As caregivers, we know all too well that our emotions can get strained to the breaking point. In a previous post, we delved into one of the emotions that caregivers wrestle with: the double-edged sword of anger. But now we explore its dangerous byproduct: depression.
You’re not alone
The Family Caregiver Alliance found that around 50% of caregivers suffer clinically significant symptoms of depression– that’s 32.8 million caregivers.
Caregivers’ many responsibilities are overburdening. Many often feel like they’re completely in over their heads. At first, caregivers aren’t necessarily well-trained in the nuances of treatment so they may end up spending more time with the patient just trying to get it right or try to avoid feeling guilty by simply being by their side longer. Consequently, caregivers end up losing focus on themselves. This is all perfectly understandable but sometimes we don’t recognize it as a shared caregiver experience.
Instead, we feel upset and frustrated by all of our perceived inadequacies, often resulting in depression. Such are the many so-called “hazards of caregiving,” making those caring for the patient the Invisible Patient. Depression a “silent crisis.” Especially among caregivers.
Don’t stay in hiding. Don’t remain silent. Recognize that you may need help. Believe it’s okay to find help. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s empowering yourself! Depression is kind of like a sponge, where negative thoughts are easily absorbed. When you soak up all the misguided and self-doubting thoughts and energy, the weight becomes oppressive. The more you absorb, the heavier it becomes. Fortunately, you can wring out that sponge of yours! Just know how to recognize the signs. These feelings aren’t unique to you. This is not some defect that you and you alone have. Whatever it is, you can overcome it.
Depression comes in many forms. Sometimes the word is used nonchalantly. You’ll hear people say they’re depressed when they’re having a down day and it’s not all that serious. Consequently, people will generally dismiss depression as not that serious. Then there’s the other side of the spectrum, which is clinical depression. This is the kind of debilitating, hopeless feeling that could lead to health problems and even suicidal tendencies. In either case, depression is very real and has a way of beating us up. Fortunately, we have many ways to help ourselves.
It’s important to know the signs of depression so you can distinguish between what could be short-term emotional fatigue related to caregiving or something more serious.
What to look for
The Mayo Clinic lists some of the tell-tale signs of depression:
- Feeling hopeless, like nothing you do is good enough
- Losing interest in activities you usually enjoy and also in people, being anti-social
- Getting irritated easily, even over small stuff
- Changes in sleep (insomnia or over-sleeping)
- Changes in appetite (losing appetite or gaining weight, binging)
- Feeling restless and agitated
- Getting fatigued easily
- Sudden, unexplained aches and pains that don’t respond to treatment
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness. Blaming yourself for past failures
- Stewing with negativity. Embracing futility, rather than seeing the brighter side of things
- Thinking about death and dying (or possibly suicide)
Know what to do
How do you care for your depression on top of everything else you have to do?
- Let your doctor know what’s going on so you can be put on the right path to wellness. Get a plan and stay on course.
- Seek the support those who understand, like family members or a caregiver’s support group. Get feedback from people who have had similar caregiving experiences. They’ve been there. They know. They can guide you.
- Avoid over or under-committing. Map out your personal obligations and activities as well as those for your loved one so you can set a schedule. Set realistic goals. You’re not expected to do everything at once.
- Draw strength from family and friends. Call someone and get reacquainted. Hug, love, share, laugh.
- Be good to yourself. It starts with compassionate thinking about yourself and others.
- Breathe deep breaths of fresh air.
- Remind yourself that you’re giving the gift of helping someone else. You’re providing comfort. That’s one of the greatest things we can do as caregivers– and as human beings.
- Remember that time takes time. Regardless of the cause, you will need time to heal.
Epilogue: Moving Forward
It’s been said that forgiveness is the ultimate weapon.
We can forgive our loved ones for past transgressions and for any trials they’re putting us through now. We can forgive ourselves for feeling judged, put through the ringer and in-demand. We can forgive ourselves for having some faults. We are human, after all. We aren’t machines. We have emotions and can channel our energy towards the positive. We can relieve ourselves. Forgiveness is like gentle rain flowing off our backs. It’s a soothing release when we learn how to allow ourselves the opportunity to get better, to be happier. Every one of us deserves it. Forgiveness is powerful stuff and a subject we’ll be looking at in more detail in later posts.
I invite your participation in our forums. If you have thoughts on depression, or “the blues” or have some personal words of wisdom, please share. Let’s move the discussion forward. Thanks.