Negative thoughts: the dark places a caregiver can go.
Few things are more challenging than the daily journey of seeing to the needs of a person with dementia. The struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy in the midst of a debilitating and deteriorating condition can lead to stress, anxiety and depression in caregivers.
On bad days—and there will be bad days—those feelings often take the form of dark thoughts, fatalistic wishes or visible anger against the person with dementia. What follow can be feelings of guilt, shame and self-loathing about thinking such awful things.
It’s not uncommon for caregivers to occasionally have feelings like these:
- This is not what I should be doing. This person has ruined my life.
- A child could do what I’m asking. Why is this so hard for them?
- I’ve heard this story/complaint a thousand times. Whey don’t they just shut up?
- Why can’t things just be like they were before?
- No one understands how difficult this is. I’m all alone with this problem.
- We had such wonderful plans for retirement. Now they’re ruined.
- This disease is supposed to be fatal. Why don’t they just die already and leave me alone.
- I could end this if I had the courage. It would be for everyone’s own good.
How should you respond?
How do you keep negative thinking from getting the better of you? As a caregiver, you now have to manage your emotions with the same level of attention that you manage the care of your loved one. That starts with recognizing the kinds of situations that bring on dark thoughts. When you know when a black mood might be on the way, try to deflect it so those negative thoughts don’t get a chance to linger in your mind.
One way to deflect or minimize negative thoughts is to reframe them. This is a technique psychologists use in which negative thoughts are crowded out of the consciousness with a positive spin on what you’re feeling (such as: “this seems bad, but tomorrow will be better;” “I’ll bet I can stay patient for a little while longer;” or “this is just the disease at work; the person I love is not really responsible.”)
This may sound difficult, but it is essential to not let negative thinking dominate your mood. Our thoughts are in large part responsible for shaping how we feel. When you take control of your thoughts, you can take control of your entire outlook.
Enjoy the moments that matter
Caregiving is definitely stressful and fatiguing. There are set-backs, tears and moments when you might feel miserable and defeated. That makes it that much more important to find and savor the moments of joy and happiness during a typical day.
Whenever you share a laugh, or a memory, or a favorite song, stop and take a moment to enjoy it. You are caring for a living, breathing person who has value—and who deep down is grateful for your love and attention. This is what makes caregiving a positive experience and should help keep dark thoughts at arm’s-length whenever they arise.