In virtually every caregiving scenario, family caregivers swerve dangerously close to unhealthy decisions. Snares such as excessive weight gain, enabling, alcohol, drugs, moral failures, and even self-harm may often litter the path. Furthermore, unhealthy caregivers run the risk of harming their loved ones—either directly or inadvertently.
Caregivers often repeatedly find themselves lost and disoriented in what I call the FOG of caregiving—fear, obligation, and guilt. From feeling guilty over bringing a child with special needs into the world, to living in abject fear of an out-of-control family member, to deep resentment from feeling obligated to someone with special needs—the scenarios are numerous but the core issues remain the same.
The relentless onslaught of caregiving magnifies all those feelings and can take caregivers into bad places.
Bad choices costing lives
Tashina Jordan of Oregon was recently hospitalized after being found unconscious and critically injured at her home. Police also found her deceased 7-year-old son Mason, who had suffered severe physical challenges since birth. Mason’s condition required complete physical care to feed, clothe, and bathe him. It appears she shot Mason and then attempted to commit suicide in a tragic example of the horrific choices made from desperation.
Last year in Dickson, Tennessee, Joseph Ray Daniels confessed to murdering his son, “Baby Joe” who, according to The Tennessean, was autistic and non-verbal. Stating that his son wandered off, he immediately set a community into action to help. Elopement is one of the regular nightmare scenarios of autism families. Joseph Ray Daniels’ behavior, however, added even greater horror to that nightmare.
Sadly, these will not be the last of such events capturing headlines. Caregiving requires a level of service and responsibility that find many unprepared, and others, tragically, unwilling to accept. Even for those who embrace the challenges, however, the caregiver FOG isolates, and in that isolation, dark thoughts can overtake a caregiver. If left unaddressed dark thoughts can fester into horrifying choices.
Preventing the bad and poor choices
Yet family, friends, clergy, and co-workers can still speak into a caregiver’s isolation. Asking if they are in touch with support groups, seeing their doctor regularly, attending church services, talking to a counselor are all worthwhile and specific questions to ask. Oftentimes, a simple awareness of the difficulties can be a source of enormous comfort to a caregiver. Noticing the person pushing the wheelchair, caring for the special needs child, or sitting for endless nights in a hospital room corner—penetrates the isolating thoughts and communicates care and value to the caregiver.
As caregivers, our whole worlds often orbit around a loved one we attend. Yet, we must carve out a healthy identity of our own —regardless of the needs and path of our loved ones. Sadly, all too many caregivers recoil with guilt at the thought of addressing their own needs. If those needs aren't addressed, however, they will manifest themselves in destructive ways and behaviors. Some issues, such as excessive weight gain, unfold over time, yet others tragically erupt and make the headlines.
While there remains no excuse for those destructive behaviors, unraveling them requires compassion, wisdom, and work. Despite that, the caregiver may still disregard all efforts of help. But by speaking into that isolation with clarity and offering a well-lit path to safety, that caregiver, the family, and the impaired loved one can at least have a fighting chance.
We never know how important a specific and thoughtful word can be to a desperate person. To a family caregiver holding on to their last known scrap of hope, caring words spoken into their darkness could be enough light to see a road to help.
Editor's Note: If you need or want additional information related to this topic, please visit here for a recommended resource. Also, this author does a show called "Hope for the Caregiver" and often takes questions on Saturday from 7-8 a.m. CST during the show. Call 1-888-589-8840 during that time. Or find American Family Radio stations with his program here to listen.