Dealing with a Common Psychological Side Effect of Caregiving
When you have a loved one who’s struggling with a genuinely life-threatening illness, there’s a tendency to sublimate your own struggles and difficulties on the grounds that they don’t measure up. I mean, yeah, you may be busting to make a deadline or dealing with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle in your life. But it hardly rises to the status of cancer, heart disease, or (fill in the blank here), does it? You may feel guilty for even countenancing these things as problems, considering the magnitude of what this other person in your life is going through. As a result, you shove them down into your subconscious and try to proceed as if they aren’t there.
The problem with this strategy, of course, is that buried anxiety has a tendency to come back–in a more virulent form–to bite you and your recovering loved one.
Ever since Freud’s groundbreaking work on the subconscious mind went mainstream, more and more people have come to understand the remarkable power this region of consciousness exerts over body, mind and soul. Anxiety and depression buried beneath the surface do not disappear; rather, they tend to fester and have deleterious effects on one’s mental and physical health.
When your mind and body are under attack from virulent strains of small, buried griefs, your ability to be of any use to that person who’s fighting a disease is compromised. So it only makes sense to embrace your problems and struggles, to talk about them, to let them heal through communication with other people. And that includes the person you’re most concerned about! If she’s a compassionate, understanding person (and suffering can have that effect on people who are open to finding the good in the bad), she’ll be just as interested in what’s eating you as what she’s up against. In fact, serving as a listening ear for you may have a healing effect in itself: her mind can focus on someone else for awhile, and that can be great for one’s health.
So don’t be afraid to talk about what’s bugging you, just because someone you care deeply about has a “more important” problem. As James Taylor said, “Once you tell somebody the way that you feel, you can feel it beginning to ease.” Great advice, worth taking to heart!