Hi, I’m so happy I found this forum. I don’t know where to begin so I’ll just let it out... I’m the only child of two aging parents, and I’ve barely gotten my life started, yet I live with the constant fear of a future where I lose them much earlier than any of my peers. I know that sounds unrational but my current position in life exacerbates my anxiety. I’m a poor college kid, my family is small... very small, and it wasn’t until the last few years when my mother’s memory has started to fade and my father has become increasing sedentary and unhealthy that I realized that I could be facing a future where I need to care for them, or god.. I not even think of it—lose them. And then I would be alone. Alone in a world I’m not prepared to be helpless and isolated in. This fear has me crying to sleep some nights when my father gets a bad cold he can’t shake for months and has to spend days in bed, or when my mom can’t remember what she said to me not 5 minutes earlier.

Anyone please, I need advice on how to handle this crippling anxiety because it’s destroying me inside and affecting my ability to cope at school.

Also plz don’t be afraid to be straight with me. I need to hear the hard truths from people who understand or have experienced my situation so I can start to find some closure in how I’ll handle it.

Thanks for listening. Your advice is a blessing.

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HB, welcome!

Is there a Health Service at your college? That's the place I would start. Make an appointment and tell a counselor about your anxiety.

Anxiety has a funny way of attaching itself to anything it can. It can be sort of free floating; if you solve one issue, it will find something else for you to worry about.

Getting yourself a good talk therapist can help tremendously; sometimes we need meds to get us back on track with the issues that life's apt to throw at us.
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I would suggest therapy to get your anxiety under control. Fear of the unknown and awfulizing can cripple you.

Non of us has a crystal ball, your parent are still young, they could live another 20 years or mother is 94 and lived on her own till last month, so one never knows. I am 72, doing everything I did at 52.

Life will throw you curb balls, it is not so much the circumstance you are in, it is how you handle it...this is the have not developed the necessary coping skills that you will need to face life on its own terms.
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You will lose them sooner or later that's a fact of life, to soften that blow make sure you develop a life - people, career, home - that doesn't revolve around them.

I admit to rolling my eyes when the younger generation of our own family start on the OMG the old folks are slipping spiel - you are making a huge leap putting people in their late 60's in the same category as most of the people who need care on this forum... yes, some people do need care at a younger age but the majority of people in your parent's generation are the caregivers not the care recipients.

BTW, I lost my father when he was 74 (I was 34), but my mother managed to carry on until her 99th bday last year - you just never know what the future will bring.
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Hbust2489, Welcome! I am an only child. Older than you (52). My parents moved me 3,000 miles away from our big Italian family when I was 4. We moved around a lot, my parents shunned family and never really had close friends so I learned to be alone, a lot, independent, etc. My parents and I were a close family unit and when I was in my 20s, 30s & 40s I was terrified at the thought of losing one or both. Around age 70 (I was 40) my parents changed so much and became nasty, bitter people I hardly recognized anymore. My dad died last month at age 81, and I'm here to tell you, I'm OK! He was the better of the two, and I miss him.

At age 28, I married into a large family. In the absence of the extended family I should have had, I have embraced my husband's family over the years. Looking back, I realize that most of the guys I dated and really liked during high school & college, had big supportive families, and I guess that's something I craved. Maybe you will find that for yourself.

I have also learned to seek out a circle of friends. "Family" does not have to be blood. Friends, In-laws, whatever, you get what you give. Don't ever forget that! As an only-child I was very independent and sometimes wasn't there for friends in my 20s, and I regret that now. Work on building your own "family" network, whatever that looks like. I never had children, but that's OK, you can't live your life through your children, and it's cruel to expect a child to be your best buddy and support into old age (ask most of the people on this forum!).

Bottom line, when my parents are gone I will pretty much be an orphan in this world - no parents, no siblings, no children, but I am prepared for that, I will be OK, and I just keep up my health/strength and nurture my other connections.
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Welcome to the forum and I commend you for thinking this deeply about something many people refuse to address even in their 60s!

I'm an only child who grew up in a house with a single mom and her 2 older sisters who never married nor had kids of their own. I'm their kid. So, 3 mothers. They are currently 90 (my mom), 97 and 100. They are "old school" Italian-Americans who sacrificed their own lives to care for their mother (which made sense in this case since she spoke no English and was a widow).

It is my opinion that in general, parents with only 1 child have too much time and resources to spend on that Only. They put "too much stock" in that relationship and a culture, an expectation of the continuance of that degree of relationship never goes away from the parents' perspective (generally).

Please keep this saying close at hand: "I am not responsible for my parents' happiness." Your parents are ADULTS who absolutely have the ability to think about and plan for their future retirement years. If they are deniers about aging, that's their problem, not yours. What is your responsibility in all of it? None, really. But if you get the sense that they have an expectation that you are their retirement plan, then you need to gently disabuse them of this notion. And then don't feel guilty about it. Go on and find an awesome guy to marry, have lots of kids! That's what I did. I love having 3 kids. Wish I had more! And yes, as others have wisely advised: intentionally "shop" for worthy friends.

