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Posted: February 01, 2004

Practical Caregiving

Until You Share, Others Won?t Know You Care

I have been answering family caregiving questions for more than two years now, and I have found that one of the biggest problems a family caregiver experiences is talking openly to someone else about their caregiving situation.

When they do finally open up, I'm told repeatedly that it feels so good to write their situation down for me to read and respond. On top of that, they are say they are "talking" with someone who has been there and understands, instead of judging and criticizing them. Caregivers run into a lot of that, sadly!

Usually they haven't told anyone the things they write me. They write about their caregiving situation, sometimes their associated family problems or their own overwhelming frustrations. Quite often it isn't anything unusual, but they don't realize that because they're living the situation every day. Their family and friends have their own opinion of how things should be done, but quite often they aren't willing to do anything except tell the family caregiver what to do. That leaves the family caregiver isolated and feeling no one understands.

I took care of Mom and Dad the last 4 ½ years of their lives. I know how it feels when you talk about something others don't agree with. You feel guilty. You feel like you are complaining when you shouldn't be. You feel like you might be wrong. You don't talk to anyone because you think you are just complaining.

When you talk about your problems, you are not complaining. You are simply expressing your opinion or frustration about a situation that has many problems. There is no instruction booklet for caregiving. It's kind of like having a baby when you have never been around one. There are so many unusual things that arise that a book couldn't answer, anyway. In this analogy, you need to talk to and ask questions of someone who has taken care of a baby. Parenting classes were developed because people needed to learn how to take care of babies.

Well, there aren't any classes for the family caregiver, and if there were, you (the family caregiver) wouldn't have the time to spend attending them, would you!? So, sharing is the next best thing.

For your own mental and physical health, you need to express your thoughts, questions and feelings to someone who understands ? someone who has been a family caregiver or currently is a family caregiver. Doctors, nurses, social workers and CNAs all have information and can answer some of your questions. But if they haven't taken care of someone they love, they don't fully understand what it is like to be responsible for a loved one 24/7.

What should be one of the easiest things to do is actually one of the most difficult ? to quite simply open up with your feelings. You need to communicate with someone who knows what it is like to walk in your shoes. You need to ask questions or seek suggestions from someone in a similar situation. Believe me, you will be helping yourself as well as someone else.

I was surprised how similar the questions and problems were once they started flowing. That's when I started doing the research I needed to do as a caregiver. I found that many family caregivers have the same problems and questions, even though their situations are somewhat different.

In addition to writing this weekly column, I also manage the Community area at this caregiver website. Many of you visit the Community area and its message boards, but most of you are not using it to post information and questions. That's a shame, a wasted opportunity, I believe. The Ask and Expert and Message Board sections were created to benefit all caregivers. I really hope you will start making use of them.

The message forum is for caregivers to talk to other caregivers about the issues that only another family caregiver can appreciate. It is not necessarily for medical, legal or other professional advice. Ask an Expert is a great resource for those questions.

You can post a new message in the Community message board forums or reply to a posting that is already online. I might have an answer to your question, but other family caregivers might also have answers or suggest other options. You also might be able to answer someone else's question. After all, we all learn from shared experiences, and I hope you will share your knowledge and experience with other caregivers.

I would like to build the Community message boards into an area where people freely and frequently discuss their caregiving issues without being criticized or judged. After all, we are all in this because we love someone enough to take care of them. We will all benefit when the boards become active and filled with energy, and when we all share our knowledge and experiences with each other ? caregiver to caregiver.

Let's make a commitment to visit the Community section and help each other. You, individually, will benefit greatly when you finally open up and talk to other family caregivers -- and so will everyone else.

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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Please send me your questions, comments and issues regarding the practical side of caregiving at ASKJEAN@caregivershome.com, and remember to take advantage of our professionals and experts in the Ask an Expert section of our website. You'll find it in the left column on our homepage.

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