Contributing Writer: Lauren Dykovitz
As an Alzheimer’s caregiver, guilt is inevitable. No matter how much time you spend taking care of your loved one, you will always find something to feel guilty about.
I could spend hours taking care of my mom, but I always feel like I should have stayed longer. I could do a million things to help my dad with her care, but all I think about is that one thing that I didn’t do.
Guilt is pervasive. It will always come for you at the end of the day, when you’ve done all that you possibly could for your loved one, but it still doesn’t feel like enough. Why?
Personally, I think caregivers feel this guilt because we can’t fix our situation. There is nothing we can do to make our loved ones better, but we convince ourselves that if we had stayed an extra hour or done just one more thing, it would have made a world of difference.
Deep down we know better, but we can’t help ourselves. We drive ourselves crazy doing every little thing we can think of for our loved ones, but it will never be enough. The guilt is still with us. We can’t avoid it.
Trust me, I’ve tried. So, if we can’t avoid it, what can we do?
Since I realized that there is absolutely no way for me to avoid caregiver guilt, I have been working on trying to manage it instead.
The first step is being able to recognize when your mind starts to venture down that dark and ugly path. The minute that I start feeling guilty about something, I have to immediately shut it down. If I don’t, it will snowball into a guilt trip of epic proportion and I will end up hating myself for no reason.
As soon as I realize that I’m feeling guilty, I snap myself out of it. I just tell myself to stop. It might seem obvious, but it’s harder than you think.
“I have to literally tell myself,
Lauren, stop it! Right now!”
Once you start to nip those guilty feelings in the bud, you will realize how much time and energy you’ve wasted feeling guilty in the past.
Sometimes it is really difficult for me to snap myself out of it. If I’m having trouble with it, I just find a way to distract myself. I force myself to immediately stop thinking about it and start focusing on something else.
I’ll start actually paying attention to the movie I’m supposed to be watching with my husband. I’ll play a song on my phone and dance like no one is watching. Or, I’ll take my dogs out for a nice walk.
You can do anything that will shift your focus toward something more positive. I will caution you not to start scrolling through social media as a means of distraction.
If you’re like me, I follow a ton of Alzheimer’s related accounts and belong to numerous online support groups, so my social media just tends to revert my mind right back to Alzheimer’s.
There are times when I’m having a really bad day and I just can’t seem to let go of the guilt. When that happens, I start talking to myself. Seriously. Sometimes I will even look myself in the mirror and talk out loud to myself.
Think I’m nuts? You should try it! The next time you find that you are berating yourself for something you didn’t do as a caregiver, go to a mirror, look yourself in the eye, and say the following:
“(Your name), stop it! You have done what you can with what you have right now. You have done enough for today. If you really feel like you haven’t done enough, then just do a little bit more tomorrow.
But, even if you spent every minute of every day taking care of (your loved one), you would still feel guilty about something. Feeling guilty is not going to change the past or fix the future. It will only make you hate yourself. You have done enough. Let it go.”
It might sound a little crazy, but it works! Sometimes you have to be your own life coach. You have to coach yourself through these negative thoughts and know that you have done enough.
It’s not about trying to avoid the guilt. You can’t. It’s about finding a way to manage it.
You have to find a way to dig yourself out from that pile of guilt because it will bury you alive if you let it.
Don’t let it! You are enough. You have done enough. You deserve some time off.
Let it go!
About the Author: Lauren Dykovitz is a part-time caregiver for her mom, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2010.
Lauren writes about her experiences on her blog, “Life, Love, and Alzheimer’s.” She has also been a contributing writer for several other Alzheimer’s blogs and websites.
Lauren recently self-published her first book, “Learning to Weather the Storm: A Story of Life, Love, and Alzheimer’s.” It is available for purchase online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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