Posts Tagged ‘caregiver guilt’

Sometimes I feel I’ve got to…runaway, I’ve to…runaway..from the pain that’s hurting me.

That’s a line to an old 80s song that rolled around in my head many of my caregiving days. I literally felt a panic inside: what was I thinking, moving my mom into my home. How long is she going to live? Do I have months, years…decades? She won’t leave me alone–I can’t take a bath or have a decent conversation with my husband (much less anything else). What choice do I have? She needs me, but how am I ever going to do this day after day. What about my life, my dreams?

On and on my internal monologue hounded me. Not only did I want to run away from my mother–I wanted to run away from me~!

I started collecting fantasies. How would I run away. Where would I go?

I imagined slipping out in the middle of the night. Me and the open road, guided by the moon. I’d roll the window down and howl. Free at last!

I imagined changing my name to Flo. Living in a run down house in Key West and waitressing. I’d fish for fun, check out books from the library and become a walking mystery.

I imagined inventing an adult play-pen and decorating it with things my mother loved. That way, I could exercise, cook, or take a bath without worrying–and maybe that Ronco guy would sell it on his high energy info-mercials.

I imagined strapping my mother to a wheelchair and taking her everywhere I long to go. Mom and me at the Grand Canyon. Mom and me at the Louvre. Mom and me taking art classes in Rome. Mom and me traipsing around New York City…hey, if you can’t get rid of them, bring ’em along became my motto. We’ll become like a Where’s Waldo drawing–where will the dynamic duo go next? We’d write travel books for caregivers and their buddies.

If only my life was that exciting…and if you think I’m a bit odd, then you try living 24/7 with your mother who has Alzheimer’s–and was a hand full before that ever started!

Kidding aside, when my mom first moved in with us, I did feel like I wanted to bolt out the front door. It took a while for my brain and my body to get the hang of her being in such a close proximity. I had to learn how to not let her overshadow me at every turn. I also had to learn how to let her feel needed and appreciated. Our mother-daughter dance had to learn a few new steps.

I also had to give into my run away tendencies. If I didn’t, I knew I’d really hit the road. So I started running away–to my journal. I had to snatch and grab a few minutes here and there–but having a place to put my questions and my angst kept them from boiling over.

I had to learn to run away–to the back yard. Nature calms and heals me. Especially water. Just to slip out that back door and stand at the edge of the river, watch the Spanish moss sway in the trees, and pick up a stone to hold as I said a prayer changed everything. Yeah, I’d look back at the house and my feet felt encased in lead. How could I ever make myself go back in there? But I did.

I used to hide–in the pantry, in the linen closet, on the side of the glass front door where no one could see me. I’d slump down and just give myself a few minutes–but then, they’d find me. They’d always find me. I was a sandwich generation mom–I had my mom–and my kids and husband to deal with. Somebody always wanted to know where mom was.

I’d run away by using my biting sarcasm (mostly internally), but my quippy comebacks kept us on our toes and we’d usually wind up laughing about it.

Running away is about letting off a little steam. It’s a mini-stay-cay. You can’t actually book that plane ticket to visit Bhutan, the place that Michael J. Fox’s book, Always Looking Up says is the happiest place on earth. You can buy a Chinese gong. You can visit a Bhutan website. You can buy a table runner in that gorgeous orange the monks wear.

If you feel like running away, then do it. Figure out a way to let off a little steam. Go for a bike ride, get off your bike and pick a few wildflowers. Do a virtual vacation by visiting a few websites and take notes for a future trip. Slip out the back door, find a pebble and say a prayer. Also, consider checking out respite care. Who says you can’t have a weekend off now and then? Check your community resources, ask a family member, and give yourself a break. (I know how hard this is and I can hear your but, but’s…but if you don’t you’ll burn out!)

Feeling that urge to run away is normal. Fantasizing about it lets off a little steam. Laughing about it soothes the soul. You are already a good caregiver–and admitting that once in a while you’d sure like to step out of that role if only for a few minutes, means you’re human.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle


Author of Mothering Mother, available in hardback or on Kindle


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You are not alone. Being a working caregiver is what many families have to do. They worry, they hire home health care, they utilize adult day care, they take time off for doctor visits and emergencies…but they have to continue working. Today’s economy makes having a job a blessing, not to mention a downright necessity. If you have one, by all means, try to keep it!

But most working caregivers experience guilt and worry by the bucket-fulls. Every day. They call home a dozen times. They use all their vacation timea and personal days–not for themselves, not for a va-cay to Hawaii, but caring for their loved ones. They worry about losing their jobs. They worked hard to get to the top of the hill, to become the manager, the lead person on the team–and now it’s all jeopardized. Boomers and sandwich genearation-ers are feeling it on all sides.

How to Juggle Work and Caregiving:

  • Decide if you want to let your employment know about your caregiving “issues.” Eventually, you’ll have to–but if you’re concerned that it could cause problems, don’t blab too soon. Get out that old HR book or go online to your company’s site and review their family leave and family emergency policies. When the time comes, choose your words wisely and come from a place of power, not panic.
  • Organization and Preparation are your allies. It may feel like every second of every day is planned to the enth degree, but it has to be. Sorting those pills once a week can save early morning hassles. Double booking doctor appointments can mean taking less days off. Tell them up front you don’t have time for follow-ups and make sure you leave the office with those hard to get prescriptions. Also plan to get your hair done and your mammogram.
  • Put You on the List: While you’re planning your week, put yourself on the list. Go ahead and write it down: shave your legs, go to church on Sunday, meet with your girlfriends for your birthday–even if it means arranging for a sitter for mom. If you don’t, resentment will rise up like an angry pit bull and go for your jugular. You don’t have to be a martyr. Take a night off–and plan for it or it’ll never happen.
  • Learn to compartmentalize:When you’re at work, don’t call home every half hour. If you have good help, then trust they’ll call you if they need you. Put up that mental boundry and pour yourself into your work. It’s good for your brain to get engaged and work on a challenge or problem to solve. And when you’re home, put the briefcase away. Eat dinner together. Talk, go for an after dinner stroll or soak your feet in matching foot massages. The point is, be present–whereever the present is.
  • When the Time Comes, Take Time Off: You might be caregiving for a long time, so don’t panic at every turn–but do take time off when it’s time. If your loved one is dying, has late stage cancer, or is having open heart surgery, then yes, you need to take time off. Don’t hide behind your work and miss these important life events. You don’t want to regret that your loved one left this world without you slowing down, getting off the rat-race treadmill and really being present–for you–and for them.

When my mother’s Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s got so bad that I knew she needed full-time care (24/7), I quit my position as director of a private school in Atlanta. I had started that school, nurtured it, watched it grow, and gained many friends along the way. For years, I had juggled my mom’s care, and I’m glad I did. I gave her a few more years in her own home, in own community.

The change was hard on all of us (my mom, me, my family), and yes, it was tough to let go of my work–and then it was a tough 2 plus years caring for my mother and eventually, she passed away in our home. But I know I did the right thing. I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t made these choices. We never know where life may take us. 

There’s no way around it, you’re going to be stressed. You’re going to feel like there’s never enough to go around, but working can also save your life–and your head. Being a working caregiver can help put things in perspective. It can add a refreshing purpose to your life and remind you that you’re good at something and that the bustle of life is a good thing.

Let’s face it, if you have to work and care give, then give it your all and choose to be grateful–for both. Why? Because the alternative is to just be miserable, and that’s not such a hot alternative.

~Carol O’Dell

Mothering Mother

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