I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Facing Cancer with Grace, I will focus on caregiving. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, where I will share ways to increase your creativity. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is D for Depression in Caregivers.
When my husband was first diagnosed with cancer, all of my attention and energy was focused on finding out as much as we could about his disease and the potential treatments. With each new treatment, we adjusted to different side effects. We tried to help our daughters through the roller coaster of emotions they were experiencing. We dealt with the reactions of our family and friends. All of this kept me so busy that I didn’t have time to think about how I was doing. Then one day, caregiver depression set in.
Different Kinds of Depression
I’d felt the weight of depression a couple of times prior to that. Once was what they call “situational depression.” I was going through a massive life change which included financial insecurity and not knowing what the future held, or even where I would live. I also experienced postpartum depression after the birth of my second daughter, She had some undiagnosed health problems which caused her to cry non-stop unless she was nursing. This lasted for more than a year. During that time I got very little sleep and became exhausted. Finally, when she was 2, she had surgery which changed everything.
Recognizing the Problem
So, when I began to experience symptoms of depression, several months into my husband’s cancer battle, I recognized them immediately. It felt like a combination of situational depression (after all my husband did have cancer), and exhaustion and hopelessness, much like I felt during my daughter’s first couple of years of life. This was made worse by the serious, life-threatening illness of another family member. The pressure I felt was unbearable. Many days I was afraid to get out of bed, for fear of what would happen that day.
I felt desperation along with the depression. I tried to seek help from our cancer center. I wanted to talk to someone specifically about the stress related to my husband’s cancer. In my situation, I didn’t need medication, but I did need some serious support. I needed to talk to someone outside of the situation. At the time, the cancer center didn’t have anyone who worked with caregivers. They gave me the phone numbers of some recommended therapists, but none of them were accepting new patients.
A Therapist in Clinic
After a few weeks of limping through, I made an appointment with a therapist at a nearby in-network clinic. There was a 3-week wait for the soonest opening. By the time the day of the appointment arrived, I’d already applied some emotional band-aids and no longer felt the level of stress I had felt when I made the appointment. I tried to see the therapist monthly, but we just didn’t “click.”
So, What Helped?
To be honest, my husband’s health improving, and our family member’s health stabilizing, were the 2 things that helped the most. The pressure was alleviated. That’s not very encouraging news. What is encouraging is that I learned some things since then to help prevent full-blown depression in the future.
I found a group of cancer caregivers called Jack’s Caregiver Coalition that meets monthly to talk about what’s happening in their lives. Because it’s just for caregivers, we can be completely open and honest. We can talk about the thing that’s most pressing on our minds, or we can just listen. There’s something encouraging about knowing there are people out there that get what you’re going through. Even better, you can encourage someone else.
I have a couple of people in my life who I can get together with to talk and to pray with. These are people who go the extra mile and want to be there to help if I start to sink under the pressure of it all. It’s important to think about who you can count on during this time to support your needs. Often people are there for the patient but don’t realize the extent of what caregivers go through. Finding a few friends who are there for you is important.
Balancing Your Schedule
I have things on my schedule that get me out of the house when I need a break. I’ve also learned that sometimes you need to drop all obligations, even if they are things you enjoy doing. Finding a balance between the two is important. Sometimes it may take a bit of trial and error. You are the only person who knows where you need to be on the scale. I tend to become easily overwhelmed under pressure. So, I do better when I don’t have actual obligations and yet have the ability to take a break and go out for coffee when the opportunity arises. When my husband is sick, I don’t feel comfortable leaving him. Some people need to get out to just breathe a while. We are all wired differently. This is when you need to advocate for yourself.
Find professional help BEFORE you need it
Waiting until you feel desperate isn’t a good idea. You may need to try a few therapists before you find one you feel comfortable with. Shop around. Let the therapist know what you are dealing with. Find out how hard it is to get a last-minute appointment if something comes up and you need to talk to someone right away. If they don’t seem like a good fit, ask for a recommendation. They are professional and won’t take it personally. They may know of someone who is just right for you.
If you are dealing with clinical depression that won’t get better with time and talk, you may need medication. In the past, stigma was attached to mental illness and its treatment. Mental illness isn’t a moral issue. It’s a health issue. Just like people with diabetes need medication, people suffering from depression or any other mental illness shouldn’t feel ashamed of seeking the treatment they so urgently need.
I’m in the early stages of putting together a resource page for caregivers of cancer patients. I’d love it if you’d check it out and email me any suggestions of resources you’d recommend. While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage you on your cancer journey.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!
In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com
Also, put your memories into words with The Memory Maker’s Journal.
I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker