Self Caring

Is Info Sharing a Caregiver's Obligation, a Help, or a Great Big Drag?

Last updated:

March 15, 2011
Mobile phone with a megaphone

What do you prefer to communicate to others about your loved one's condition -- especially when the news isn't necessarily swell? Is sharing information with interested others a caregiver's obligation? Is it a form of commiserating that makes you feel better?

Or, contrary to what we've all heard about the benefit of support group members pouring their hearts out, is it possible that sharing grim status reports is a drain on caregivers -- and a hidden drag on their own well being?

A recent debate with a caregiving friend got me wondering. She's helping her husband recuperate from a stroke, a long and fraught process. Her stance was that it's intrusive and a waste of her precious energy when people ask for the nitty-gritty details of his prognosis. ("Can he walk? Can he talk?") I gently suggested that such questions are the way that interested others express their love and interest. Plus, we live in a culture of oversharing; everybody just expects to hear details. I confessed to a certain satisfaction, sometimes, in blabbering away about my woes (and to asking about others').

Both of us seemed a little bit right.

Then we went on to talk about different topics entirely. And in that conversation, about a happier event and how the good things in life can buoy you above crummy ones, she suddenly said, "I think that's what I meant before! It's not that I don't want to tell people about my husband's health status because I'm so private. I like to talk about him. But I want to talk about the successes and what's going well, not what he can't do and how he's changed. That's where I get my energy, from looking toward the good, and away from the bad."

This reminded me of a great line from Lisa Gwyther, the Alzheimer's caregiving pioneer at Duke University who's the author of The Alzheimer's Action Plan, and an adviser for Caring.com's Steps and Stages resource for Alzheimer's caregivers:

Lisa says, "Focus on what's left, not what's lost."

Accentuating the positive, as the old song goes, isn't naïveté. It's realism crossed with health and self preservation. It's a building block of resilience. There's a time for pity, for self pity, and for aching from setbacks -- but if we linger there overlong, might we pay an unnecessary, high toll of damaging negative energy?