Caregiver Perspective: Retirement to the Rescue
I have always had a tough time saying no to anyone. Saying no fills me with guilt. I like to solve problems and make others feel better. I, therefore, tend to suffer from a lot of blame if I can’t solve the issues presented for resolution quickly or at all. I feel like a failure creating feelings of depression and anger.
On the other hand, pushing to answer complex problems can result in positive consequences, too. To avoid feelings of guilt, I struggle to try harder to succeed in reaching my goal of meeting the person's needs, and it helps me to be more creative. However, often along with the added energy and motivation comes additional stress and anxiety.
Feelings of guilt common
Many other caregivers have shared with me that they also have these same feelings. Guilt and resentment seem to be common themes among us. I know for myself I’ve internalized a lot of disappointment, anger, fear, and anxiety, that build and cluster together. They never seem to go away. I've been forced through circumstances recently to take a hard look at myself, and I realize that I have internalized a lot more over the years than I have chosen to acknowledge. I know better than to ignore such emotions but I guess it’s human nature to try to push away what’s unpleasant and hope it will cure itself.
Change what you can
I used to tell people who came to me for advice on how to deal with issues that bothered them, "Our bodies will only hold so much stress. It's like we have a large bucket inside. Once the bucket gets full, the water is going to go somewhere in the overflow." My bucket overflowed years ago and began to deteriorate. My doctor finally told me I had to leave my job. She put it in common sense terms, "You can't change Lynn's condition; we can't find a solution to your medical situation since they seem to be stress-related; you can't change the fact that your family has special needs. All you can change is that you work. You could retire and reduce your work hours, get more rest and take a job with less responsibility."
I realized that she was right. I had for years been trying to do it all. But I wasn't ready to stop working either. I loved working outside my home and honestly wanted to get away each day.
Caregiving can be isolating
I didn’t want to go back to living in a world of just me and Lynn and MS where we saw no one except on special occasions. Where we knew the outside world only through what we learned on TV or at the doctor's office. I wanted exposure to something besides MS and my family; I needed something to challenge my mind. I wanted to be known for something other than being Lynn's caregiver and wife.
Giving up dreams
I also resented having to give up my career. I gave up getting my Master’s degree and being able to advance my career because I didn’t have anyone to care for Lynn at night so I could go to class or study after work. I stopped looking for new job opportunities because I knew I needed to keep FMLA options available “just in case.’ All my decisions centered around Lynn throughout my career. Now, as I made decisions about retirement, I needed to put his needs first again as I made decisions regarding what I could or should do when I left full-time work to retire.
Retirement best option for now
For many reasons, retirement is my best option right now. I have left my full-time job and taken early retirement and am applying to reactivate my nursing license. There is a family with a young child with special medical needs that needs my help. With reactivating my nursing license, I can take care of the child, get paid by Medicaid as her nurse, and free up her Mom so that she can work and earn some money for to help out with medical bills. Winn-win. I also have other prospects with telework that might lead to some income soon. I'm hoping by fitting all these opportunities together; it will be enough that I can work at home, over-see Lynn's care, keep the stress to a minimum, and maintain a level of income that we can pay the necessary bills.
I've been out of work now a month, and I haven’t been this happy in years. I don’t wake up with that heavy feeling of guilt and dread each morning. Before I knew I could not do everything I needed to do that day. I knew I would disappoint someone. I knew I would let someone down and if no one else, certainly myself. I was miserable, frustrated, angry, and depressed every day. My blood pressure was going up. I had three emergency room visits, had seen four specials for GI problems with so answers to solve the issues I had encountered. I had put on a lot of weight. My arthritis was much worse, and I was becoming one of those statistics where the caregiver was likely to die before the one receiving care. But not now. Now, I'm at peace, and it feels great. Thank goodness for retirement plans.
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