Waiting for the other shoe to drop, this is the way I live my life. I am a caregiver.
Several weeks ago, the phone rang, it was my youngest daughter, hysterical, because her older sister had just been arrested, handcuffed and put in a police car in front of her, her 3-year-old daughter and her sister’s 3-year-old daughter. Another brush with the law, turned bad. Yes, I ultimately paid the bail but I let her sit in jail overnight, detoxing from heroin. I didn’t sleep. Sleepless nights can be a way of life for caregivers.
My eldest daughter began to experience delusional thinking at the age of seven, the years rolled by with daily challenges, violence, hospitalizations, out of home placement and multiple interventions. I dare not even calculate the money spent on her behalf. Ultimately, she has received nine mental health diagnoses. I was a single mother – her father mostly absent due to his own addictions. Today she is 27 years old and the mother of my 3-year-old granddaughter, it seems that my caregiving journey will never end.
A colleague recently told me that taking care of family is as natural as breathing out and breathing in. Not so, when faced with behaviors and thinking that you cannot possibly understand. No different than caregivers who are faced with the behaviors and delusional thinking of someone stricken Dementia or Parkinson’s disease. Too often, we think of caregivers only as those caring for the elderly however, that thinking is misguided.
In these uncertain days of an epidemic opioid crisis, record gun violence and terrorism, caregivers are often born in an instant. Unprepared, shocked, their lives turned upside down. They are the lucky ones – their loved one survived.
In my small family, two of our adult children have experienced the heroin overdose and death of very close friends. In my daughter’s case, this experience pushed her over the edge, she turned to the very drug that killed her boyfriend.
I have experienced what it’s like to be a kinship caregiver when my daughter appeared at my door at 10:30 on a rainy October night, handed me her 18-month-old daughter and said, “I can’t do this anymore, I’m leaving town.” I cared for my traumatized granddaughter for 5 drama filled weeks, I was 56 years old, I was very tired. Again, sleep eluded me.
I am on alert 24/7 – knowing that the next time the phone rings, I could be picking up the pieces again.
My simple message is this, Caregivers are everywhere. If you see someone with a long term chronic condition, victims of violence, children and adults with mental health and addiction issues, people with lifelong developmental disabilities, you will find caregivers. Caregivers who love, who struggle, who need support, information and advocacy and above all, acceptance and understanding.
Today I see a glimmer of hope. I have seen my friends fall way and people very close to me shut her out because they have seen the pain she has caused herself and her family. However, she is my daughter and always will be. I don't always like or stand by her choices, but I love her and I always will.
Caregivers of children and adults with mental health issues, with drug addictions – we cannot be silent, we must not hide our heads in embarrassment, we need tell our stories, we need to help each other, we need to stand up and be heard by our legislators our communities. Our stories can make a difference, tell yours!
Every one of us need to look around, at work, in your faith communities, in your own backyard, there are caregivers. Reach out, extend a loving hand, we all need each other.
Written by Doris Green - NYSCRC Director