It’s no wonder that caregiving ages a person. Many caregivers mimic the activities of the person for whom they care. We walk slower, speak slowly and clearly to get our point across, and fall into routines that keep our loved one stable.
When I was in the throes of caring for Hugh after his TBI, my life stopped for a few years until I gradually grabbed bits of it back. There were times I felt bitter watching others go about their busy lives. Watching friends throw parties, enjoy spontaneous get-togethers and nights out made me feel old before my time because while they were out having fun, I remained home worrying about my husband and the bills. I had nowhere to go with that bitterness. Accidents happen, and Hugh’s injury was caused by an accident. Being angry with the woman who ran over him didn’t make me feel any better—it made me feel worse.
The New Year saturates us with advice about how to be healthier, happier, and better in every way. For caregivers, this advice rings hollow. It can make you want to yell out, “How about changing places with me for awhile so I can go to the gym and out to lunch.” And after thinking thoughts like that, the inevitable guilt seeps in. The guilt you feel for wanting your old life back—for wanting the freedom to do as you please day after day.
I’d love to tell someone who is going through these feelings that there’s a magic fix, but there isn’t. What I can share with people who are new at caregiving is that these feelings are normal and healthy. What’s not normal is the chaos caused by the injury that just robbed you and your loved one of your life—but that will change, too, in time.
So my New Year’s wish for you is to be gentle with yourself. Sulk a little, and wallow in what you have lost, but then stop and believe that in time you will enjoy life again. Take a deep breath and keep doing the good work you are doing. It won’t be for naught. Providing loving care is never time wasted. Embrace your role and know it is a stepping-stone to a better tomorrow.