I love my mother-in-law dearly. She helped raise the children, supported me through losing my mum and puts family first. When she was diagnosed with dementia, it was assumed without discussion that she’d move in with us. But I’m dreading her arrival. Our youngest has just moved out, and I’d been looking forward to having time to myself. My husband is busy with his business, so caring for her will fall to me. I can’t tell him how I feel, as even writing this makes me feel unbelievably selfish. Is there a solution I haven’t thought of? — Guilty
First things first: we’d like to give you a medal. And every time you touch this invisible medal, we want you to remember that you are a wonderful, loving, kind, unselfish woman. No buts. Don’t tell us you haven’t done anything yet, because you have. We are giving you this medal without hesitation, not in spite of your doubts but because of them. You are worried and fearful and totally human. We celebrate you. And all those other seven million carers out there, unpaid, unthanked, unseen, we see you. Anyone reading this column who knows someone who is a carer, pick up the phone and ask if there is anything you can do for them.
Now, to the problem at hand… This is a brutal business and you are completely justified in dreading what it will ask of you. There is no shame in feeling apprehensive about embarking on a new career that you are unqualified for. One that will be unpredictable, and extremely repetitious, as well as perilous, and involve body fluids and mess and heartbreak (as well as glorious gratitude, love and a huge sense of doing-the-right-thingness). It probably won’t be pretty. And you know this. Of course. We have no real solution for you, unless that solution is gin, and that’s a hazardous fix.
What we have, though, is the certainty that it is time to get very busy with the research. You may already know this but there is a lot of support out there. From the NHS Dementia Guide (nhs.uk) to the Alzheimer’s Society (alzheimers.org.uk), there’s a wealth of experience, authority and access to services local to you – the latter has registered experts and ‘Admiral nurses’ who can help support people living with dementia and their families. So, chase down every lead, get set up with day centres (even if you don’t need them yet) and speak to everyone you know who has experience of this.
This is a spreadsheet situation, so you know when, where and how you can access support as you need it – even if it’s months or a year down the line. Draw up rotas. Everyone needs to be involved. Do not take any nonsense. Yes, your husband has his own business, but you do not need to fully martyr yourself to this. It is very hard for women not to surrender to martyrdom and then feel a corrosive resentment that infects everything. Model your good choices to your children – they do not need to see you throw yourself under the bus at this point. Your needs are as important as the needs of those you are caring for. Do not get confused about this – hold on to this thought like Ariadne’s thread through the Minotaur’s maze. If there is money from the sale of your mother-in-law’s house, use it to improve the situation for you all.
Last but not least, we strongly recommend that you talk to a therapist – you and your husband together, as well as you alone. Therapy will normalise your anxiety around becoming a carer at a time when you could be tasting a new kind of freedom. And couples’ therapy will help you set boundaries while keeping your communication open, honest and kind, so that you won’t feel like unleashing hell. There is a great deal of wisdom out there – from professionals to those who have been or are in the same boat as you. You are not alone, Guilty. You are majestic.
Do you have a dilemma that you’re grappling with? Email Annabel and Emilie on firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions are kept anonymous. They are unable to reply to emails personally.
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