Chronic Caregiver

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I do not always handle chronic migraines well. I admittedly have a tendency to somehow both withdraw and lash out at the same time. I am quick to anger, quicker to cry, and quickest to dismiss. I am working on this, both independently and with the help of a therapist. (Not to mention my incredibly patient boyfriend, close friends, and parents.) The fact is, migraines never feel good and being exposed to them on a weekly (if not daily) basis can be extremely overwhelming. Add nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to lights/sounds/smells, neck pain, facial numbness/tingling, aura, visual and aural disturbances, and a plethora of other symptoms to severe and unrelenting pain and see what your mood is like. I require a lot of help from others and I greatly appreciate the help that they provide. However…

The result of requiring assistance from others so often sets up an interesting dynamic. If anyone experiences injury, illness, or other discomfort during a time when I have my migraines at least partially managed, watch out. My first instinct is to nurture the living daylights out of them. Would they like a glass of water? Perhaps Ginger Ale, if they’re nauseated? Heating pad for their back? I also have Advil and Tylenol in my purse. Feeling anxious? I have a deep breathing tip they should try. Do they want me to rub their back? Put on a T.V. show? I am obsessed with helping them because they have helped me so many times. I WANT TO PAY THEM BACK. I WANT TO FIX THEM. What I fail to remember is my own crankiness, my own mindset when I am sick or in pain. I often want to be left completely alone in a dark silent room. I do not want a barrage of questions launched at me. I will ask for what I want or need. It is so easy to forget.

I recently had the opportunity to take care of a loved one. As usual, I unleashed a whirlwind of questions and suggestions in this person’s direction, not really pausing to take in their body language and not-so-subtle verbal cues to pipe down and leave them be. When they finally asked me (very respectfully and with great restraint) to leave them alone, I felt like I had been punched in the gut. Tears pricked at my eyes. Even then, I couldn’t stop myself. I launched into a soliloquy about how I just wanted to help them because they had helped me and I don’t get to be in this role very often and I just wanted to make them aware of things that had helped me in the past and…and…and…

Eventually, I settled down and left this person alone to deal with their discomfort as they saw fit. But it left an impression on me. Several thoughts crystallized as I considered the situation at hand:

1.) Everyone deals with pain and illness differently. Short of doing something dangerous, there really is no right or wrong way.

2.) I often prefer to be left alone when I am experiencing any kind of discomfort, particularly a migraine. It is okay for others to prefer to be alone as well. This is not an indication of their love or appreciation for me. In fact, their discomfort is (follow me closely here) NOT ABOUT ME AT ALL.

3.) I felt angry and hurt when my advice and offers were respectfully refused. Perhaps I should be more aware of how I interact with others when they are trying to help me. It is challenging to be eloquent and polite while experiencing severe pain but I should at least aim to be respectful. Something like this should do it: “I appreciate your help. However, I have learned that the best course of action is for me to be alone right now. Thanks for understanding.” I may not be able to get all of that out exactly as I have written it here but I think I can at least effectively convey the sentiment.

Bottom line: Caregivers and those they care for have hard jobs. In order to maintain an open and healthy relationship, each must consider what it would be like to walk in the other’s shoes.

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