Oct 8, 2010

A Visit to Alzheimer’s World

I know how hard it can be to face these negative feelings. And yet, I also know that avoiding them does not make them go away.....

By Donna McCullough

I was so pleased to read Bob’s article about Alzheimer’s world. I think there is a lot of truth and wisdom in what he said and a lot of opportunity for growth for caregivers who decide to venture into this world.

Although intellectually my Mom knew that Pat was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and that he couldn’t remember what happened a minute ago, on an emotional level she had a harder time accepting this reality.

As a psychologist I’ve worked with many people who tend to experience this kind of denial, and I think it can be a way to protect oneself from experiencing painful feelings such as sadness, loss and disappointment. In other words, by not putting yourself into the shoes of the one that you are caring for (that is, by not fully entering Alzheimer’s world) you may avoid some painful feelings.

I know how hard it can be to face these negative feelings. And yet, I also know that avoiding them does not make them go away. It only suppresses them and it will not be long before these feelings rear their ugly head! When you don’t let yourself feel these feelings, their energy stays stuck in your body and your psyche leading to depression, fatigue, stress, burn-out, frustration, over-eating...

Instead, it is possible to feel the feelings and allow them to pass through you. Think of a child who is about 2 or 3 years old crying their heart out over some broken toy, only to be found laughing and playing a moment later having forgotten all about the broken toy.

What happened is that the child let the feelings do their job. Feelings are meant to be experienced and then to pass through us.

Now, obviously the sadness about a loved one experiencing Alzheimer’s disease will not pass after a good cry. However, feeling the sadness and letting it be can help to lighten one’s emotional load – the energy that was used to push the feelings down is now freed up and the caregiver often feels better. There will still be sadness, but it will not be as heavy or as draining as it was before.

So here are a few simple “how to’s.”

Begin by putting your awareness on what you are feeling. Ask yourself if you are sad, tense, frustrated, disappointed…

Notice how the feeling feels in your body. Are your shoulders tight? Is there a pain in your belly? Does your heart ache? Let the tears out if they want to flow. Then (and most importantly) take a deep breath and allow your body to relax. Continue to take deep breaths, breathing into the pain or tightness in your body and then relax on the exhale.

This is a practice that develops over time, but it is well worth the effort. If you feel that you need some support as you allow the feelings to come to the surface by all means reach out to a friend, family member, local support group, a therapist or doctor.

Take good care of yourself and remember that you are your own caregiver, as well as the caregiver of the patient. You deserve to be honored for what you are doing.

Sweet blessings to you!

Donna McCullough, PhD, is a psychologist with a private practice in Laguna Hills, CA and co-founder of Affirmative Therapy Products.

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