Dr. James Gordon can attest that anyone who works in healthcare comes to work with many caregivers. His focus has been on developing mind-body medicine to use self-care to make recovery from trauma and depression accessible to all.
Since the release of the DSM III, depression is diagnosed without taking context into consideration. Depression can be a rational response to experience and circumstance, yet people diagnosed with depression are told they have a lifelong chemical imbalance. Under our current medical understanding of depression, there is a brief window of time during which grief is acceptable; after that time has passed it becomes pathological.
Many people providing care to an ill, disabled, or elderly loved one, face years of medical traumas, chronic stress, uncertainty, economic hardship, lack of sleep, and other circumstanced under which any human being would struggle. For most of us, our caregiving responsibilities end with the trauma and grief of death. The time window for normal grief is not enough to account for our experiences, so the emotional response to caregiving is pathologized.
We are told over and over again that depression is a disease, just like diabetes. That it’s a lifelong condition that requires daily medication and lifestyle changes. But Dr. Gordon points out that there’s no evidence that depression is biological in origin.
Dr. Gordon has seen rates of anxiety increase over the course of his career. Many patients come to him out of touch with their emotions, where they default to experiencing every emotion as anger.
It’s no wonder — over the decades he’s watched as caregiving responsibilities have come to fall on one person, rather than the extended family. In our culture, many family caregivers have come to be overwhelmed by facing these responsibilities alone and go on to experience burnout as anger, resentment, and depression.
The costs of caregiving seem obvious, but they go much deeper than we realize.
In America today, we measure all costs as money spent or money not earned. So often we overlook the other costs we face — instead of sitting in traffic on the way to a doctors appointment we could have been gardening together and enjoying the fresh air and warm sun. Instead of spending an hour on the phone disputing insurance claims we could have been preparing one of our grandmother’s recipes. Instead of waking up at 4am to check on a loved one and give them medication we could have gotten a full night of rest and been able to concentrate at work the next day. These costs of care strip away our ability to cope in the ways we’re accustomed to and our personal growth is interrupted.
People whose caregiving responsibilities have settled into a ‘new normal’ or who are no longer serving as caregivers are likely to find Dr. Gordon’s work helpful. His approach to recovering from trauma, outlined in The Transformation, is framed in a way that is approachable — no trauma is too big or too small to deserve support — and can be followed on your own or with support from a medical team.
If the thought of being diagnosed with a mental health issue doesn’t feel right to you, if it feels normal to suffer when you’ve experienced so much trauma, his work will resonate with you.
The book is designed to guide us back into feeling empowered in our lives, something which may not be possible for someone currently in an intense caregiving situation. It is a reminder that you know your needs better than anyone else.
In a world full of experts eager to tell us what we should or shouldn’t do, it’s a breath of fresh air to instead encounter an expert who reminds us that we already have the ability to be our best selves, no matter what life has thrown at us.