By Medi-Share member, Peter Rosenberger
In virtually every caregiving scenario, family caregivers swerve dangerously close to unhealthy decisions. Snares such as excessive weight gain, enabling, alcohol, drugs, moral failures, and even self-harm, often litter the path of family caregivers. Furthermore, unhealthy caregivers run the risk of harming their loved ones — either directly or inadvertently.
Caregivers often repeatedly find themselves lost and disoriented in what I call the FOG of caregiving — fear, obligation and guilt. From feeling guilty over bringing a child with special needs into the word, to living in abject fear of an out-of-control family member, to deep resentment from feeling obligated to someone with special needs — the scenarios are numerous but the core issues remain the same. The relentless onslaught of caregiving magnifies all those feelings and can take caregivers into bad places.
In Oregon, a mother of a son who had suffered severe physical challenges since birth was recently hospitalized after an apparent murder-suicide.
Earlier this year in Tennessee, a father ultimately confessed to murdering his son, who was autistic and non-verbal, after making up a story that his son wandered off. Elopement is one of the regular nightmare scenarios of autism families, so naturally the community jumped into action to help before the horrific truth was revealed.
Sadly, these will not be the last of such events capturing headlines. Caregiving requires a level of service and responsibility that find many unprepared, and others, tragically, unwilling to accept. Even for those who embrace the challenges, however, the caregiver FOG isolates, and in that isolation, dark thoughts can overtake a caregiver. If left unaddressed, dark thoughts can fester into horrifying choices.
Yet family, friends, clergy, and co-workers can still speak into a caregiver’s isolation. Asking if they are in touch with support groups, seeing their doctor regularly, attending church services, talking to a counselor are all worthwhile and specific questions to ask. Oftentimes, a simple awareness of the difficulties can be a source of enormous comfort to a caregiver. Noticing the person pushing the wheelchair, caring for the special needs child, or sitting for endless nights in a hospital room corner — penetrates the isolating thoughts and communicates care and value to the caregiver.
As caregivers, our whole world often orbits around a loved one we tend to. Yet, we must carve out a healthy identity of our own — regardless of the needs and path of our loved ones. Sadly, all too many caregivers recoil with guilt at the thought of addressing their own needs. If those needs aren't addressed, however, they will manifest themselves in destructive ways and behaviors. Some issues, such as excessive weight gain, unfold over time, yet others tragically erupt and make headlines.
While there remains no excuse for those destructive behaviors, unraveling them requires compassion, wisdom, and work. Despite that, the caregiver may still disregard all efforts of help. But by speaking into that isolation with clarity and offering a well-lit path to safety, that caregiver, the family, and the impaired loved one can at least have a fighting chance.
We never know how important a specific and thoughtful word can be to a desperate person. To a family caregiver holding on to their last known scrap of hope, caring words spoken into their darkness could be enough light to see a road to help.
Peter Rosenberger is the host of the weekly syndicated radio program for family caregivers. He has served as a caregiver for his wife Gracie, who lives with severe disabilities, for more than 30 years. The author of four books, including “Hope for the Caregiver.” Peter and Gracie live in Nashville, where he also serves as the president and co-founder of Standing With Hope. Follow Peter on Twitter: @Hope4caregiver or visit: www.hopeforcaregiver.com