Dear Dr. Norquist:
My mother suffered a stroke last year and I have been her major caretaker ever since. She is only 72. She and my father divorced many years ago. I have one brother, who lives in Florida. My mother and I have always been close so I don’t mind being the one she depends on now. I moved in with her and take care of her evening needs. She has a home nurse’s aide during the day while I’m at work.
This has been extremely stressful for me. I have trouble sleeping soundly for fear she will need me during the night. I worry about losing her – I guess I already have lost her in some ways. I used to be able to confide in her and get her advice. Now she has trouble even speaking. I’m having trouble concentrating at work and the quality of my work is going down. I’m losing contact with my friends because I’m always with my mother. I stopped going to the gym and I’m about 15 pounds heavier than I was a year ago.
My life is consumed by taking care of her. I’ve lost my life, and I’ve virtually lost my mother, and I live in fear daily that she will die on me. Sometimes I feel like I can’t keep keeping on. What should I do?
Dr. Norquist responds:
In your generous and loving focus on your mothers needs it’s easy to lose sight of your own life and needs. Taking care of your mom should be a part of your life, but not your whole life. It’s extremely important for your own well-being that you keep in touch with the activities and support systems that affirm, support, and validate who you are. This is especially true for you in that you do not have your own home and family to retreat to for support and you seem to be the only actively involved family member that your mother can rely on. Caregivers need support too! Without it, the well that you need to draw upon to care for your mother will run dry and depression will ensue.
I’d suggest that you carefully take stock of the people, activities and practices that replenish your well. This especially includes situations such as those that leave you feeling relaxed, those that provide for a genuine sense of feeling connected with others, and those that provoke laughter and enjoyment. It’s important to plan exactly how and when you will include these experiences in your life on a regular basis. To do this, you will need regular time out from your caretaking responsibilities. This is something that needs discussion with your brother and other family members.
Daily practices such as exercise, yoga, and meditation will nurture, validate and strengthen you (both physically and emotionally). These practices are as important and necessary in your life as your daily meals. They will sustain your energy and give you the support that you need to take care of your mother and yourself. If depression, anxiety and insomnia persist, it would be wise to seek professional support.
(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns.Ó 2016 Chaitanya Counseling Services