In my opinion, caregiver syndrome or caregiver stress is directly related to exhaustion, anger, rage, guilt, isolation or loneliness that results from unrelieved caring for a terminally or chronically ill dependent or loved one over a period of time. The healthcare professionals, will talk to you about caregiver syndrome or caregiver stress, but as it is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, that’s all it is, just talk.
Imagine, if something so widely known and talked about by the professionals was listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, insurance companies would have to cover any issues affecting the caregiver due to emotional stress, or physical illnesses. And there are so many.
More importantly, some of the many caregivers suffering emotional stress issues would qualify for some sort of compensation from local, state, or governmental health agencies. Disability issues among caregivers is certainly real and needs to be addressed, sooner, rather than later.
Care giving has been described as a “rollercoaster ride from Hell.” Many, if not most caregivers would probably agree with that definition. My experience is that, it certainly can be.
Life’s dirty little secret
What happens after the care giving or during long term caring. We know that many patients or loved ones outlive their caregiver.
This happened to me and can or could happen to many of you, in one form or another.
Three months after Annie died I had a physical. I was told all was well, with the exception of a vitamin D deficiency.
Immediately after the physical, I got a lecture from the doctor in a distinctively different tone of voice. He informed me that I needed to pay close attention to my body, as intense stress from care giving can set forth a chain of events in the body leading to a whole sundry of illnesses down the road. (I didn’t believe him.)
But, over time my immune system started letting me down, the illnesses started festering inside of me and I didn’t even know. My grief and loneliness was so intense, I simply wasn’t paying attention to my body. How could I? Dealing with grief was full time, and occupying all my thoughts.
Four years after the care giving,starting in January 2015, my immune system went into hyperdrive. It was like I was flying through time on a sea of illnesses. Full body inflammation, two heavy duty events with inflamed lungs requiring steroid treatments, shingles, Gastritis with Anemia, which was bleeding of the stomach that led to low red blood cell counts causing fatigue for, half of the year. And on top of that I developed heart trouble and had to carry a little bottle of nitro pills everywhere I went.
Over that dreadful year, my inflammation numbers were high enough to trigger a couple rounds of cancer tests. They didn’t see it but, it was there. In February 2016, I was diagnosed with a significant prostate cancer.
Sometimes giving your loved one everything you’ve got, even though it might not always be enough, the level of stress you’re enduring is probably overwhelming your body’s ability to function normally. And that leads me to the biggie…The caregivers diet. We may give our patient or loved one what they need in the form of nutrition, but for whatever reason we neglect our own bodies. I guess for me, it was just easier.
Of course, one of the suggested causes of prostate cancer is poor diet. And I certainly had that. Obviously that’s a man’s cancer, but consider this-it’s estimated that 35% of all cancers are caused by poor diet-as stated by Dr. Kathleen M. Stadler, Virginia Tech. Poor diet does not discriminate between a man or a woman.
The irony is, if we all ate healthy, and lived a healthy lifestyle, 80% of all cancers could be avoided, according to Dr. Stadler. She’s probably talking about some sort of stress free life inside a bubble, where there are no caregiver duties. Sort of, a semi-perfect world.
But, if by chance you fit the description of an intense caregiver, where your body is always in motion, or you fall into the category that I defined as Caregiver syndrome, or caregiver stress, you need to become self aware.
You probably can’t stop the train after it leaves the station, but I’ll bet you can slow it down as, I’m doing. I drink plenty of water, have a healthier diet, and walk 1 to 2 miles, 5 days a week. My inflammation is gone, along with other nuisance illnesses. My heart is healthy and stable, and my significant prostate cancer has, so far, made no further advancement since diagnosis. I turned down radical prostate surgery or radiation, for 2 genetic tests and a healthier lifestyle. And I’m so glad I did. My energy level is elevated and I really do feel well.
After the care giving, don’t let life pass you by. Try to rewind your thought process, get out of the fog, go for walks, have some fun and do whatever it is that your heart desires. I know it’s not easy, but you can do it, if I can.
I wish you all, the best.