I've Done All I Can but Feel Like It's Never Enough

I’ve Done All I Can but Feel Like It’s Never Enough

Angie moved closer to her parents to care for them as they got older. Her medical background has helped with caregiving, but balancing a full-time job has made it difficult to look after her own mental health. Angie opens up about complicated family relationships, sacrificing her social life, and finding strength in therapy. This is Angie's story.

As told to Open Caregiving and lightly edited to enhance readability while preserving the author’s voice.

Getting to know the caregiver

Hi, my name is Angie. I’m a woman from Canada, part of the Baby Boomer generation. I am currently a caregiver for my mother.

What did your life look like when you became a caregiver?

I was single and worked as a medical person doing shift work. My parents live in the same city and I had moved to be near them as they got older so I could help out.

Who did you care for and what prompted their need for care?

I cared for two people — dad, then mum. Dad had become grumpy in his older years and disapproved of everything I did or said. He was not happy that I was his caregiver at the end either, but I was the only family member who knew anything about medicine. It was his express wish to die at home.

My relationship with mum has always been a problematic relationship. At times we didn’t have any contact. We had established some healthy boundaries in past years, but those were destroyed since mum has needed more care. She challenges boundaries constantly, and it is tiring for me to deal with this while I tend to her care and keep a full-time job.

I am in therapy but have no time for a social life now. Mum’s “emergencies” actively sabotaged any attempts to go out (before COVID-19). Therapy is helping to give me strength to put up those boundaries again, but I feel tired all the time and my mental health is not good. I recognize that I need more time for myself and am working on doing this.

Dad developed a terminal illness and when he passed, mum said she could not live on her own because of health and mobility issues. In fact, mum actively sabotaged her health, so she required extra care. She still refuses to take care of her health, but I have mentally detached and no longer try to correct her when she triggers one of her conditions.

What was a memorable learning?

People and family relationships rarely change much. Problems from before will still be a problem, only with the added burden of care needs.

What surprised you about caregiving?

Having been a medical caregiver for several years, nothing surprised me. I was also pretty good at self-care.

However, I think it is harder when it is a parent/child caregiving relationship. There is just so much history and learned behavior there. We must relearn ways of interacting as roles change. For example, from child to caregiver and from parent to patient.

I have witnessed both successful and not successful transitions in my friend group. We are of an age where this is now a common scenario. Some people had to let go of caregiving because of past grievances. I may also be in that category: I have done all I can but feel like it will never be enough.

How do you try to balance being a caregiver while caring for yourself?

I am an introvert so I try to spend as much time alone as possible, reading or doing other hobbies. In the last part of my father’s illness, I could do none of this as he needed round-the-clock care. My mother was unable or unavailable to do this, so my personal care fell by the wayside.

I expected I could begin self-care again when my dad passed, but it has not been the case. My mum has needed constant attention since then. I try to take as much time for myself as possible and now that she lives with me; I try to set boundaries where she can only visit with me at certain times.

She challenges those boundaries daily and as a result I am constantly run down. She is now settled here and I will move out for my own mental health. We have put many things in place for her safety, although she regularly “fires” the help and tries to sabotage her health. I have consciously decided to step away and let her do her thing as her need for attention and care is beyond my abilities. I need to look after myself first as my mental health is crumbling.

What resource would you recommend to caregivers?

Look into palliative care at home or respite care. It may be your sanity-saver.

What advice would you give to caregivers?

Do not let a parent move in with you. There are many senior housing facilities available which have great programs for elder care, both to keep them in their own home or as a live-in situation.

Keep your distance or their constant needs will smother you, and they may live a long time. Can you do this level of care for many years? If not, look into alternate arrangements and just care as you can.

You should not give up your life to look after someone, especially if they are ill due to their own bad habits. You are not responsible for this. You had no part in their choices to get them where they are. Do not take responsibility for this either by guilt or a sense of duty.

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