1st Aug, 2002
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis
MY FRIEND GINNY, whose husband has MS, organized a local support group for caregivers of those with MS. I've been feeling depressed lately, so I decided to attend. Ginny asked us to share the first thought we had when we awoke. One person said, "I worry about my wife and if I'm doing all I can do for her. In fact, I wake up worried and go to bed worried." Several of us shook our heads in agreement.
Ginny replied, "Your first thought in the morning will stay with you most of the day." This gave me something to think about. I'm constantly looking for ways to stop worrying about bills, life, and whether I'm doing all I can do for my loved ones. I can't blame my depression on my years of being a caregiver-part of it stems from my upbringing. For as long as I can remember, my mother worried about something. As a child, I couldn't understand why she was always concerned about something that may or may not happen; yet my pattern of coping was set fairly early in life.
One day a dear friend brought me a framed card of the famous poem, "Why Worry?" If it isn't familiar to you, try to find a copy at your local library. My copy of "Why Worry?" is hanging in a place where I see it every day.
Worry, isolation, fatigue, and frustration can lead to depression, which can be debilitating. Caregivers are three times more susceptible to depression than the average individual.
Most of us aren't prepared for the difficult and stressful job of being a caregiver. At first, we may want to deny that MS has entered our lives. That isn't necessarily a bad thing; we all hope for a cure. The denial could buy you some time before you accept reality. Even the most seasoned caregiver will feel stressed. No matter what you do, your loved one will need more care as his or her condition worsens. All of us feel anger. If that anger is ignored, it can build up and create havoc on others and ourselves. It takes skill, patience, tolerance, and tenacity to be a caregiver. We learn how to cope by acknowledging our feelings and emotional reactions to our role.
Let the Anger Go
We should learn to release that anger and frustration. If possible, take a long weekend away from your family. Try to take every opportunity to walk in the woods or along the beach. If you don't live close to those destinations, go to your local park. Take a blanket and throw it on the grass, lie down, and talk to the clouds. It's okay to shake your fist at them; they won't care. Find time to pursue some of your interests. Ask someone in your family or church to come in and give you some respite time.
Exercise is healthy and can be beneficial both emotionally and physically. When we're depressed, and feel as if we can't manage, exercise helps dispel the cobwebs in our brains.
I've also found that surrounding myself with positive people is a tremendous help. Support groups are great places to vent your feelingswe're all in the same boat.
You can also develop your own support system. Write down the names of
professionals, relatives, and friends that you can call for assistance.
Do you know someone who could stay with your loved one? How about someone
with whom you can share your feelings, or someone you can go out with and
have a good time? Try going to a bowling alley and watch others enjoy themselves.
Just watching others relax may put you at ease. All or any of these suggestions
will take some time to manage. The payoff may be that you will better cope
with being a caregiver.
© 2002 Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis