Hate. It’s an ugly word that I despise. Mom taught me the importance of word choice at a young age and she taught me that word has no redeeming value. It was always a curse word in our house growing up and even today, hearing it makes me cringe. Yet it fits here. Because I hate my caregiving emotions.
Yes, there is technically a difference between emotions and feelings, but for the purpose of this post, I’m using the word emotion loosely. Hopefully you get the point. And if you’ve ever been a caregiver, maybe you can relate: on any given day I feel one, some, or all of the emotions listed above. It’s head-spinning and crazy.
I didn’t know much (or anything) about what to expect as a caregiver when I became one. But I knew, and was told a lot, that it would be an emotional roller-coaster–and it most certainly has been. My truth be told, I don’t really mind the ups and downs of the ride. The frequency and intensity though, I
hate strongly dislike. And my strong dislike evolves to utter disdain when it bleeds into other parts of my life.
I’ve spoken with other past and present caregivers who’ve had an opposite reaction. On more than one occasion, they’ve described how at a certain point in their respective journeys, they became numb to it all. At times, I’ve wished that I would be too. But I’m the opposite.
The highs, no matter how big or small, are all Mt. Everest high. If Mom sounds well on the phone, I feel the type of relief I’d expect you’d feel if you’d just been saved from imminent death. When Mom gives me a natural and hearty laugh, it leaves me with the type of euphoric feeling reserved for players and coaches who just won the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup, or the World Series. Those times when I catch a real Mom smile leave me feeling, to use a phrase someone shared with us on Twitter, like someone poured a bucket of sunshine straight into my head.
In contrast, the lows leave me feeling like I’m stuck at the bottom of a well with no way out–regardless of how major or minor they are. If Mom’s having phone troubles, the frustration overtakes me. The day Mom’s assisted living community called to say they wanted to run tests for a UTI because they’d noticed a change in her behavior–it paralyzed me. A couple months ago when I caused a nasty argument with Mom because I (without thinking) corrected Mom on a meaningless detail and wouldn’t let it go– it really wasn’t that big of a deal yet it felt like the walls were closing in. And I felt lower than low.
Often times it happens in the span of minutes. I can go from Mt. Everest high to the bottom of the well in the blink of an eye. If I’m not able to regulate, Mom suffers and so do Lindsay and the kids. It’s no way to go through life, caregiving or not, and I can’t take it anymore.
So my new mantra is:
Two words. Easy to say. They’re not about diluting myself into thinking there won’t be or shouldn’t be swings and even extremes. There absolutely are. But these two words for me, are about perspective. And finding a way to keep the intensity of my emotions commensurate with the moment.
And they’re helping me. Kind of, so far, anyway. While I have found myself saying the words, they’re more symbolic than anything else for me. They’re an acknowledgement that it’s my responsibility to stay level despite what life might throw at Mom and me on a given day.
I can’t regulate if I don’t acknowledge. And even better, I’ve found the words themselves or what they symbolize to be a trigger for me to take action to make myself stay level.
What’s working best so far in these moments are basic breathing exercises: deep-in, deep-out, and counting to ten. It’s about as basic as it gets but for now it’s working for me. And I’m glad.
Because I don’t want to be numb to it all. As much as I
hate strongly dislike the intensity of my caregiving emotions, I don’t want to get off the roller-coaster. I’m meant to be on it.
Can you relate? What works for you in regulating your caregiving emotions?
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