9. Taking Care of Your Mental Health
Caregiver Series - Part 9

“How are you doing?” How often have we as caregivers been asked that question and are not sure how to answer it? Most of the time we say, “I’m okay” or “fine” and may force a smile when talking to those in causal conversation. Yet behind those words and the smiling face are often a lot of worry, anxiety, sadness, loneliness and exhaustion.

For the longest time, I buried so much of what I was feeling and did not seek treatment. I was fortunate to have a few close friends that I could vent to and that helped quite a bit. But I knew I was constantly struggling with depression, anxiety and flashbacks.

When I finally did seek help, it was because I had become increasingly sleep deprived. I was waking up in the night crying and very anxious from constant nightmares. Even sleep was not a pleasant escape from the stress of life. I would even wake up in the morning with worrisome thoughts going through my mind. What a way to start the day!

My neurologist prescribed a mild dose of medication to help me sleep as well as an anti-depressant. However, once I started the medication for sleep, it helped me enough that I chose not to start the anti-depressant. I experienced good days and bad days and sometimes very bad days but I felt I was coping okay.

Then in August 2016, two years after my son’s injury, I found myself totally falling apart mentally and emotionally. That month there were so many extremely stressful events that happened. The weight of it all was just too much for me. Every day, I seemed to be in a state of anxiety with chest pain and my heart constantly racing. It was a dark and difficult time for me and knew I needed to seek help. I scheduled an appointment with a psychiatrist and he told me what I already knew. I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. So many caregivers I know have been diagnosed with these same conditions, especially those whose loved ones have suffered catastrophic injuries. I left the psychiatrist’s office that day with a prescription for an anti-depressant he felt would help with all three issues.

Even though he said the medication would likely take a few weeks to start working, I saw immediate results and felt like a dark cloud had started to lift. Unfortunately, I also began to experience bad side effects and had to discontinue it. But those few days of taking the medication helped to bring me out of a dark place emotionally. A few weeks later, I did try another anti-depressant but again I experienced uncomfortable side effects. I know many caregivers have been greatly helped by medication but after two attempts, I decided to focus more on therapy, support groups and change in lifestyle habits to help me. However, I also did not rule out trying another medication if needed.

Caregivers are some of the most courageous, compassionate and selfless people I know. But every day I read stories in online support groups of the emotional and mental toll caregiving is having on them. Mental health issues are serious and need to be addressed as soon as possible. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, please seek professional help as soon as possible.

1) Feeling of hopelessness and/or excessive sadness

2) Constant worry or anxiety

3) Difficulty concentrating and/or memory issues

4) Change in eating and sleep habits

5) Constant crying episodes

6) Flashbacks and nightmares

7) Suicidal ideations (seek immediate help)

Our minds and bodies tell us when we need help and we need to listen. Too often we suffer in silence and delay getting treatment. Your mental health affects all aspects of your life and your ability to provide care. Please take care of you!

Caroline

Click here to go to Part 10 of Caroline's Caregivers Series

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