplify our lives. However, what if that choice is taken from us by innocent and not so innocent loved ones that rely on us.
Caregiver burnout is more dangerous than many people realize. Risks occur for both the loved one and the caregiver. Agitation, frustration, overwhelming exhaustion, and health problems are all common for caregivers. Unintended consequences can be harsh words, passive ignoring of requests, neglect or even unintended abuse.
Other loved ones may miss the signals that grandma's dementia is getting worse and the caregiver is exhausted. Because, frankly, they don't want to see it. Also, the caregiver wants to express their love by nurturing the whole family. They want to be seen as strong and capable.
So what happens when more and more responsibility is piled on and support structures start disappearing? The day job that was a joy is now not only work, but drudgery and backbreaking. The spouse refuses to help in any way or compromise their activities. The caregiver works all day at a typical job, pays all the bills, cleans the house, works on the yard and cooks the meals while caring for a child that will never grow up. Their dreams of owning a business fail. A loved one who was part of their support system dies. They cannot see a way out and the activities that kept them grounded are gone. Nutrition is non-existent, because processed food is the only food they have time to eat.
Many people turn to alcohol or drugs to find relief and permission to escape their responsibilities. Others keep going till they end up in the hospital from lack of caring for their own health. In that rare instance when dark depression descends on the caregiver along with exhaustion, loss, grief, and poor health, thoughts of suicide start emerging. The caregiver is too tired to go on, thinking everyone would be better off without them being a dark miserable shadow. How do caregivers even recognize when they have hit that wall? How do they turn it around?
Some don't. Some turn to guns, to exhaust fumes, to overdoses of pills, to drowning, to hanging. It is the ultimate plea for help, for people to hear them. If the people who truly love them are listening and the caregiver is fighting the darkness with everything in their power, they may get lucky. Loved ones will catch the good bye letters on Facebook. Divine coincidences will hamper the attempts to die. Through the gloom a light or an awakening that maybe, just maybe the caregiver should call the police and ask for help to stop the suicide attempts and find a different way to escape the crushing blackness of despair.
This story isn't over and it is not a new story even if it is true. All I ask is that you look around. Identify the caregivers in your family. Learn what you can about caregiver burnout and help this person find respite and balance in their life.