I met with a friend today, and we started talking about our experience as the caregiver to our spouse who had cancer. The first thing he said was that people often focused on the one who’s ill, but overlooked the caregiver. “I was trying to be strong for her,” he said, and he paid a big price for that. The stress of facing a pending death is more comprehensive and intangible than most people think it is. It is not even about the demand of providing care physically, or financially. The emotional and psychological stress alone is invisible yet draining.
In order to cope with the stress, many people turned to drugs and alcohol, including my friend. His wife thought he was selfish, that he was having fun while she was suffering. That’s what looked like from the outside, but that’s not true from the inside. He was not having fun. He used drugs and alcohol to shut down his own feelings so he wouldn’t have to bring his own fear, anxiety, frustration and sorrow to her. He wanted to be strong for her, and he wanted to protect her from all these scary feelings. At the end, she didn’t feel protected or cared for. Instead she felt alone, unsupported, and lonely. So did he.
Dr. Gabor Mate talked about another hidden price caregivers pay – their own health. In his book “When The Body Says No” he said “Partners who must suppress more of his or her own needs for the sake of the relationship is more likely to develop physical illness as well,” he wrote. Dr. Michael Kerr, a former colleague of Murray Bowen, put it even more explicitly: “The existence of a mind-body link and a person-person link means that it is possible for anxiety in one person to be manifested as a physical symptom in another person. “As is the case with the emotional dysfunctions, the one prone to develop symptoms is the spouse who adapts most to maintain harmony in the relationship system.”
In order to “be there” for our loved ones, we often pay a heavy price on our own health, emotionally and physically.
This dynamic does not exist in couple’s relationship alone, it exists in parent-child relationship as well. I have seen two middle-aged women became ill after care-taking their elderly parents for a period of time. They were both eating healthy/organic, and living a very healthy lifestyle prior to their illness. However, after going home to be there for their parents one developed breast cancer and the other had bronchitis that lasted 3 months.
Over and over again, I hear people talk about nutrition, exercise, using organic products and all that when they think about health. However, one of the most important, sometimes determinant factors to our health – our emotional hygiene – is often overlooked.
So, is it either me, or the one I love? Can we care for our loved ones without paying such a heavy price? Can we look after ourselves and still “be there” for our loved ones?
Yes, it is possible. I have done it, and I believe you can do it, too.
The keys are:
- Let someone support you and teach you
- Let your loved one know how you feel
- Put responsibility back to your loved one
Sound counter-intuitive? Confusing? Impossible? Book a 30 minutes free consultation with me. I will teach you how to look after your loved ones effectively, being appreciated by them, and keeping your own vitality.