The physical, emotional and mental drain caregiving takes on you, isn’t always felt while you're caregiving.
You’re too exhausted from all the immediate caregiving responsibilities that have taken up every waking hour. After caregiving is over, the physical, emotional and mental loss can be soul crushing.
In fact, there is research, showing that long term or intense caregiving often causes PTSD.
I think there tends to be this false belief that once our responsibilities of caregiving is over, we can rest a bit and pick up our lives again easily. People who haven’t done caregiving will often tell you this frequently, trying to be good.
In my experience and in others I’ve spoken with, it’s not that easy.
It was a few months, or maybe even a year, after my Grandma passed away when I got a forwarded text from my mom about a family friend waiting at the hospital for their loved one. I didn't realize it was a forwarded message, and thought my mom was at the hospital with the friend. I was physically across my living room, ready to change and go to the hospital to be with her, before realizing that my mom probably wasn't there. It was such an automatic reaction, given how often both my grandparents were in and out of the hospital. I would always go to help with the other grandparent who wasn't being admitted.
That event made me realize how long the stress and changes of caregiving stay with you.
These tips and resources are a bit more specific to coming out of the caregiver role, but quite possibly you are also grieving as well. It’s a process, take it one day at a time.
In the tips and resources below take what resonates and leave the rest.
You probably won’t be able to pick your life up where you left it as you started your caregiver journey. You are forever changed. Somethings that were important to you before caregiving, may not be as important to you now.
Schedule down time
Having down time as a caregiver, is often non-existent. When you are no longer a caregiver, that muscle memory of taking time to relax and unwind quite possibly has been severely neglected. Put time on your calendar to just be. You won’t do it if it’s not scheduled. If you are able to, schedule at least a small get away. If you can’t do a vacation, at least schedule a few weekends to not do anything. Even better if you can do a vacation and down time weekends.
Friendships are hard to maintain normally. When you’re a caregiver, some of your friendships may have been unintentionally put on hold.
In my experience and that of others, a lot of friends stop reaching because you’ve had to keep cancelling plans, or been too exhausted to even send a text. And people in general can be uncomfortable with caregiving and death. Those subjects alone can make others pull away, even if they value your friendship.
So here is my advice to you, evaluate each of your friendships. Ask yourself some questions about each friendship. It's quite possible you feel angry or hurt.
- Were they supportive to you during this time?
- Was the friendship strong enough before caregiving to forgive them, if there is something to forgive?
- Is forgiveness something you want to work towards for this friendship?
- Is it time to let the friendship go?
- Is it time to have a more superficial relationship with them, if you don’t want to cut them out completely?
Anyway you answer questions about your friendships is okay. It may take a while or even months for you to even answer those questions. Give yourself time and permission to figure out who you want in your life.
Start looking toward the future again
One of the strangest things I think about living after caregiving is starting to plan for the future again.
You don’t realize how dependent you became on the never ending lab appointments, Dr’s visits, nurses schedules etc. all with an eagle eye of how your loved felt or was doing at any given moment.
Begin to schedule small things, like coffee with a friend whose friendship you want to reconnect with.
If before caregiving you liked to plan months ahead of time, it may take you a while to do that easily.
Be Gentle with Yourself
Caregiving is a huge life changing experience. You’re going to have days that you think about your role as a caregiver. Including what you could have done differently. Stop being hard on yourself. You did the best you could. It’s okay to still feel so exhausted. Caregiving is hard work.
Family Caregiver Alliance and CaringBridge
Family Caregiver Alliance and CaringBridge have some great resources and tips for you when caregiving ends.
CaringBridge Life After Caregiving
Get a Hobby
When you feel ready, explore a new hobby or restart a hobby that brought you joy in the past. Fair warning the site listed below is really text heavy, but it has the best ideas for hobbies that I've found.
Courageously Living’s Comfort Cards for the Grieving
Grief can be a long and windy road. After caregiving ends, you are grieving your loved one and you may be grieving the life you had before caregiving.
This set of 25 cards are individually sealed so you can open a card when you could use some extra comfort.
Shop Comfort Cards