It’s 2am and you’re in the ER. Your mother has fractured her pelvis. You get the diagnosis your husband has cancer. Your dad has wandered off and you can’t find him–nobody has to tell you he has Alzheimer’s–you already know. Any of these circumstances can throw you to the deep end of the caregiver freak-out pool. I know what it looks like and feels like. You feel numb and alert at the same time. You eyes get this wild look. A thousand thoughts and feelings bombard you and you can’t turn them off. Your life–as it was five minutes ago–is over.
I don’t think caregiver freak-out can be avoided. Bad things happen. Accidents, diseases, falls…life is a landmine. How we react is in large part biological. We go into a kind of shock. Adrenaline floods our systems. Our brains are on fire with everything from confusion to regret. The cocktail of panic, dread, worry, tenderness and loss is part of our jouney.
The problem is, you can’t (or rather shouldn’t) stay in caregiver freak-out.
You’ll make yourself sick–and you won’t be any good to anyone.
Yet how do you break the cycle?
You’re stuck at the hospital or rehab for weeks on end. Your loved one may need tests or surgeries. You have to call everyone you know and give them “the news,” replaying all the details again and again. You face more changes. Perhaps it’s a wheelchair, or a care facility, or they need to move in with you. Family members come together to figure out what to do.
Your world has changed. You used to get up and go to work or run your errands. Now you make doctor appointments, set up physical therapy visits, get to know your pharmacist on a first-name basis. You’re buying bedpans and meal supplements. Your loved one is in pain or they’re confused and no matter what you do you can’t seem to get it all done, relieve the pain, or comfort the one you love.
You live in a perpetual state of sorrow and dread. Your spouse, your parent, your family member or dear friend is sick, really sick. They’re going to die. You can’t bring yourself to sit five seconds with that thought. You don’t know how to be with someone who is dying. You don’t know what it will be like. There’s so much you don’t know so you stay busy. Crazy busy. And although you never say it aloud something in you believes that if you do enough, care enough, try hard enough..you can prevent what’s to come.
So you take up residence in caregiver freak-out land.
You didn’t realize you changed your zip code, but you did.
Your world, your thoughts, your body and spirit barely resemble who you were. You’ve thrown everything and I mean everything you’ve got into caregiving.
But there’s a whisper behind you. You’re running scared.
I know this because I lived this. My mother had Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and heart disease and I was her only child. She needed me and I did everything I could to make her feel safe, to comfort her, to outrun death. I know that awful feeling and I’m not going to offer three tips or anything like that. I hope to share in the next few blogs that is is possible to slowly but not easily possible to move past this initial phase–and why it’s a little like moving into a nuclear missile testing site–perhaps not the safest address in town.