While caregiving for a loved one can be infinitely fulfilling, every journey can also be littered with emotional minefields. It's common for caregivers to grapple with emotions such as exhaustion, guilt, anger, sadness – even hopelessness and defeat.
What's less common is for caregivers to acknowledge any negative (and therefore complicated) feelings they may have. After weeks, months, or years of prioritizing another person's emotional and physical well-being, many caregivers think that admitting to frustration, hopelessness, or depression is a luxury they can't afford.
"Caregiver Warrior" Susanne White was much the same - until she found that accepting both her positive and negative feelings was the first step toward healing.
"It's our right and privilege to break down in pieces because, afterward, we can pick them up again and put ourselves back together," says Susanne. "It's what makes us the bravest of brave."
Like my father before me, my glass is usually half full. I can rally around you and myself, bolster our courage and self-worth, and let you know how much I believe everything will all be alright. And I genuinely feel this way, most of the time. In life and in caregiving, I have learned by now that the bad stuff will teach me a lesson if I let it, and nothing lasts forever.
Yet sometimes, like everyone else, I get whacked sideways over and over again in a short amount of time. I find myself on the other side of "it's all going to be OK." I'm unable to maintain the fullness of the glass because I'm just too beaten and feel defeated.
Feeling broken down like this is when I usually burst into tears and can't stop the waterworks, no matter where I am. Today was one of those days, and I cried ugly hard for about 10 minutes in my car in a doctor's parking lot. There was no stopping me, and tissues ended up used and flung over to the passenger side of the floor.
As a caregiver, it’s vital to acknowledge my feelings
The good news is I have finally learned to let it rip and cry my eyes out without holding back. It's only the last few years I've allowed myself this luxury, and boy, am I sorry I didn't do it sooner.
The point is, I was broken down. I had had my fill with all the responsibilities, endless lists, and emotional turmoil of life as a caregiver. I was exhausted, sad, disappointed, and done. I didn't have any fight left. It's an unusual space for me to be in, and that made me even sadder. I had no choice but to cry and cry.
I recently received an email from a caregiver, and she was in the same place. My heart ached for her, and I told her I got it and she was not alone. It's not about enforcing toxic positivity and telling her to keep going, "buck up," or think positively. It's about telling her I think she's brave and brilliant, and I'm so sorry her heart hurts so much. It's about letting her know she has a witness and is heard and that I believe her when she says she is done. When it gets too much, the angels cry - and so do we.
I don’t push down “bad” emotions or rush them
There's no quick fix or magic trick to make this "no-fight left" feeling go away. It has a schedule and agenda of its own. It feels awful and damaging and can leave us breathless and exhausted. Yet have to honor the space it takes up and stay with it until the storm has done its damage. Then, with some self-care, we can clean up the debris it left in its wake.
Mercifully it usually hits me hard for a day or two, then lets me regroup slowly but surely. These days come with a strange aftertaste of the crying having been good for me, even though it was under duress. I'm usually forced into acceptance and surrender without my permission. It's the only option I seem to have left when feelings like this hit the fan.
I need to accept feeling hopeless. I must surrender to something greater than me to right the wrongs I can't wrap my head around, let alone fix.
So far, I always rally. I don't think I can or even know how, but I do. And it always surprises me that somehow grace arrives. My tears finally stop, and, exhausted, I pick myself up and keep going.
Accepting a break down is allowing myself to heal
I want you to know it's OK to be at the end of your rope and feel like you have no more fight left. It doesn't make you a bad person or a bad caregiver, or crazy. It means you are human and overwhelmed. You deserve a good cry and have the right to break down. You are not wrong, and it's not the end of the world or permanent.
So, allow yourself to surrender. You will rally and then keep going because you are a caregiver warrior. It's what we do. We reach into our grab bags of ugly cries, screaming at the sky, head in our hands, reaching out and giving up for a bit. Then, when we can, we rally and restart like nothing happened.
But you and I know something happened. Because we let it. We allowed it. It's our right and privilege to break down in pieces because, afterward, we can pick them up again and put ourselves back together. It's what makes us the bravest of brave.
As caregivers, facing your feelings is real self-kindness
So be kind and gentle with yourself and willing to feel awful. Know you are not alone.
I see you. Storms pass, and let us build our bunkers stronger. We are survivors. And survivors make a difference in the world and keep it going.
The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.
NPS-ALL-NP-00981 JUNE 2023