Three of my close friends are at the end of their tethers. Names have been changed.
Dan and his partner Bill have been together for 35 years. About two weeks ago Bill fell, breaking his shoulder in three places. Back home to wait for a surgery date, Bill fell again and returned to the emergency room where doctors discovered kidney failure and serious anemia. The timing couldn’t be worse. The couple is in the process of moving. Now Bill requires a lot of attention and can’t help Dan. Simple tasks like getting food and packing feel overwhelming.
Jeff’s wife Sharon suffers from vertigo. Like Bill, she falls and breaks. She’s prone to strokes and can’t be left alone. Her many doctors operate in silos, not consulting with each other. Adult children live in other states, so Jeff is caregiving on his own. He had to give up biking, church, and serving meals at a homeless shelter. Now he feels his identity slipping away.
Margaret is visually impaired. She needs a computer to enlarge everything she reads. Recent eye surgery was disappointing. Even so she is her family’s leader. She drives, but should not. Her husband’s forgetfulness is worsening. Money is tight. A daughter and granddaughter have life-threatening medical issues and look to her for support. Margaret tries to help them all, but can’t stay ahead of the need. She feels guilty and inadequate.
Dan, Jeff, and Margaret are caregivers in their sixties and seventies. Some have their own health issues. They are grateful to be able to help those they love, but retirement has not turned out as they’d dreamed. Travel, entertainment, creative projects – are now impossible. They find themselves at the end of a rope.
You don’t have to be a caregiver to be at the end of your tether. Maybe you lost a job or flunked out of school. Maybe a lover or a child disappoints. If you haven’t run out of rope yet, you’re either very young or not paying attention. Depend on it: your turn is coming.
Alcoholics Anonymous is a brilliant program for helping addicts swim out of a cesspool. It offers positive examples of where to look when we’ve hit bottom for any reason. You don’t have to be a drunk to benefit from their method:
- Get honest — with yourself and at least one other person. Leave your pride at the door. Find a nonjudgmental, safe group or friend or therapist where you can name the shame. Not good enough, not smart enough, not patient enough. “Hello. My name is __________. I hate my life. I want to run away from home.”
- Imagine a Higher Power is holding the other end of your rope. If you’re religious you may call it God. If faith feels toxic, try naming your higher power Love. Or Family. Or the mutual Commitment embodied in marriage vows. Or the value of Compassion that has allowed the human race to survive. Name and claim some Power larger than your own resources, something that won’t let you go.
- Learn from the experience of others. Listening to their stories can inspire solutions of your own problems – and reassurance that you are not alone. You can survive!
- Swallow your pride. Be open to asking for and accepting help.
- Reach out to encourage someone else, even with just a word or a pat on the back if that’s all you can give right now.
Finally, remember, “This too shall pass.”
What have you found helpful in a struggle of your own that you’d be willing to share?