In Tennessee, nearly 30 percent of people over the age of 45 are caregivers, meaning they are responsible for taking care of a child or a dependent adult. In many cases, people become caregivers in a split second due to an emergency or illness. Suddenly, your to-do list is overwhelming as there are many household, legal, financial, and family decisions and duties that now require your immediate attention. Long-term caregiving develops into a lifestyle with an open-ended time span of responsibilities and obligations. All your energy becomes focused on what needs to be done for another person. The hopes, dreams and maybe the course of your entire life is redirected by the need, urgency or emergency of another’s needs.
Without a definite timeline, caregivers must find the energy to continue forward and meet the needs of another while simultaneously handling their own household and duties. These energies are merged into one chaotic life filled with much to do and little time to get it all done. Then, maybe suddenly, it stops. The need is gone, and you are no longer a caregiver. But you can’t just step right back into your old life. It has changed. When caregiving duties are finished, you may be left wondering where your life is headed now.
“The aftermath of caregiving is a chaos of moods and emotions,” said Blount Memorial Senior Services coordinator and licensed clinical social worker Edward Harper. “It is a sense of urgency with no direction. These are the ‘ghosts’ of caregiving – the feeling of needing to be someplace doing something other than where you are or doing what you are doing. These caregiving ‘ghosts’ also are memory robbers. Former caregivers often report a brain fog and a disruption in sequencing of tasks, as well as completing of affairs at hand,” Harper said.
Dealing with the ghosts of caregiving can be an additional stressor after caregiving duties end. Those daily trips, doctor’s visits and to-do lists tend to creep back into your thoughts until you remember that is not your life anymore. It may take a while to get back to life before caregiving, but it will happen. “The presence of these ghosts diminishes over time, fades somewhat, and actually helps serve the purpose of preserving the legacy of the caregiving journey,” Harper said.
Taking care of yourself after caregiving will help you remember your hopes and dreams, help get you back on course and help you revive your sense of self. “Acknowledge your feelings, good and bad, and do whatever helps you find peace – such as reading, keeping a journal, exercising, seeing a therapist, finding a support group, or reconnecting with a group of friends who maybe got pushed aside when you became a caregiver. All these things can help keep the ghosts at bay and help you reclaim your own life,” Harper said.
Blount Memorial offers numerous resources for family caregivers and aging adults, including a free Caregiver Support Group, led by Harper, that meets the first and third Tuesday of each month from 10-11 a.m. at Vienna Coffee House in Maryville. Harper also meets with caregivers in free, one-on-one caregiver consultations in his office on the Blount Memorial Hospital campus. For more information, call 865-977-5744.