G is for guilt.
Carepartners do guilt well.
Here are some examples:
- guilt for the times you received a call in the middle of the night and you didn't run over. (Instead you lay awake worrying...)
- guilt for the times before diagnosis when you were impatient and abrupt because you didn't understand what was happening.
- guilt for the times after diagnosis when you were impatient and abrupt because you understood what was happening and it frightened you.
- guilt because you have other responsibilities and can't be with your loved one all the times they would like.
- guilt when you do something that isn't about care, but is about looking after you.
- guilt when you want to be doing something else other than looking after this person
- guilt when you are tired and it feels like no one cares and you are angry about that
- guilt that you don't visit enough (whatever "enough" is)
- guilt when you don't want to visit
- guilt for having fun doing alone something you used to do together
- guilt for not feeling guilty
Have I covered it? No, not nearly. Guilt is one of those emotions that seeps into every experience, especially for caregivers. Add to that the loved one who can be adept at pushing the "guilt button" (did you know you have one of those?) and you have an impossible situation. You can never win and never feel you have done well. Guilt is always there, telling you how you could have done better.
How can guilt be controlled?
Part of dealing with guilt involves setting boundaries, but that's another discussion. For now, here are a few practical steps.
1) Get the true story. If your loved one is begging you to visit every day, stay longer and be with them every waking moment because they are miserable, find out what is really going on. If they live alone, you may have to arrange for friends to visit or even pay for a companion who can take them out on a regular basis. Remember, you are not the answer to every problem.
If they are in a care setting, find out from staff what happens when you aren't there. Do they stay in their room and mope or participate? Do they engage with other residents? Do they seem depressed, or is that just whet you are hearing? Whatever the answer, plan at least some of your visits around meals or activities where you can engage with others with them. Sometimes a little help in the relationship department helps.
2) Don't allowed yourself to be stretched too thin. If this happens, you will be prone to impatience and feeling sorry for yourself. It will be hard to enjoy the relationship. This is a place to set a boundary, as hard it may be. "I'm going to stay home and rest in the evenings this week and I will be in to see you on the weekend.
3) When you visit, be totally focused on your loved one. Do something fun together. Enjoy them. Have a good visit. Even if they don't remember it a few days later, you will know you spent good time together, and your loved one enjoyed themselves.
4) Get real. There are limits on what you can do, how often you can be there, how much you can give. Lie the frog in the pot, as the demands get greater and you try harder and harder to meet them. things can get way beyond reasonable before you take an inventory. Stop and look at how much you are doing when you start to feel stressed. There may be short periods of extra stress, but you can't maintain this for long.
5) Don't obsess. If all your thoughts are crowded with worry about your loved one, if you feel you should be visiting every day, if you find it hard to allow professional caregivers to do their job--you are obsessing. This helps neither you nor your loved one. Talk to someone--a friend, a priest or a professional. Work to get your relationship on a healthy plane.
The thing about guilt is, it takes a lot of energy and accomplishes nothing.
Energy is a valuable resource. Determine in yourself to get a handle on guilt, so your energy isn't wasted.