Forgive me blog Gods for I have sinned. I wanted to blog daily, or at least every other day. Unfortunately “the blues,” have gotten the better of me. No, fuck that. I also wanted to keep this a clean blog but fuck that too. There’s a big difference between getting “the blues,” and full blown depression.
I think Abraham Lincoln said it best – “I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better I can not tell; I awfully forebode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.”
This was after a breakup with his future wife Mary Todd (they got back together) in 1841 and from January 13-19 of that year, he actually was absent from the Illinois legislature. The assuming reason, “melancholy,” the word used at the time for depression.
I suppose it helps me a little bit. Somebody as brave, revered, and remembered as Lincoln suffering from depression his entire life. It does give me hope that I can accomplish great things even with my “mental illness.” God I hate that term. I mean, if you have degenerative disc disease which is common in over 60% of US citizens, you don’t say “crappy back illness” you just say you have back pain. No big deal. Mental illness. Eesh. Just sounds like somebody with anxiety is grouped in with somebody who suffers from schizoaffective disorder. No offense to anybody with schizoaffective disorder….Well, that’s because they are. They are technically both mental illnesses, different sides of the aisle, extremely different in how it affects one’s life but that stigma, boy is it still there.
So I bet you’re wondering what this has to do with caregivers?! Well, according to the American Psychological Association, the big boys and girls who write the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, aka the DSM Five (that’s the latest edition). The go-to for everything mental health related, the be-all, end-all when it comes to mental health, they say that “Estimates suggest that between 40 to 70 percent of caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression, with approximately one-fourth to one-half of these caregivers meeting the diagnostic criteria for major depression.”
Depression is no joke, it’s not something that just goes away, it is a serious, complicated issue that IS so complex it needs to be handled professionally. I study Psychology at the University of Central Florida and that is dangerous for somebody with depression because all of a sudden I can self-diagnose myself. lol All psych majors can, it’s sort of an inside joke because most psych majors are a little crazy. Anyways, most of us believe in what is called the “biopsychosocial model” Now stay with me here. There’s three big things here folks.
Biological – as caregivers, we’re under constant stress. We probably don’t eat right, we probably don’t get enough exercise, we probably don’t take care of ourselves, we might have a pre-disposition to depression, we might end up drinking or using drugs more to help cope with the stress of our situation. All of these things can end up affecting our brains and contribute to depression. Hence, the “bio” part. There’s a bunch of science behind it like serotonin and re-uptake and neurons etc but it’s not that relevant. Exercise. Eat healthy.
Psychologically, a lot of us are just a freakin’ mess. I constantly tell myself and others that I wasn’t drafted into this. I wasn’t voluntold, I volunteered. I willingly put certain things aside, decided that I wanted to help, and became my dads caregiver. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The stress of watching him slowly deteriorate over time mentally, emotionally and physically is hard enough on me psychologically but let’s add some other facts in there too. Family – I really don’t get much support from my family unfortunately. I get a few pats on the back, a few “ata boys,” they tell me how proud they are of me and how great of a job I’m doing but ultimately they don’t wake up in the middle of the night to check to see if he’s still breathing. They don’t wake up in the morning and wonder if he’ll wake up too. They don’t watch him forget things constantly because of the chemo fog. They weren’t there when he had his heart attack from all the stress on his body from the chemo. Sadly, the only thing that went through my mind was “Remember all of this, everybody is going to ask how he died and they will want details. Don’t forget anything.” I felt like I was Mr. Spock from Star Trek! What happened to my emotions? My empathy? My sympathy? I’d become so immune, so cold. I think in a way it’s a good thing because you have to be level headed in certain situations. Maybe I was just in shock, or maybe I just shut down because I’d been in the hospital everyday for nearly seven days straight back and forth from there to home and taking classes at UCF, managing the house, the pets, all of it. Alone. For me it causes feelings of loneliness, abandonment, anger, confusion, resentment, fear, frustration…I see Facebook posts of some family members going on vacations, others going out to eat on the weekends, again, things I gave up. But, I’m getting a head of myself and eh, I think I’ve covered psych enough.
