Caregiver, Mother and Mental Health

Caregiving as a mom in 2020
Every minute you are tired and balancing a thousand things within a structure that doesn’t make sense – for anyone.

“I. Just. Can’t.”  “I’m so DONE!

Before last year, I threw those statements around light heartedly or for dramatic effect. Perhaps, one son left half eaten food under his bed. Or maybe a work event, school parent night and unplanned family issue converged. Definitely, when I’d find the dog eating out of the cat’s litter box. Ew. 

COVID changed that. It’s no longer for emphasis. Everyone feels like they are losing their proverbial minds. I hear around me – WHY is this so hard? WHY am I sick of being around my loved ones?

 Why do I feel so guilty all the time?

This pandemic has ripped off the band aid and revealed the true nature of what we do day-in-and-out. 

We aren’t just moms, daughters, employees OR spouses. See, we never were one single role at a time, which we convinced ourselves was true. When our entire world converged into our homes 24/7, that falsehood shattered. We are something more holistic.

We are Caregivers.

Yet, we don’t identify as caregivers, which causes immense mental strain. We don’t feel the right to be frustrated or overwhelmed with loved ones. Aways compelled to give more so we set ourselves up for feeling like failures.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

A key component of my job – marketing – is storytelling. Consequently, I am a manic listener.

I’m also a baseball mom. For years I have spent 8-10+ hours of my weekends sitting on a ball field from April through July. Ballfields are microcosms of society and ideal places to listen. I am surrounded by people telling the same story. We are busy, stressed, often unsure of ourselves. Our families sometimes feel like baggage, which we’ll never set down. Be honest – We love them. But sometimes, we’re tired of carrying them.

Caregiver – the sum of our parts

I work full-time and manage staff. I am the mother of two teenagers. Plus, I am an adult only-child of parents in their late 70s. My husband, only in his 50s, fought through cancer treatments three years ago. Oh, there’s pets.

Yet, until a few years ago. I did not identify as a caregiver.

Why not? Because as adults, we feel that family demands “Just are.” “It’s my job as a parent.” “It’s my job as their kid.” “It’s in the vows.”

But ultimately,

as women caring for our families, we just do it without thinking.

We don’t stop to recognize our holistic roll and the overall impact it can have on our lives.

A Caregiver’s Many Hats

The term “caregiver” carries a negative stigma limiting it to acute emergency or chronically severe conditions. People hear “caregiver” and think family “burden” or “crisis”.

Yet, the Center for Disease Control reports that two out of every three caregivers in the US are women who provide daily or regular support to children and adults … OR to people with chronic illnesses or disabilities.

“They provide daily or regular support to children and adults.”

Is that your home?

We don’t equate caregiving to the daily care and effort that we do for those in our lives. We also don’t allow ourselves to sometimes acknowledge that it can feel heavy.

Ever feel that your loved one was a burden? Did you feel guilty a nanosecond later?

Welcome to being a caregiver. To being human.

Back to the Ball Field

Last summer on the ball field I heard one theme: COVID exploded the complexities of caregiving. As a result, a caregiver’s mental health struggles – yours/ours – have increased.

Your kids have faced greater isolation and technology stressors. Or maybe your college-aged children have sinking debt with economic uncertainty ahead. You can’t see Mom due to COVID, yet she needs to downsize and get added care support. Or your brother is struggling with the disease of addiction, and you feel helpless. Your spouse’s company is announcing layoffs. You’re trying to work at home – with everyone home – and no one has a commute or bus ride to decompress.

Every minute you are tired and balancing a thousand things within a structure that doesn’t make sense – for anyone.

It’s OK to Not Feel OK 

The mental health impact of the daily responsibility for multiple lives – while trying to live your own life – are real. Caregiver stress comes in many forms. Especially right now, they are important to feel, accept, and address. Signs to look for are:

  • Feeling consistently overwhelmed, alone, isolated
  • Sleeping too much or too little – yet feeling always tired
  • Gaining or losing a lot of weight
  • Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Becoming easily irritated or angered
  • Feeling worried or sad frequently
  • Having headaches or body aches often
  • Turning to smoking, food, alcohol more

You do not need to have all the caregiving answers. However, for yourself and your loved ones, it’s important to recognize when perhaps you need a break or some support.

The strongest women ask for help from friends, professionals, partners, or neighbors.

Vulnerability is a sign of power and strength.

Call a friend. Call your local community mental health center. Reach out to an in-person or online support group or church.

Give yourself permission to not be OK. “I’m a caregiver, and I need support.”

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Hi All, I’m Rebecca! I’ve worked in marketing strategy in the healthcare and wellness industry since college and my MBA for 20+ years (yikes!!). I’m blessed to have combined my geeky professional self with my passions: awareness of and mental health supports for disenfranchised populations and communities. I volunteer in educating the greater community about the real experiences of those in (and out of) recovery from the disease of addiction. I was so honored to give a TED talk in 2019 about removing stigma and shame by simply shifting the language we use, as this is near and dear me. Yet, at the end of the day, my family is everything in my world. I live with my husband Mike and two teenage sons in Lee, along with a crazy cattle dog (Maggie), cat (Leia), fish, 100 snails and soon to be chickens. While a Jersey shore girl at heart, living in MA and NH since the late 90s has fully converted me to a New England sports fan and avid skier, hiker and kayaker. I guess I’m a perfectly imperfect, harmonious, and happy runner, who cares deeply for humans, and Mother Nature. Follow me on Instagram @mommabear5786 to see what life in a house of boys, recovery, loud music, a bit of attitude, and nature looks like!