It grieves me to hear how much anxiety you have. My kids are 20, 26 and 29 (and I have a 9-yr old grandson). My 20-yr old tells me how much anxiety and fears his peers have. Please note that my mom said during WWII they thought the world was ending too, and it didn't. Don't worry about things that haven't happened!

"Worry ruins today and robs tomorrow of its joy.”
“Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.”
"Worrying will never change the outcome."
"Don't sweat the small stuff. P.S. It's ALL small stuff."

When I find myself worrying about something I take a small action that in some way is productive towards alleviating that worry. In your case, I'd start with the conversation with your parents about their preparedness. This may shock them, or they may be reluctant to talk about it, burden you with it, reveal their unpreparedness, etc. What I did with my in-denial in-laws was go to their home with the Power of Attorney paperwork that I downloaded at my own expense (1 set for each individual). I did this several times until I got only 1 of them to sign. There are other docs, like Medical Directive, Living Wills, etc. but durable Power of Attorney is the most important docs. Then you will have peace of mind that if anything does go south, you will at least have control to help them in important and legal ways.

Here's an idea: lead the way by example. Make a date with them and bring PoA documents for ALL of you, you included since you are over 18. And you should document your important account passwords (somewhere at some point) so that if anything happens to you, your parents can deal with all of that, or at least get into your phone and laptop. And the hope is that they will also see the importance of doing the same for you. This is sort of back-handed shaming, but hey if it works...

Finally, it is ok to be honest with them about the reality of 1 person being "expected" to care for 2 people. This is what's happening in China due to the 1-child policy. Don't let them get away with saying denier stuff like, "Oh, THAT will NEVER happen!" or "If I ever get like that just shoot me". My mom used to say that until she watched our family suffer through the dumpster fire of dealing with my in-laws. She's never said it since. I remind my mom that no one gets out of here alive... May you receive peace in your heart and hope for a bright future filled with friends, family and all the BEST life has to offer!
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Anyone who's telling you that 'crippling anxiety' is normal is wrong. It's not normal, nor is it okay to live like this when there IS help out there for you!! BarbBrooklyn has good advice about where to get started looking for help.

In 2000 I had some crippling anxiety myself and could barely function any longer. Instead of feeding myself a song and dance, I got my butt to the doctor who prescribed Paxil for me. It was like someone had flipped a switch..........taking me from sheer panic to feeling like my old self in short order.

You cannot think straight when your brain is sending you messages full of anxiety and fear. Once you're back on the road to feeling less anxious, THEN you can ask your folks what their long term retirement plans are and perhaps attend a doctor's appointment with your mom to see if she's going down the road to dementia. Being an only child, as I am, FORCES you to deal with your parents and their issues, so knowing their financial history NOW will help you deal with them LATER.

Wishing you all the best & sending you a big hug.
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I know at your age your parents seem "old" but they really aren't. I am 70. My husband still golfs when he can and takes care of the yard. We still travel and do things together. Our circle of friends are still involved in traveling, Church, and community.

Has your Mom had a good physical. There could be physical reasons for her "fading" memory. Not that there aren't people at Moms age suffering from a Dementia but she still is kind of young. Diabetes can cause memory problems. Thyroid controls a lot of the body functions. Low potassium. Dehydration. Both parents need a lab work up. I think thats where u need to start.

Once you find out how they stand physically, they and you need to plan for the future. First, get POAs in place. Hopefully Mom can assign u. Having these documents will be a big help in the future. Have your name put on their banking accts. Makes it much easier to help pay bills for them. Learn what you can about Medicaid. This will help u not make mistakes now that will effect ur parents being able to get it in the future.

A lot of caregivers jump right in not looking at their future. Once Caregiving starts it is not always easy to get out of. A number of members have moved a parent in with them or visa versa. Only to find that the parent was worse that previously thought. That their care is more than they can handle. Caregiving is hard. You give up a lot. Mostly freedom.

Your future is important. Staying home to care for parents, especially at your age, is going to effect it big time. This is the time u need to finish school and find a good job. Your SS earnings will be effected if u don't work.

You need to figure out what you are willing to do to care for your parents. With or without a POA, you don't need to physically care for your parents. What you "owe" them is to make sure they are safe, warm and fed. If that means eventually an Assisted Living or LTC, then so be it. But, if you are willing to care for your parents then know what is involved. And there r resources to help. I would have my parent put my name with any utility companies, mortgage, rent ect, so if a bill is not paid you are contacted.

Take it from one who knows, you are thinking too much. No problem having a game plan but, you really have no idea what life is going to bring. You can't plan for every possible scenario. Like said, there are counselors at school, use them. One thing you will need to learn is Boundries. What are u willing to do and not willing to do. The more your parents do for themselves the better. Don't allow them guilting you into anything you aren't comfortable with or any verbal abuse. There is help out there. Office of Aging in ur County can help.