Let’s talk about the social aspect of the model. Humans are social people! We need human interaction, we need a little gossip, we need hugs, we need some cuddlin’ now and then. We weren’t meant to live alone or be restricted to a life of loneliness, nor a life of rigidity, structure and isolation. I’ve found that’s what being a caregiver is. Rigidity, structure and isolation. Oncology appointments every Thursday 10:00 for labs, 10:30 for meeting with oncologist, meet with PCP once a month, mow yard every Sunday, manage this, manage that, check med schedule, blood pressure checks, keep an eye out for any odd symptoms, swelling in the feet or hands, chills, back pain he might be showing signs of, coughing, wheezing, sneezing, is he sleeping too much? Too little? Ask him questions to see where he is cognitively, see if he’s feeling a bit depressed, see if there’s anything I can do to try and get him out of the house….So, when am I supposed to socialize? When do I go out and meet new people? When do I well, do anything at all?
It’s funny, the other day we had a few funnel clouds pop up, pop down? Funnel down? Whatever. Where I live here in Merritt Island, FL. It was incredible, beautiful and also my first time seeing a tornado, well it wasn’t a tornado because it never touched the ground. I was just driving along and it formed not too far off so I pulled over at a gas station, got out of my car and started to take a video of it. And it was there maybe for about just less than a minute, it sort of began to go back up into the clouds, dissipate, and it was gone. I called my dad and made sure he was alright. It was plenty far away but still. He said I should come home but…well… I went storm chasing. I flew like a bat outta hell following that storm cell almost hoping another one would pop up. I didn’t feel nervous or excited or a surge of adrenaline. I just felt like doing it. That’s when I remembered, when I was younger, I was such the risk taker. My motorcycles, my fast cars, my spontaneity…really just because. For me, it’s just apart of who I am – or who I was – and I lost a little piece of that and I suppose chasing that storm reminded me of it. I’m going to continue to take risks, I’m going to continue to push the envelope because that’s who I am and that’s what I do. Being a caregiver, it’s easy to forget who you are and develop a new sense of self and a new identity. Try not to let that happen.
The bottom line is we have to make time. We have to find appropriate coping mechanisms. We have to see a therapist if we need to! Definitely check your health insurance coverage if you have any and see if you get any visits. Also, contact your loved ones insurance carrier! As a caregiver, you might be covered and get visits through that carrier as well! Churches if you go, or hell, if you don’t, often have recommendations and many therapists will work on a sliding scale if things are difficult for you financially. It’s so hard but biologically, psychologically, socially and even spiritually, as caregivers we have to keep it together. I have personally not been entirely happy about what was available to me so I did my own research and found a good FB group. Maybe in your area there’s a group that you can go to, or another FB group or a different social media outlet. Continue doing your hobbies when you can, STAY AWAY FROM ALCOHOL AND OTHER MOOD ALTERING SUBSTANCES IF POSSIBLE. Trust me, it’s not going to help. I fell short for a while over the summer and I began to pay for it. There is hope. Do not be afraid to reach out for help. Talk to a friend, talk to your family physician and get a referral for a therapist and a psychiatrist. Let them know what you’re going through. They can normally find outlets that will help you through your journey as a caregiver.
I find this the most difficult part. Keep an open dialogue with the loved one you’re caring for. It’s difficult as you don’t want them to worry about you, they’ve got enough on their plate but they need to know that you’re only human. They need to understand that you also have certain needs that have to be fulfilled in order for them to do the job that they have decided to do. Sometimes this is best done at family therapy depending on the situation. Other times, it’s just a simple conversation. The bottom line is that communication between you and your loved one will make both of your lives much easier.
At least, that’s my perspective. Remember you are never alone.