Last updated: Sep 26, 2011
It was a classic case of miscommunication. My sister-in-law -- a.k.a. the mother of all caregivers, with six school-age kids and, at one time, three live-in elders -- was under strict orders to call me at any hour she felt the need, for any reason. Her mother was on home hospice when the text arrived: "Can you talk?"
Eager to help, I texted back, for speed's sake, a simple "Y."
And then...she didn't call!
I waited awhile before texting back again, "Are you okay?"
Actually she was all right, had just been wanting to update me, until she got my message -- and that had made her a little miffed and hurt. She'd mis-read my "Y" as the word "Why?" As in, I was asking her why she needed to talk to me right then, as if I were screening her level of need. (No, no, I quickly clarified. My "Y" meant "Yes!")
Fortunately, our communication is normally much smoother. (For one thing, I'm much better at spoken or written words than texted ones!)
Every caregiver needs a talking buddy. Talking allows you to offload stresses, large or small. Research shows that the simple act of giving voice to a concern, peeve, or issue takes its impact on your mind and body down a few notches. When you talk to someone else, you feel less alone. Sharing thoughts and feelings leaves you better equipped to manage them. Talk may be cheap, but it's also invaluable.
Do you talk to anyone?
A therapist? Talk therapy is a specific, therapeutic kind of communication, a lifesaving option for overwhelmed, isolated, and depressed caregivers. It can be difficult in some care situations to get out to weekly appointments, making newish online consultations an encouraging trend for caregivers.
Members of a support group? Fellow caregivers, especially those who are dealing with the same disease as you, know better than anyone what you're going through. Can't leave home easily? Have only odd hours free? Consider online support groups, such as Caring's Stage Groups for Alzheimer's caregivers or those for stroke victims.
Your spouse? Reading the comments on last week's Self Caring post, "Is Pat Robertson Right?"-- in which many caregivers wrote movingly of their devotion to their mates while discussing the meaning of "in sickness and in health" -- I was reminded of how especially painful it is when a spouse has Alzheimer's and you not only watch his or her physical decline but, as mental faculties are lost, you're also robbed of the confidante aspect of your relationship.
A friend? Caregivers sometimes try to spare their friends the truth of their stresses so as not to bore them or generate pity. Or they make the opposite mistake of depending too heavily on a single person who can't relate and then, overwhelmed, slips away. One solution is to maintain multiple social contacts as best you can -- your best friend, a relative, a digital penpal from your social networks.
Ultimately, it's not about whether you talk in person or by phone, use e-mail or a forum, pay for a professional's time, or let a buddy buy you a cup of tea. It's about having another human being with whom you can connect and give voice to the complicated emotions that can rise inside you. But -- equally important -- it's about having a healthy compassion for yourself and an instinct for self-preservation that emboldens you to truly take others up on it when they say, "I'm here when you need me,"
People are out there. Y indeed.
Who do you talk to?