HAVE you ever felt that no one understands what you’re saying or what you’re going through despite you explicitly telling them?
Perhaps you’ve even had people who seem to know you and your feelings better than you know yourself? And the best part is they try to tell you things about you that don’t sound like you at all!
There they stand in front of you, talking about you, but you, the listener, feel as though they’re describing a stranger. You even wonder if they’ve confused you with somebody else. Long-term caregiving might muddle some of your feelings but it doesn’t leave your senses and memory addled.
There are days when you’ll correct them, but there are also days when you’re too tired to bother. It’s not as though it would change anything. Or would it? Do you need to tackle this? Do you need to act on this and express your feelings?
It can be so confusing because sometimes it’s best not to react. You don’t want to say things you’d regret. Good manners and “saving somebody’s face” have been ingrained in you, especially to those who are older. Sometimes you’re just so shocked that you’re lost for words. In hindsight you often kick yourself and wish you had replied to defend yourself.
Not reacting immediately isn’t always a bad thing. Taking a step back to pause and mull over the situation could actually help you handle it better should it happen again. And chances are, it would! Just don’t let it fester and get the better of you.
A caregiver’s journey is an emotional one — there’s so much going on in addition to what goes on in your daily life with work, family, friends and social life (or the lack of).
It doesn’t help that people come up to you to tell you all sorts of things. Sometimes they even off-load their angst on you. Now is a good time to learn the art of deflecting negative energies sent your way.
I’ve often described my experience as a caregiver like a rollercoaster ride, especially when it comes to caring for my son with special needs. You get plunged into the depths of despair and you also get launched to the highest of hopes and joy. It’s heady and it can also knock you off balance. It’s always about finding your equilibrium and striking a happy balance.
So many things can happen in a day, and you’ll find that your feelings and moods can swing from one end to another. From hopelessness to joy and relief, from anger, disgust to guilt and ambivalence.
I’ve had some of those days and I’ve called my friends to chat and check if I’m going crazy. It helps to have someone who has time to give you some down time — even if it’s just over the phone.
The thing about feelings is that they don’t go away if you ignore them. You can’t wish them away. They’re something like a precocious child who wants attention, to be recognised and addressed. Ignore that and watch what happens. It snowballs into something dramatic and difficult to handle.
So you learn to develop a coping mechanism to deal with this myriad of feelings. You learn to organise your work and deal with what needs to be done. Some are so straightforward it becomes routine. Some are so challenging that you can’t help but feel like running away from it.
UNDERSTAND WHAT’S GOING ON
For example, not all of us can cope with toilet duties. Dealing with incontinent adults can be very uncomfortable, to say the least. Some young parents even gag at their baby’s soiled diapers. Imagine having to clean up after an adult — pee, poo, vomit and other bodily fluids. The amount, frequency and odour are far different from a child’s.
Sometimes you also wonder if your loved one is doing this on purpose just to get to you. And then you feel guilty for having these thoughts. If you can’t cope, you may need to hire someone who can do the job. Your loved one can’t help his situation and you can’t help your reaction no matter how much you try.
You feel guilty because you feel that you should be accepting and just do it all. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Not everyone is made the same way and we all differ in our experiences and reactions. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and it’s best to figure out our forte.
It helps to understand what’s going on. It also helps to learn to recognise what you feel — sadness, anger, pain, shame, guilt — and address it. If you ignore these feelings, you’ll find yourself becoming emotionally numb and disconnected because you do things to avoid it and distract yourself from it.
To rise above these tumultuous feelings, teach yourself not to be afraid of your feelings or being ruled by them. You need to tell yourself: “I can do this. I can handle this.”