New Caregivers in Crisis: Getting Back Control of Your Life

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Suddenly becoming a caregiver has a major impact on your life. A life-changing moment can happen in the blink of an eye. When this moment involves a parent who suddenly can no longer care for themselves – following a stroke, Alzheimer's diagnosis, cancer, etc. -- how do we prepare to handle our seniors' rapidly changing needs?

If you are a new caregiver, ask yourself these questions: Are you in crisis caring for someone you love? Is your life spinning out of control? Have you lost touch with family and friends? Worse – have you lost your self -esteem? Do you feel like your world has been rocked and wracked? Has your reality changed into a nightmare?

You are not alone! And you don't have to live this way. Most caregivers did not plan for this journey. Truthfully, most were just thrown unsuspectingly into it. If you're like I was, perhaps you thought, "How hard can this be?" We cannot be prepared for what is coming our way, and if you forgot to plan, or you didn't have time to plan and you suddenly became a caregiver overnight, then it's easy to see why your life has become out of control. It is common for most caregivers to stay in crisis and live each day wondering…what is going to happen next? For many caregivers, they don't take the time to evaluate if their lives are in crisis. Why is that? Too scary? Not enough time for yourself? Too busy? What are the reasons? If you can relate to any of this, it's time to get your life in order. It's time begin managing caregiving from a new empowered place.

Your life is in crisis if….

  • You have stopped seeing friends and family
  • You have stopped doing social activities
  • You've used up your vacation time and sick leave days
  • You can't sleep even though you are exhausted
  • You are gaining or losing weight for no reason
  • You have lost your sense of humor
  • Your health is failing
  • You're happiest just staying in bed
  • You have no energy
  • Your marriage is suffering
  • You have too many bouts of depression
  • You have lost your perspective on the beauty and joy of living
  • You feel like you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders

If you answered "yes" to even three of these, you need to take action.

New caregiver to empowered caregiver

The goal is to become empowered in your role and this begins with you. The caregiving journey is about you. It's not about all of the things you have to do and the challenges that present themselves. It's about the value you place on yourself. It's possible that it may take you some time to wrap your head around this concept. After all, you've been giving everything you have to someone else. There's nothing left to give to you. It may even be that you have to step completely out of your comfort zone and ask for professional help. Sometimes one hour of concentrated help can make all the difference in the world. Maybe this doesn't work for you. Just think about it. Is there a benefit for you? What is your life worth? What is your time worth? What is your self-esteem worth? Just think about it.

How new caregivers can avoid crisis caregiving

There are very clear ways to change the course of crisis caregiving. It won't happen overnight, but it will happen if you make the decision to be a part of the care plan. Practical tips for making the plan:

  • Understand that you must be at the top of the pyramid.
  • It's okay to say no to a loved one. Be kind, yet firm.
  • You must have time off at least twice a week.
  • Do something frivolous, crazy, fun, exciting or….do something quiet and peaceful.
  • Call your friends and family and tell them that you are sorry for losing contact. Ask for their understanding and maybe even their help.
  • Set boundaries and limits that you will keep. Then, keep them.
  • Make a vow to eat healthy and delicious food that fuels your body.
  • Get busy making plans to bring others into the caring process. Find a relative, adult day care, a home care agency – whatever works for you.
  • Create a master plan that gives you some time off.
  • Accept your own limitations and stop trying to fix everything.
  • And above all else, honor yourself for the ultimate act of caring for another.

Caregiving is a selfless journey that only a very compassionate person with a kind heart takes on. Give yourself credit for stepping up. Many wouldn't (you probably know some – perhaps even family). Caregiving isn't easy, it is often not pleasant and you probably won't get much thanks from others. But know that you are making a difference in the life of someone who can no longer care for themselves.

Cindy Laverty is a Caregiver Coach and Founder of The Care Company, an online support website for family caregivers. Through programs, coaching and products, Cindy is dedicated to empowering family caregivers.

