Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Middle-Aged Caregivers

Jennifer and granddaughterI found when caring for my failing mother that it important to look after myself. Now that I am on the path to recovery, I find that it is easier to look after myself. There are many things one must do for others, but you must look after oneself to be any good to others in your care.

  • Eat regularly - smaller portions, lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains, less meat and proteins since we tend not to need so many calories in middle age, source some anti-aging foods
  • Get exercise - 30 minutes per day, come hell or high water!
  • Look after your physical and mental health needs -take a break by going away, getting in respite care through friends, family., or the many non-profit respite care agencies
  • Do meditation on a regular basis - listen to that still small voicemind, body, spirit
  • Get professional help for your biological, physiological, social and psychological needs
There are short-terms activities that help:
  • Get some arts culture in your life: go to the theatre, a concert, or visit a gallery
  • Go for a walk in the country
  • Sit by a lakeshore
  • Get your face, hair, nails done
  • Give yourself permission ... to fail, to be angry, to take each day as it comes
  • Buy yourself some flowers
My difficulties were compounded by my diagnosis of clinical depression while caregiving, as well as menopause symptoms. I found during my research that as a woman going through menopause, with symptoms of stress, I was at great risk for depression. I am now receiving hormone therapy, after a saliva test showed that my estrogen levels were low and that my progesterone was minimal. This imbalance, due to surgical menopause in 1995, resulted in menopausal symptJenn beforeoms that included depression.

I worked hard to advocate for my parents, while working full time and caring for my adult children. After facing depression, a year on antidepressants and a focus on healthy eating and daily exercise have me feeling better. Depression is a difficult disorder, as it is unspoken, unnamed, and often undiagnosed. Many things can trigger it, including adolescence, hormonal changes, moving through life passages, a new job, or perceived job stress. I went into a mild depression and sought counselling after my divorce; having been in a marriage of sixteen years, it was a shock. I used the Employee Assistance Program to find someone to talk to about the issues I had been facing. The research says that depression can return with new stressors, such as work pressures, perimenopause, worrying over young or adult children, ailing parents, or bereavement. I have done extensive research on it to understand it better. It was quite a learning experience.

To combat the stress, I continued to sing in the Ottawa Choral Society, a professional choir, and to exercised regularly. I tried various homeopathic menopause remedies such as Black Cohosh but none of these things seemed to work.

Avis (2003), in an attempt to determine the answer to the question of depression as it relates to perimenopause and menopause, concluded that these factors did not cause depression. The stage of life in which a woman finds herself: an empty nest (or adult children returning home), ailing parents, and other life passages, can cause a depressive reaction unrelated to the changing hormones (estrogen and progesterone). She felt that most studies examined patients, rather than the general population, and many women do not suffer from depression during menopause. Further examination found that the length of menopause and more than twenty-seven months of symptoms (hot flushes, night sweats, and menstrual problems) resulted in an increased likelihood of depression due to the effects of the symptoms, rather than from the condition itself.

My symptoms included: suicidal ideations, inability to make (simple) decisions, crying, increased acne, irritability, insomnia, hot flushes, overeating & weight gain, panic attacks, aversion to loud noises especially people but fireworks set me off, sense of failure, sense of defeat, lack of control of my life (which was true!), low self-esteem, inability to do my work.

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