The Caregiver's Battle against Isolation and Depression

While unloading Ryan from the van at a store, it is not unusual for someone to ask about our accessible van. The questions are always the same. How much did it cost, where did we get it, and did insurance pay for it? Next they proceed to tell me about the person in their life who needs one. I don’t mind answering the questions about the van, and I always try to ask a few questions about the person they care for. After a few minutes, we say our good-byes. As I walk away, I often find myself fighting the tears. These are usually older men who are now finding themselves as care-givers for their wives.

It’s not their story that brings me to tears, it’s what they aren’t saying. I see it on their face and hear it in their voice. I feel the loneliness. I sense their fatigue and often identify with their struggle and how life has changed and will continue to change for them. It is my hope and prayer that in those few minutes of conversation they see that someone else does get it, understands, and cares.

I really do understand, because I know that lurking behind all of these feelings is isolation! Feelings of isolation and are all too familiar. Even with the ability to get out with Ryan it isn’t easy. While I may be a social person by nature, Ryan is not. It is hard for him to want to leave the house. Home for him is his safe place. As a result, we spend many long days at home, just the two of us.

I do have a few people in my life who understand. They offer to come over for a cup of coffee or call to chat on the phone. Even so, there are many days when there is too much time to fill. I know it is hard to believe, especially these days when everyone is crazy busy, but there is such a thing as having too much time on your hands.

Days and times such as these can often lead to depression. And it does take a lot of effort for me not to fall into its pit. I often tell Ryan it is not good for either one of us to spend too many days of the week isolating ourselves. I have to be intentional about getting us out of the house. It is so easy to give in, order grocery delivery, and binge watch Netflix. But I know, for both of our mental health, we need to get out and be around people—even if it’s just going to the grocery store.

This may not be the case for all full-time family care givers. Everyone’s situation and circumstances are different. For me, it has only been in the last few years, since my older children have grown up and left the home, that it has hit hard.

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Do you find you are in a similar situation? Do you feel isolated? How do you keep from becoming lonely and depressed?

For me, if a few days have gone by that we have not left the house, I feel myself slowly feeling isolated and sinking into depression. The longer time goes by, the harder it is to get motivated to even do a load of laundry. I have learned when I get to this point, Ryan and I load up in the van and go. It doesn’t matter where, just getting out helps. Sometimes if nothing else, we just go for a drive.

Do you know someone who is a full time care-giver for a parent, a spouse or a child? Understanding that their opportunities to get out of the house maybe limited. What can you do to show them they aren’t alone? I appreciate those few people in my life who reach out to me, whether it be a phone call or offering to come over for a visit. Real human connection is a must; sometimes we must be creative with how that might work depending on the situation. 

Donna McKenzie- I have been married to my husband Jeff for 34 years. I am a mom to 4 sons. I have always been a stay at home mom and am now a full-time care giver to my youngest son Ryan. Ryan is now 21 and has a genetic degenerative disease, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and requires 24/7 care. http://donna-shiftingsand.blogspot.com/