I recently came across an article in the New York Times originally posted on January 30 titled “For some Caregivers, the Trauma Lingers.” It was written by Judith Graham, and it’s about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in caregivers. Graham says there has been little research on the topic which, she thinks, means it has been overlooked or discounted. She goes on to list some of the typical symptoms of PTSD: flashbacks, feelings of numbness, anxiety, guilt, dread, depression, irritability, apathy, and tension among others.
Life after caregiving is a mixed bag of positive and negative emotions, sometimes all mixed up together. There’s relief that your loved one is no longer suffering and that your long, difficult task is finished, but these same feelings often produce guilt. Sometimes there is a euphoric feeling of freedom, but there also can be a numbness and a sense of purposelessness until you reorient yourself into a new direction that doesn’t include caregiving. My experiences with Mom and Dad were heart-wrenching and difficult, and even though I don’t believe I have experienced anything close to PTSD, I’ve gone through a lot of disturbing emotions. I’ve even had flashbacks of a sort, usually in the form of dreams.
Dad’s been gone almost two years, and Mom died almost a year ago, but I’ve been dreaming about them quite a bit lately. Wednesday night, I had a long involved dream about Dad. It started out with me riding behind him on a Vespa-style scooter. That was traumatic enough considering Dad’s driving habits the last few years of his life, but then we got lost. We ended up in a mall-like area with lots of ramps and stairs, and we had to abandon the scooter. The steps were too narrow front to back for the feet of the elderly and the clumsy, and the inevitable happened – Dad took a nose dive. He was alive but incapacitated, and I spent the rest of the dream looking for someone to help me. At some point, I realized I was dreaming, so I sat down and waited to wake up.
In the article, Graham recounts the story of a doctor who sought treatment after a horrific end of life experience with her mother. One of the things that drove her to seek help was terrible nightmares about her mom. My dreams aren’t what I’d call nightmares, but they’re disturbing. I appreciated this article and decided to share it, as Graham says, “so that other caregivers who may have experienced overwhelming emotional reactions that feel like post-traumatic stress realize they are not alone.”