Finally, death of a parent. We all die. You will make it without them. It will be harder for you because u will be younger than a lot of people. You need to now form hopefully lasting friendships. Have some social outlets.

If you need help, we r here. I suggest you read the other posts. It may help you.
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OK, girl. Will be straight with you. You are right where you should be. What you are going through is normal. If you seek any professional help a Licensed Social Worker who works with "life passages" could be just the ticket.
Here's where you are. You are in school, and it's scary. You know next step is career. Then what, now what, what will I do if..... and on and on your brain wants to go. And it is NORMAL to have those things banging about the brain. And it is NORMAL now to NEED to safety of "home" to know that you can run back there. Of all the passages in my life (I am 77 now) I remember this the most acutely. I had moved out at 17, had gone into the big city of Chicago, had my own room at the YWCA first, then my own small room in a brownstone, shared bath. And I NEEDED to know my parents were there for me. I later married, had a child very early (18) and a bad marriage. Needed with all my heart to know my parents were there for me. Another example, my own 18 year old daughter just out on her own when I got breast cancer and she feared to lose me. She was TERRIFIED and we often speak of it now she is 57.
So what you feel is normal. I think that what you feel is added on to by the fact your parents are (much too early and I am sorry to hear it) giving up a bit on life. It is normal to slow down. Normal to take great pleasure in putting your feet up to read, watch TV with a glass of wine. But it isn't normal to give up on life, stop getting out there and experiencing. I think that their "slowing down" is making you fearful.
Now, I will also tell you,'s a mess. I have had it all my life and always attempted to keep it at bay with a very orderly safe life. It can't be done. Now at 77 just when I was congratulating myself I am still well and can get around, my bro took a crump. And I have learned to feel HELPLESS and AFRAID all over again. Life is gonna ambush you. Make no mistake. But there is absolutely nothing you can do about that NOW and you cannot even predict where the attack will come from nor when. Some days now my poor brain goes to what the next shoe to drop will be. But truth is I cannot know.
I am going to suggest "mindfulness training" for you if you have the slightest interest. Those of us attacked by our own poor brain's constant stirring the stew of life, hystericalizing what "could happen" need to have training in how to occupy ourselves. Whatever is a zen for us. Ironing? sewing? drawing? walking or running. Whatever gets us out of the poor hammering of our heads.
Make a list. Here's everything I am afraid of today. Heck, I can even add the water heater might spring a leak. Then leave the list behind and live that day as fully as you are able. You will deal with things as they happen. You WILL DEAL. Make friends. Not friends who you lay all this luggage out for, but friends who will BE THERE if you need them. *(I own I am not especially GOOD at making friends; next life I will do better at that one).
I wish you so much luck. Stop beating yourself up about worrying because when you are not worrying you will tend to want to beat yourself up instead. You are living life. All this? All this is life, and you are just at the beginning of what I hope will be happy and full. Make no mistake you will get hit with your full measure of tragedy as well. But don't do the Hamlet thing of a thousand deaths from worrying ahead of time.
Your note touched me to my core; I might have written it. Years ago.
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As a college professor I see so many students suffer with anxiety and stress. Some have parents who need their help on a daily basis, such as rides to appointments, grocery shopping, general checks on health and welfare, and help paying rent in the very homes they grew up in. Then I see students who live at home rent free in order to be able to pay for college. All seem to be aware of financial responsibilities. Almost all have jobs. All this AND they are trying to do their best at school. School itself can be stressful as due dates for assignments pile up and social activities distract. So my advice to you is first of all try to manage your school requirements, as it is your future and is your best chance to escape poverty. That said, I know some students feel they must maintain a 4.0 at any expense to their mental and physical health. Life goes on outside of school. Be kind to yourself and be forgiving if sometimes you aren't at your best. As for your parents, from what you say, it seems your mom is concerning you mostly. Dementia is a very hard thing for you to be part of at such a young age. It is sad and overwhelmingly difficult to adjust to, but you will because it is usually a very slow deterioration. You eventually find ways to deal with it. Your father is the one who needs to care for her day to day. He is also in charge of taking care of himself and becoming healthier in order to do that. Suggest to him to get some help from a therapist at a free clinic. Make the suggestion and then let him figure it out. Don't take on more than you can handle or more than is your actual responsibility. Then, as others suggest, see your school counselors. They encounter students who are experiencing similar to what you are going through every single day. They will listen and will help you listen to yourself.
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Go to your college health clinic and seek face-to-face counseling. Be honest with the nurse, who can start to help you. Please also seek the help of an adult whom you trust. Sometimes you can feel that someone is warm and gentle and you need both right now. You are not alone in this world but you must reach out in order to make contact. There is no substitute for human contact.

Your parents are you parents; they're not your peers. You need to be around people your own age who understand you. Join a club. Get a hobby. Make friends. Life is lonely without people to share it with. Start building relationships now. You can't control the future but you can control your choices today.
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NeedHelpWithMom Dec 2019
This is wonderful advice. Start connecting with others. It isn’t good to be isolated.
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