Caregiver Stress: It Might Eventually Kill You
–by Donald Craig Peterson
originally published on the author’s website, ADOPTING FAITH: A Father’s Unconditional Love, July 31, 2017
The serious look on the eye doctor’s face was obvious. Then she said, “Are you under a lot of stress at work?”
Instantly I let out a nervous laugh. “At work – no. But home can be another story.”
No doubt, parenting children with special needs isn’t for the meek – as I know from personal experience. Nineteen years with three still at home. While this 24/7 responsibility can be immensely rewarding, the challenges are real.
Often intense. Sometimes without warning. Constant stress.
According to my doctor, the two layers of tissue under my retina had sprung a leak. And a bubble of liquid formed, as a 3-D image clearly indicated. Fortunately it was off to the side and not affecting my vision. At least not for now.
The condition is Central Serous Chorioretinopathy. Although stress is the common cause, other factors may contribute: overuse of steroids, autoimmune diseases, chronic insomnia or high blood pressure. None of which apply to me.
In other words, STRESS!
Since the “bubble” problem often resolves itself in one or two months, I didn’t worry. Three months later at my follow-up appointment, the bubble hadn’t shrunk but grown.
Not what I expected to hear.
No doubt, I had to reduce my stress – even though I typically had managed my life without complaint and didn’t feel overwhelmed on a daily basis.
Each morning I must do a series of self-tests for blurred and distorted vision. If my condition worsens and begins to affect my sight, a special laser procedure can repair the damage.
Yet side effects may create permanent distortion. Plus a new bubble can quickly form in either eye – ultimately causing blindness if not addressed.
SELF-CARE to the rescue!
First, saying “no” to increased responsibilities or new opportunities is perfectly ok – even when I want to say “yes.”
Second, certain things can wait until tomorrow. Or be done less frequently. Life will go on regardless.
Third, my kids can do more to help me – and they have.
Fourth, restful sleep truly matters.
Fifth, healthy eating and exercise – although a priority in the past – became a daily ritual.
And lastly – something that I had never considered necessary. Psychotropic medication. Without any shame or reservation.
Surprisingly, a small dose of an anti-depressant immediately improved the quality of my sleep and eventually increased my focus during day. Suddenly I endured fewer headaches.
Most importantly, it reduced the effort to be a patient parent – almost like I went into auto-pilot mode much of the day.
Over time, my perspective changed too. I let go of many things that I simply can’t control with reasonable influence.
Every day I make sure to do at least one thing just for me. This includes reading something pleasurable for 15 minutes or more before bedtime. A temporary escape to free my mind.
I turn off my phone at 9 pm.
I tell silly jokes at mealtime and laugh – whether anyone listens or not. Occasionally I pull an old-fashioned prank.
And I avoid negative talk about anything – which is easier said than done. Without question, positive words are always good for the soul.
The result is a whole lot LESS stress.
I’m not talking about silly stress – like waiting in a line at the grocery store. I’m not talking about moderate stress – like calling the insurance company a dozen times to authorize one of your children’s medications.
I’m talking about toxic stress.
It’s the uncertainty that starts first thing in the morning and intensifies throughout the day. It’s the “never-wanting-to-go-there-again” mentality that force the parents to be vigilant in preventing problems, because the ugly fall-out demands twice the effort in terms of both time and sanity.
No wonder many parents of children with special needs – and especially those with chronic behavioral challenges – show signs of secondary trauma. Some develop PTSD, which makes them easily triggered by their children’s actions.
Stress on top of stress.
And very few want to talk about this sad reality, even as the stress of caring for aging parents gains public attention.
Moreover, people outside the home can add to this toxic stress – when they blame the parent for the child’s behavior. Luckily I realized that such people need to be removed from my life – or avoided whenever possible. My How Did I Become So Angry? blog delved into this very essential topic.
In a growing number of tragic situations, too much toxic stress overtime eventually kills a once-healthy person. Stroke. Heart attack. Cancer. The list goes on and on.
The human body can only take so much.
So the choice to change is yours. Today, not tomorrow.
Become more content with daily living. DCP
Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE
To learn more about Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love, Craig’s soon-to-published memoir about raising six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love
To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold