Man, some straight like you…all of a sudden at age, what, 60, he’s just gonna break bad?” Jesse Pinkman / Breaking Bad
“Eden,” Cyrus snapped bringing her back to the present. “I have a sword pointed at you. Will you please focus!”
Samantha Young, Blood Past
Ooooohhhh yeeeeaah. That’s the first thing to go. I’ve learned a lot about getting oneself out of order and what it takes to get back on track. If your personality is that of an extreme person where you overdo everything and then crash, then you’ll understand the title. Top that with the added responsibility of caregiving, and BURN-OUT takes on a whole new meaning.
The first three parts of the series focused on getting started on the journey of caregiving.
Part two on giving honor to our parents: http://OUT OF THE OZONE: Remember My Name, and
Part three, understanding our individual roles and some ways to cope with our place in our loved ones lives: http://OUT OF THE OZONE ~ One Man’s Rasslin’ Is Another Man’s Dancin’.
Today, we’ll discuss the caregiver on overload, called Breaking Bad ~ when caregivers overdo and what to do about it.
To clarify some things, here’s a break down on austere or unmanageable behaviors (OK. “Bad”, but -depends on your definition of “bad”). There are differences: a person’s personality, a person with a genuine biological issue, and an average person on overload. Here’s a short summary:
My dad’s doctor says I’m OCD but I told him there’s no evidence of it in my messy house and car. Mostly I’m OCD when I get an idea in my head and want to get it done before I lose interest. That’s my personality; I get bored easily. Everyone handles stress differently depending on their temperament and personality.
There are some who have issues in their biology such as ADHD or bipolar; the origins being biological and in need of medication.
Then there’s the average person who has reached a breaking point with no relief in sight and they begin to operate out of their normal character. All functions start to get out of sync to the point where that person feels they can no longer perform even the simplest tasks. That can be the life of the caregiver on overload, but it doesn’t have to be.
HOW YOU GET THERE
I’m a long distance caregiver, which means that I live halftime with my dad, and halftime at home. He lives 78 miles from my house (and my work) and we have chosen to keep him in his home as long as possible. Bringing him to our house caused his anxiety levels to go off the charts. So, that plan was moot. I know the day may come when we’ll have to consider more options, but have to settle for the fact that we’ll just cross that when the time comes.
The first year, I was working and driving to my dad’s house from work and back home at night (186 miles round trip). In addition, I was cooking, buying groceries, and setting up bank and bill accounts, contacting social services, doctor appointments, taking time off from work to do this. Then, while I was at work, I would call to check on him and when he didn’t answer the phone, worry set in.
“Is he hurt or just lose his phone?”
Working all day with that on my mind caused anxiety in me. When that becomes a daily thing, it builds, eventually taking a toll on your health (both physical and mental).
My brother and I began our journey with my dad when we had to deal with some legal issues that were draining his finances, his health was deteriorating, and we were under time constraints. That stress was enough, but was only beginning. I had to set up his household, which entailed working with outside agencies. Once I got this taken care of, I turned to social services to help.
Fun. Fun. Fun. When dealing with social services that will only deal on the phone for certain programs, and you take a day off to catch a call that never came, aggravation begins. Then, a few days later you get mail stating that YOU didn’t keep the appointment, your frustration grows. Most government programs don’t cover caregiving unless your loved one is going into a nursing home. So, even though your loved one is unable to live alone without assistance, you’re on your own.
Couple the physical, with circumstances you can’t control and the pot begins to boil. Circumstances such as the two flat tires I had on two separate nights-with-no-moon, his pipes breaking under the house and flooding the bathroom and hallway, wires in the attic deciding they’ve lived long enough and knocking out half the light sockets in the house. AND I still had to work the next day.
One flat tire did lend some excitement however. We got to ride in a State Patrol car. So cool. The second flat tire came about driving home when I was exhausted. I misjudged a curb and busted both tires on my right side. Luckily, I’ve gotten home support and my brother in Texas comes a few times a year to help with wiring and plumbing stuff that I can’t (I’ve already posted his honey-do list on the fridge). Throw tight finances on top of that and your wiring begins to unravel.
