I have a soft heart. It may not seem that this brash, loud person is vulnerable. A friend whom I love, who is occasionally abrasive, but a tell -it-like -it-is person, keeps a part of herself hidden. She and I are alike in that we seem to be extroverts, but I found I’m really an introvert pretending to be an extrovert and always out there. We have loud personalities. We take up causes. We have loud opinions. Hidden underneath that out-there personality of my friend is one of the softest hearts I know that gets hurt easily. She keeps that hurt hidden.
Going through the transition of my husband moving into memory care has brought much soul searching. I’ve never lived alone. Acknowledging that I’m scared is hard. It’s a secret to be kept inside and I realize over the years, especially the last five, I have run on fear. Fear of upsetting the person I lived with, fear of upsetting my children. That fear came out of me as someone that was always whining, asking for help from my family, and in desperation it came across to others as a person to stay away from because I wasn’t pleasant to be around. By being opinionated and verbal about issues that weren’t mine, and taking up some other cause, I could hide my fear or put it out of my mind for a short time. My behavior distanced myself from people I love.
I was breaking inside but on the outside I was pretending, trying so hard to be this I’ve got this person to those around me that weren’t family, this social person, the perfect grandma and good friend. And I complained and cried. Why weren’t family coming home more often to see us and help, to ease what was happening. The Pandemic caused isolation and loneliness but when it was over the visits still were sporadic. I knew it was because of busy lives, but still I suspected it was the drama our life represented because of the memory loss, and me being completely emotional and irrational. Maybe emotionally they couldn’t handle what was happening either. Don’t get me wrong, if it was an emergency they were there immediately for us. Now having some quiet and alone time I pretty much accept it was me that kept them away for the small things, for more frequent visiting.
I have spent the major part of my life wanting people to not be mad at me. I can just hear Dr. Phil saying, “And how’s that working for you?” Looking back I tried too hard, came out as over the top, giving mixed messages and being wishy- washy in my actions. I am always being told by my family , “ Make a decision.” And yes I have been very outspoken. I will tell you right now that those who are caregivers 24/7 don’t think rationally either. They are too caught up in the drama of their lives.
I now see it wasn’t the situation, but me and my crazy personality that made close ones stay away. And it was fear that made me act that way. Fear of being rejected, of making the wrong decision. Fear that I would never get out of the nightmare, and fear of saying I felt I was living in a nightmare, not being able to say those words to anyone because the person I lived with really was living a worse nightmare, so what he needed is more important. His fear was there but not expressed as fear, but anger. Who wouldn’t be angry? So I felt my fear was not rational because I was fine, the healthy one. .
I suspect I am not the only caregiver that doesn’t show who they are to their families, doesn’t express their true feelings, and what they do express comes out wrong because the stress turns their ability to verbalize their emotions, making the words irrational. Not only are we fearful but angry. We keep that inside too. Caregivers compromise who they are, withhold their anger and sadness about the situation to keep the peace, and not have their families upset with them. And yet it isn’t working.
Family is love and that love doesn’t leave because of discord, but it may be hard for all of us to remember that. Our kids live in a world today that is very stressful. They are busy just trying to live and excel and don’t have time for all the drama we may bring to their lives. They have learned to set boundaries to protect themselves. And because of that, we as parents may not understand. Us oldsters were brought up in an entirely different world. We didn’t know about boundaries and stress reduction. We didn’t have media telling us to protect ourselves by staying away from toxic people. The mental health help was not there.
The two worlds of the younger generation and the older generation today are having a hard time, in some cases, understanding the dynamics of the world growing us up differently.
My generation didn’t know it was acceptable to put the toxic people out of our lives, even if they were family. If my mom would have known that she might have put my grandma out of her life. My grandma was always yelling. You can ask her grandkids, we never remember her smiling, but because she was family she was taken care of until she died. My parents sacrificed a lot to take care of parents and brothers because that’s what you did in the olden days. The nursing home and mental health weren’t options.
My mother wanted to teach in Alaska. She wanted to travel the world, but gave up her dreams to stay home and take care of her mother. Others did the same. Family came first. I always thought that was why she was crabby, now I surmise she was crabby from Caregiver burnout, not because she sacrificed her dreams. I did not understand how hard her life was. The generational difference. But the one thing I understood was that family was everything above work and even money. Both my mom and dad financially helped out family members when they had a need. Occasionally supporting them financially until they could get back on their feet. They helped both sides of the families. They helped friends. I still have my dad’s billfold with all the IOU notices from people he lent money to. Their brothers and sisters were the same way. Before her death my mom told me what she had wanted to do with her life, but that she did not regret giving up her dreams to help her family. I believe that. It was the caregiver burnout that caused the crabbiness and I didn’t understand. It was a different generation.
I think my generation has a hard time understanding the difference of today’s world and where the shift is. So we hurt, we hide it and we don’t make sense to our kids because they don’t understand that our expectations come from our past. And we don’t understand the world they live in and how stressful and time consuming the reality that is their life is.
We have a communication gap between what our hearts feel and what we say. If we choose to share, how we say it because of our emotions, it comes out wrong. Emotions that we keep hidden and don’t always recognize ourself such as fear.
Caregivers have so much fear hidden inside of them. Their world is changing. The people that love them don’t always see that their needs are getting lost in the abyss of whoever they are taking care of. A caregiver wakes up in the morning, if they’ve gotten any sleep, and puts one foot in the front of another and takes a step, and occasionally that one step is all that is holding them up. If you know a caregiver ask them what they fear. Do they feel their security is gone and they no longer feel safe? If they are that tender hearted person with a brash exterior, you may have to read between the lines because if they let all the hurt out that they are hiding, they might break. Or they may be that soul who doesn’t want to make anyone mad for fear they will disappear from their life and they will be totally alone, and so the decisions or words they speak may come out as complaining or whining, but really it’s a cry for help, for you to help them be who they are. And love them anyway.