On a beautiful Sunday evening this July, as I sat on the rocks in Maine while on holiday, a very good friend of mine put her hand on my shoulder, then took my hand and said, “Claire, let it go. It’s time to let it go. It’s time for you to stop being so hard on yourself”… I was dumbfounded. How could she tell what I had been feeling inside? I realized at that moment that the toxic feelings that I had been holding onto and only allowing my family to see were now making their way into my outside world as well. For the past year, my husband had also been pleading with me to “let it go” and give myself permission to love, feel, be happy and “just be”. Up until recently, I did not understand at all what he or others close to me, including a very important mentor in my life, were trying to say…until now.
I call it… REMNANTS of the SHOCK FACTOR:
• When an individual suddenly becomes a caregiver without advance warning and their life changes “overnight”.
• A cycle of anger, grief and mourning for the interruption of their and their loved one’s life.
• Having to adapt to the constant stress of receiving the “phone call” and not knowing what to expect.
• Having multiple “expect the unexpected” situations thrown at you constantly involving children, parents, in-laws, health, friends, work and home all at the same time and having to respond quickly.
Despite the fact that my 10 year role as a Caregiver to my mother ended on May 6, 2016, when she succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease, I had been so accustomed to constantly living in a state of “prepare for the worst”. Every time my phone rang and I saw either the dreaded number from my mother’s long term care facility, the children’s school, or “unknown caller”, my body would go into a state of absolute rigidity, my heart pounding through my chest and the cold sweat beginning behind my neck. A therapist that I had been working with compared this to being a soldier at war – not knowing when the enemy may attack.
The challenge of being in this state of mind over such a long period of time, 10 years in my case, is that it becomes a way of life, a habit that is hard to break. I recognized that I often felt “uptight” inside, but never fully appreciated the ripple effect that my state of being would have on my loved ones and my inability to truly enjoy all that they and life has to offer, including appreciating the beauty of that magical evening in Maine.
As caregivers, life puts us through such a rigorous training program. We become experts in responding to a multitude of situations, crisis, both physically and mentally and we all have our own coping mechanisms. We rarely give ourselves permission to “just be” and enjoy our own lives as we are constantly distracted by our “care” responsibilities and responding to “what’s next”. During my caregiving years, I had pushed myself so hard to become a Superwoman who could respond to anything that I suffered the consequences by having a nervous breakdown in 2011.
Over the past few years, I have acquired numerous skills through therapy and workshops to overcome the “Superwoman” complex but realize now that the “remnants of the shock factor” became so inherent to me that they were having a significant impact on my relationship with my family, with myself and have been preventing me from living my own life to the fullest. As my husband and close friend said to me, “Claire, it’s time to let it go”. Life may continue to throw challenges my way but I now recognize that it’s time for me to live, love, enjoy and breathe.