HELP: I'm exhausted, I've been my partner's full-time caregiver for two years.
Your exhaustion is perfectly understandable and caused by a combination of demands:
physical (e.g., lifting partner, toileting, household chores, lack of sleep, quiet and hot home);
mental (e.g., tracking medical appointments, sorting prescriptions, navigating the health care system);
social (e.g., responding to calls, planning outings, coordinating visits and support from friends and neighbours); and
emotional (e.g., missing your partnership, grieving the plans you had, dealing with personal fears, supporting your partner’s feelings, anticipatory grief).
Recognizing the physical, mental, social, and emotional demands you are facing may enable you to explore and implement strategies that can decrease your exhaustion.
To reduce your physical demands, consider hiring or accepting daily respite care. During this time, allow yourself to enjoy physical activities. It’s important to move at the pace of a healthy person as opposed to the pace of a person with a chronic illness. Keep a list near the fridge of what needs to be done around your home, when someone calls to offer help, assume they want to help and ask for what you need (e.g., frozen meals, clean floors, groceries).
For the mental demands, consider leaning on professionals. For example, your local pharmacist can make blister packs, so you don’t need to keep on top of sorting the medication. A nurse practitioner, social worker or end-of-life doula can help you organize the health information to ease your mental load.
You could feel a wave of exhaustion when the phone rings or when you receive emails from enquiring friends and neighbours. It’s ok for you to redirect calls or emails to a sibling or friend. You can give dates and times to your friend to coordinate visits on your behalf. It’s perfectly reasonable for you to step out when someone visits. Take a break, it’s what you need, don’t worry about disappointing people. This time is about you and your partner.
Finally, the emotional strain can’t be underestimated. You need to find one or more confidants comfortable holding your pain and distress, as well as your partner’s emotions. You may wish to share things that you can’t discuss with each other for fear of hurting one another. You may have thoughts that you can’t share with family or friends. Many professionals can be of assistance, including an end-of-life doula.
Now is that not the time to be stubborn or strong. It’s the time to graciously accept help. If you’ve never been able to accept a hand – reach out, it’s a skill you can learn today.