Most caregivers will agree that the physical aspect of caregiving is repetitive, demanding, and sometimes disgusting. As difficult as that is, it doesn’t even begin to compare to the emotional stress of caring for someone who is aging, chronically ill, disabled, or living with a cognitive disorder.
As I was editing my mother’s letters into the book, “Letters from Madelyn, Chronicles of a Caregiver,” I realized that she had a process that she turned to time and time again when she was confronted with a situation that caused her a significant amount of stress.
For a few years after my father suffered a debilitating stroke, she said that she was maintaining her emotional equilibrium by having a “Detached Attitude.” Over time, her “Detached Attitude” morphed into what she called, an “Attitude of Creative Indifference.”
In a phone conversation, I asked her to explain the difference between being “Detached” and being “Creatively Indifferent.”
She said, “You can call it whatever you want to call it. I just like the term “Creative Indifference” better because I think “Detached” sounds a little cold. What it means is not allowing yourself to become emotionally ravaged by the disease or the progression of events.”
- The first step to developing an attitude of creative indifference is to become AWARE of the specific issues that are causing you the greatest amount of emotional stress. There are multiple ways to do this, but writing it down, on paper or into your computer, will help provide clarity. It could also help you sleep at night because when you get swirling thoughts out of your head and down on paper, it allows your sub-conscience mind to stop working on the problem.
- The second step is to ACCEPT that you are human, and this situation is hard. You will have to cope with issues that are complicated, complex, and extremely difficult to manage. There will be countless losses and innumerable circumstances over which you have no control, including the progression of the disease or disability, the behavior of others, and the eventual outcome.
- The third step is ACTION! Start by identifying the situations over which you do have some control. If you can name a problem that has a solution, make a plan and then implement it. Problem solved! However, more often than not, caregivers are faced with challenges for which there are no solutions. When you come up against something over which you have no authority, power, or control, you have two choices:
- You can obsess over it.
- You can choose to release your emotional attachment to it.
Nothing about being a caregiver is easy. You may feel overwhelmed with the multiple responsibilities of your job, your family, and taking care of a loved one. You may have to deal with frustrating and challenging issues on every front every day.
When you have a particularly bad day, it might help to think about the following quote from the book “Man’s Search for Meaning” written by Dr. Viktor Frankl, a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp.
He stated, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms––to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
You may not be able to control your circumstances, but you can choose your attitude. My mother, an ardent admirer of Dr. Frankl, adopted his philosophy and adapted his quote to fit her situation. She often said, “As long as I have the ability to think and reason, I will have the power to choose my attitude toward any person, thing, or event.”