Your loved one with aphasia isn’t the only person feeling sad and frustrated. Caregivers get sad, too. In fact, some get downright depressed. The Family Caregiver Alliance puts caregiver depression prevalence at a conservative 20% of all caregivers (which is double the rate of the general population), and the Mayo Clinic created a guide specifically for depression stemming from caregiving.
How can you ensure that you don’t burn out while helping a loved one through aphasia?
Causes for Caregiver Depression
Beyond fears of the unknown and the immense pressure on the caregiver to make continual decisions on another person’s behalf, caregiving is exhausting. You’re out of your routine and taking second place in your own life. You may not be eating well, exercising, or getting enough sleep. Your future has changed, and things you counted on may no longer be possible. If your daily communication partner is the person with aphasia, you may be missing your confidante. You may feel angry that things are progressing slowly, or frustrated with how long — and how many hoops you need to jump through — in order to get answers.
Caregiver sadness and depression is real and experiencing it doesn’t mean that you’re weak. It means that you’re human and affected by the world around you. What counts is whether or not you treat it or dismiss it.
The first step in treating caregiver depression is to make sure it doesn’t happen in the first place. Lean heavily on your dream team and make sure you have adequate support so that all responsibilities don’t fall squarely on your shoulders.
Next, find a good therapist so you have a release valve for your feelings. Even if you save it up and only get to speak to them once a week, that time can be an invaluable hour, allowing you space to express your fears and regroup. Therapy is important because you can say anything without feeling as if you’re burdening a friend or family member with your feelings. Therapists are trained to carry those heavy emotional loads. They aren’t personally invested in the experience, so they have the distance to help you make sound decisions.
Create Your Own Family
There is the family we are born into and there is the family we create along the way, and being a caregiver opens you up to the possibility of bringing other caregivers into your fold. The other caregivers you meet at the hospital or speech therapy clinic form a like-experienced support group of other people who “get” it.
Even if you have other people — friends and family members — to talk to, there is something special about speaking about a difficult experience with someone who is going through the same thing at the same time. Just knowing you’re not alone can go a long way in releasing some of the stress. So strike up that conversation in the waiting room; that person sitting next to you may just become fictive kin.
Write it Out
If you don’t have people to talk to, release the stress by writing in a journal. Or open the voice memo app on your phone, go someplace quiet for a few minutes (the front seat of the car in the parking lot works), and just talk. Tell yourself how hard this is, how scared you are, and how frustrated you feel.
Writing it out in a journal has the added benefit of being a time capsule for those emotions. It can be empowering to look back on your words and know that you don’t feel that same way anymore. It can help you remember that you won’t have your current feelings forever, too.
Cry, Cry, Cry
Our body has a natural way of releasing pressure: crying. If your body didn’t want to you use it, it wouldn’t have this function. So take advantage of it!
Let yourself have an all-out, puffy-eye-giving crying session. Go somewhere private and really wail. Multitask and have a good cry in the shower so you can wash your face at the same time.
Crying isn’t a sign of weakness. Crying is a natural way to deal with stress and tension. Use it liberally to feel better.
Image: Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash