When the better in "for better or worse" seems terrifyingly far away, how can you limit the time you spend focusing on the worse?
"You're such an amazing person—I could never do what you do! I admire you so much."
As a caregiver, you might hear similar comments. Sometimes you might appreciate the compliment and acknowledge the recognition. Other times, you might be profoundly relieved that no one can read your mind and discover your less-than-admirable thoughts. Our home health aides and private-duty nurses at Partners in Care, an affiliate of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, encounter this mental struggle all the time.
The longer you spend as a caregiver, the more likely you are to experience emotions and thoughts that you're reluctant to admit, even to yourself. Your friends and family are having a great time with their spouses — and it isn't the travel or the adventures you envy. They have conversations. They have dinner together. They have sex. You, on the other hand, spend your days with someone who might not know which day it is, can't lift a fork or roll over, or has morphed into a violent, nasty stranger. You're lonely, you're resentful, you're terrified that this won't end any time soon and you're overwhelmed with guilt when you realize there's pretty much only one way it will end.
How do you get out of the vicious cycle? Take a cue from the mantra that school kids learn during fire-safety week: Stop, drop and roll.
Stop: When you start thinking, "why did this happen" or "if only," interrupt yourself. No matter how obsessively you contemplate it, you will never find a satisfactory answer to, "Why us?" If you can't give your thoughts a rest, set a timer for five minutes. When it goes off, tell yourself to stop worrying, then set the timer for another five minutes. This time, find one positive thing in your life. If you can't think of anything good right now, simply focus on breathing calmly and remind yourself that even though it's pouring rain, for example, at least you won't have to water the garden.
Drop: Are you keeping up a façade? Drop it. If you pretend to family and friends that you're doing well and everything's okay, you're not going to get the support you need. You're in a situation where the person you married is both wonderfully familiar yet drastically different. You're losing the person you love, and it's important for your mental and physical health that you maintain relationships with others. If you can't get out easily, pick up the phone or stay in contact via Skype, Facebook or online chat services like AIM.
Roll: Your life will continue to change as your loved one's illness progresses. In the same way that a coach teaches athletes to fall properly to minimize injury, seek out therapists, mentors or friends who have been through similar situations and can help you develop the flexibility you'll need to roll with life's punches and stay mentally and physically healthy.