All Caregivers Have Angry Days


Caregivers all have days where they experience different emotions. Our emotions on any given day can range from happy, sad, compassionate, angry, frustrated, depressed—you name it. We've all had those days.

Today I'm having an angry day.

Maybe it's from lack of sleep for the past few nights; perhaps it's just that things build up until I have a day when my anger gets the best of me without any single reason.

Here are the things I'm angry about today:

  • I'm angry that this man I love has become so helpless.
  • I'm angry that he watches TV until 1:00 a.m. and sleeps most of the day.
  • I'm angry that he goes to bed without turning off the TV.
  • I'm angry that it's a fight to get him to shower at least once a week.
  • I'm angry that he drinks too much, compounding his memory problems.
  • I'm angry that he can't remember what I told him five minutes ago.
  • I'm angry that he loses things – TV remote, wallet, car keys.
  • I'm angry that he forgets he mustn't flush the Wet Ones and plugs up the toilet.
  • I'm angry that it takes him 45 minutes to get moving in the morning.
  • I'm angry that he is so slow that we are late for everything.
  • I'm angry at a society that keeps our bodies alive while our brains turn to mush.
  • I'm angry at the researchers who haven't found a way to contain the problem.

The list could go on and on. But most of all, I'm angry at myself for getting short tempered and out of patience with him and everyone else.

I have to remind myself, as Ethel Thayer (Katherine Hepburn) said in the movie On Golden Pond, "He's doing the very best he can." Much as I try to curb my anger and not let it show, I find myself being curt, evasive, snippy and sometimes, just plain nasty when I let the anger take over.

Charlie doesn't deserve that.

Our loved ones with dementia don't deliberately act out or "forget" things on purpose. And until they are in the later stages of dementia, with no control of their thought processes, they regret their actions and inability to cope with life just as much as those around them.

So, I try to remind myself of the things Charlie still does that mean a lot to me.

He still carries out the garbage, fills the humidifier, pumps the gas for the car (when he can remember how to operate the pump), fills the bird feeder and, best of all, he serves as my "watchdog" while I do the driving. He's saved me from a few close calls.

When I get angry I remind myself of the things he can still do and try not to think about the days ahead when things will only get worse.

If you are having an "angry" day, try not to feel guilty; just strive to keep it under control. We all have them; they are a natural part of the caregiving process.

After all – none of us are saints.

Marlis describes herself as a “Gramma who loves technology and has a lot to say.” She blogs about whatever catches her interest: food, books, family and more. For, she writes about the issues facing the elderly and her experiences caring for her husband, Charlie, who suffers from dementia.

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Thank you for this article on anger. That was one of the very toughest issues for me in my caregiving and about which I have the most guilt and regret, as I frequently got nasty and ugly. The emotional drain of caregiving should never be underestimated. I tried hard to get a lot of support and help and take care of myself emotionally, but I still got burnout and compassion fatigue. I also realized that my anger was covering up layers of sadness, fear and grief related to all the constant losses as my wife lost more and more functioning. This is from Caregiver Carols: a Musical, Emotional Memoir:
I knew my words were often hateful, sometimes even vile.
I didn’t know the reasons why ‘cause I was in denial.

I didn’t realize my anger covered up my grieving,
For all the losses in my life: my wife who’s slowly leaving.

I wish I’d been aware of this and maybe then not blow it,
But you can’t know what you don’t know, until at last you know it.

A frog will stay put in a pan with slowly rising heat.
He doesn’t know his goose is cooked until you’ve fried his feet.
A cozy cage is hard to vacate, ‘least not for awhile.
You don’t get out ‘cause you don’t know you’re stuck in deep denial.

I saw how I was acting mean, not usually my style.
I didn’t see the reasons why ‘cause I was in denial.

I wasn’t clear my ugliness had camouflaged my grief,
For losing my dear wife to to strife from her disabling thief.

I wish I’d had more insight here and maybe then not flee it,
But you can’t see what you don’t see, until at last you see it.

A closed-up idling car’s exhaust can slowly hurt your head.
You don’t know you’re in fatal slumber ‘til you wake up dead.

A snuggy snare is tough to leave, it doesn’t vex or rile.
You don’t get out until you see you’re stuck in deep denial.
I just wish more people understood this. We are all only human, we have bad days and good days, and sometimes we get overwhelmed. In my case, my parents are allowed to be mean, nasty, hateful and childish, but if I have one day where I simply do not feel good, or get frustrated, angry or even sad I'm treated as though I'm this terrible person for not being super upbeat and cheerful around everyone I come in contact with, or like I'm supposed to not have feelings at all, no matter the situation. I'm glad you wrote this, maybe it will help more people feel less guilt about having some very human emotions during a very difficult time in our lives.
Thank you for addressing this topic, Marlis! I let my anger overflow and spill out today when I was with my mom. I've been sitting here ever since under feeling tremendous guilt and shame for having let my mom see me mad like that. Care giving takes a physical toll, but in my case, the emotional toll is far worse.