Take the physical, mix it with the circumstantial and pour in a cup of the emotional and you have a recipe for a chemistry cocktail that has explosive results.
At random moments, the thought pops into your mind how dependent your loved one is on you, and what might occur if something happened when you’re not there, and you can find yourself in the freak-out mode easily.
Watching your loved one who has always been the giant in your life, the hero that could fix anything, losing their independence and abilities plays on YOUR emotions. Then there’s the guilt you feel when you’re frustrated and react to the repeated questions, odd behavior, losing and/or misplacing things that you have to “hunt” for – again and again and again.
You tell yourself that it’s the chemistry in the brain causing the problem, not the individual person’s character, and the guilt piles on because you’re not perfect enough to have reacted with knowledge instead of emotions. And let’s not forget, too, the feeling that you get each time you hug your elderly parent goodbye could be the last time you see them.
The problems begin when everyone around you notices changes in YOUR behavior.
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
You can tell you’re overdoing it when you get the sneaking suspicion that places of business have a picture of you underneath the counter with ”crazy lady” written in red across your face.
Since I’m trying to watch every penny, I don’t take kindly to being ripped off by mystery charges that don’t even have a name, phones issues that keep me constantly in and out of the phone store. A caregiver on overload handles things a little different than the rational person. Ask the phone store, my Dad’s doctor, and my family. Having always been a gracious, patient person, I surprised even myself by becoming the customer retailers dread.
Here’s what the average personality on overload/ burnout looks like:
- Stressing out over the least little thing:
After work, you’re tired but they’re not. Things need to get done (or things undone) begin to drain your strength both mental and physical. Not good.
- Either sleeping too much or not sleeping at all:
Not sleeping means that your brain is always ON. I came to a point where I quite literally did not sleep for days. Sleeping too much in an attempt to avoid the stress you’re feeling and can lead to depression and/or giving up.
- Panic attacks that result in shutting down:
Once my stress load began affecting me to the point of overload, I began losing things, misplacing things, and instead of reasoning through it, I would become paralyzed and react out of panic.
- Health issues:
I got to the point where I was in a panic mode. Other health issues were magnified because of the stress on my nerves.
- Reacting to others in a way uncharacteristic for you:
Uh….speaking louder than usual. Feeling that you are becoming “language challenged”, where the phrase “let it go” took on new meaning. I actually got the idea for http://OUT OF THE OZONE ~ One Man’s Rasslin’ Is Another Man’s Dancin’ one day while in a store where I needed to pay my bill, my passwords weren’t working, it was due that day and their computers were down. In an effort to keep myself calm around my dad, my frustration had to come out somewhere, and it would get poured out on those around me.
The last straw came one day when, already overloaded with mental and physical responsibility, I broke down in the Walmart parking lot. I was in the mental state where one more thing is all it would take. I got to the parking lot with groceries and realized that I had lost my debit card. After searching the store and not finding it, that was IT.
I had one nerve left, and it snapped. I called home crying like a cracked psycho,
“I’m done. I can’t go any further. Come get me”.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
I had many such episodes of orneriness, and craziness and some were downright scary. In fact, my freaking out freaked out others. And as a caregiver, a part of the freaking out is feeling that others can’t possibly understand what you’re going through, so you feel very along and vulnerable.
Don’t miss BREAKING BAD PART TWO – It’s Science, Dude! to get some insight on the beginning of the end of bad behavior and a new sense of peace and accomplishment in being able to care for your loved one. Once you get to the other side, you’ll begin building new memories that you will be able to look back on later with great contentment.
After that column, I will discuss some of the specific issues that lead up to overload in more detail in a column titled: Issues! Issues!
For more insight into caregiver stress, read more at:
Caregiver Stress test:
More on caregiver stress: