Question: I am discouraged and unhappy. My husband is ill and cannot do much for himself. There is nothing I can do about it, but I just want a happy day. Can you help?
Dr. Amy: When a serious illness takes hold, it’s an enormous adjustment. In your case, it sounds like you have lost an active companion and a source of strength and support. At the same time, you have also gained a whole new set of responsibilities.
You may be feeling a wide range of emotions. One the one hand, you may feel a surge of love and tenderness towards your husband. You may also feel grateful for the opportunity to be of such service. At the same time, you may also feel overwhelmed, sad, angry, hopeless, anxious, and exhausted. Try not to judge yourself for having negative feelings. Your emotions are a good guide. Respect them.
It sounds like you understand that you cannot control the illness. But what can you control? What can you influence to bring more happiness into your lives? When you understand this and feel ready to take action, this clarity can help you focus your energy in areas that can improve your life and invite happiness to enter. You might take a piece of paper and draw two lines down the middle so you have three columns. Make a box that lies across the top of the columns. In the box, write down what you are grieving the loss of. Now that your husband is so ill, what do you miss the most? Once you’ve done that, write down in the first column everything in your life that you genuinely cannot control. In the second column, write down everything over which you have control. Don’t forget to include beliefs you hold that may be holding you down. In the third column, spell out things over which you have influence, but not necessarily control. Once you have a complete picture, think about what it all adds up to and what adjustments you might make.
You have the opportunity to create happy days in three ways:
Take a day off and do something really fun. Plan to step away from your caregiving responsibilities from time to time. This is important, as it allows you to recharge your batteries and then come back refreshed and able to continue to care for your husband. It may seem impossible, but it’s not. There are resources out there you can tap into. Ask!
Think differently about your situation. You can learn techniques to help you think differently about your life. A counselor can help you get started on this path. There are also many books and tapes that can help you. One of my favorites is Feeling Good and The Feeling Good Handbook, by Dr. David Burns.
Build in some regular support. You need ongoing help and support so that you are not carrying the load by yourself. Figure out what you need to do to get regular help caring for your husband. I encourage you to call the Adult Services Unit of Department of Social Services. Consider also joining a support group so that you can share your journey and gain support from others.
The idea of making changes may seem overwhelming. One way to avoid feeling paralyzed is to make lists of every small step you need to take or every question to need to answer. Reach out for help on this journey of reinventing your life. Your church minister can help, if you are a member of a faith community. So too can a geriatric care manager.
You can bring happiness back into your life. I send you strength and inspiration. I found this video inspiring. You may too: youtube.com/watch?v=HDglNi7sCHY
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