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35 Comments

Thank you for this article. Let's see, I have stopped seeing friends and family (seeing family is painful because they stopped calling and visiting), I am trying to get out at least once a week with my husband (but sometimes the depression is overpowering), I have lost 24 pounds since this journey began 7 months ago, I have lost my sense of humor but I am trying so hard to get it back, and yes, I want to pull the covers over my head, my family is suffering because I am no longer who I used to be or rather they can't have all of me like before with the exception of my husband..he places no demands (funny how I forget about myself), I struggle to find beauty in a day but it is snowing outside so maybe spring will help a lot, and yes, the world is on my shoulders...but when I think of facing mom and placing her in a home, I get sick inside because I love her. I resent her but I love her. I wish she would acknowledge this burden on me. She knows it exists but she tells me over and over and over, "I am no problem...I just sit here." Well, that is a problem.

Tonight I fell asleep SO HARD on the sofa after I prepared and ate dinner. I was in one of those sick, drunk-like sleeps but I kept hearing my name in the distance...it was mom...she wanted something sweet to eat. Right beside her on her table were several granola bars and even her favorite--a Butterfinger. She never saw it.
But she won't take no for an answer! :(

I didn't serve what she wanted for dinner one saturday and it "ruined" her evening. She didn't get melodramatic about it but her tone of voice and body language spoke volumes. Of her 21 meals per week, I prepare about 14 of 'em and it's usually what she requests (she usually makes her own lunch) but for the next couple of days it was if all those "yesses" got sucked into a black hole.

Many times it's been implicit that I am to be at her beck and call. Some days are much worse than others. I hate it when she calls my name, which in that context I think of as "the D-word." (That's my initial). It's hard not to get crabby because regardless of her difficult personality she doesn't deserve to be crabbed at.

I work a 20-hour-a-week job and in a way I don't have time for that (but I need the money) and don't get enough sleep. What's the #1 reason I don't want to fall asleep at the wheel and never wake up again? I like my car too much. No wait, that's #2 behind not wanting other(s) to get hurt. What are the top reasons I am NOT suicidal? I might survive only to face: 1) astronomical hospital bills, 2) "therapy" in which I'm told what's wrong with the way I think, 3) profound permanent disability.

Some folks try to encourage me with compliments that imply I'm her hero. I'm now looking for a replacement hero.
I am in this same situation....mom has lived with us over 2 years now and lived with my sister for about a year (mom drove her litterally insane) the dementia has gotten sooooo bad and is progressing rapidly. She is taking off her incontinece pads at night wetting the bed and then nights she doesn't take them off waking me almost hourly because she is afraid she will wet....she will NOT do a POA we finally got her to do a mangement trust she paid for it and signed the paperwork but when it came time for her to sign the signature cards at the bank to get everything i the name of the trust....OH NO she wasn't going to do that. So she lives in MY home we have people come in 3 days a week from 8:30 to 4:30 and my sister comes 2 days a week to sit with her ( I work a full time job) it is dangerous for her to be by herself since last February she has fallen 16 times that we know of (she even has a walker and still falls) she can NOT cook I have to have everything prepared every day for her meals for them to just warm up. She was never th warm fuzzy loving mom always the controling mom. Now it has gotten even worse she is so very hateful talking to me and my sister. My husband of 6 yrs listens to her talk to the cargivers and it irratates him how she is so nice to them but talks to my sister and myself like dogs. As for guardian ship like the other one said it is almost impossible to obtain and VERY COSTLY. I'm at at point of looking into nursing homes I can't keep this up I'm 61 and would like to enjoy what life I have left. She has some money so would have to be a private pay untill her money runs out and it would within a year....then they would have to put her on some kind of assistant. She says she will never go on Medicaid she has never been on it and never will. I keep trying to tell her at some point she will have no choice. It is so sad she thought she had everything taken care of by having us on her checking account as signers and her will etc etc....she just did not realize how important it is to let someone help as you get older and how important to give them the tools so they don't get in trouble by trying to help. Like I said I'm about to go under for the 3rd time and I don't intend to let her do this to me....I have to start taking care of me as do the rest of us.