The human psyche is really weird, isn't it?
My brother in Florida has been a hospice in-patient for almost 2 weeks now. His neurological symptoms have been eased by dexamethazone and he is not in pain. The hospice is a very good one-- the nurses are kind and attentive and my brother is doing pretty well and receiving a lot of visitors.
I returned from Florida to Atlanta 3 weeks ago (just before he entered hospice) and I have been dead in the water ever since. I have been a freelancer for 10 years and suddenly I find myself unable to do any work. I just can't seem to concentrate and I end up taking naps all the time (as a freelancer, I have never allowed myself to take naps!). I don't feel like grocery shopping or cooking so we've been eating a lot of take-out. I just seem to diddle around all day and/or get unreasonably, obsessively angry if some medical person does not return my phone call by the end of the day. At this point, my clients are starting to get restive about my projects. I resolve every morning to sit myself down and do some work -- at least a couple of hours-- but somehow it doesn't happen.
So I finally went to a caregiver/grief counselor yesterday and asked, "What the heck is wrong with me?! My brother is getting the best care he can get at this time, there are no medical dragons I need to slay any more. Why can't I get my life back on track?" She said I was depressed. Depressed?! Me?! Who'd a thunk?
I suspect that you will say, "Of course you're depressed. Under the circumstances, who wouldn't be?" But I have been depressed once or twice before in my life and it didn't feel this way. Also, I have known intellectually for several months that my brother would probably not survive this illness. I have accepted that fact intellectually. So I shouldn't be depressed about it, right? Wrong.
After talking with the therapist, I now understand that the emotional half of my brain has absolutely NOT accepted what's going on. I need to cry more. I need to paint more. I need to be gentle with myself and stop criticizing myself for my preceived "laziness". But I also need to take little baby steps to try to get my life back on track. Don't try to shop for a week's groceries, just try to get something for dinner tonight. Don't try to make up for lost time on my work projects, but do one little piece of one project each day. Do something physical each day like going for a walk or working in my garden (mild weather is one of the joys of living in Atlanta). Send my brother a funny greeting card a couple of times a week instead of worrying about him all the time.
So I guess my advice to the rest of you caregivers is to not be tricked by the analytical/intellectual part of your brain. ASSUME you are depressed, even if it doesn't seem that way. And think about what steps you can take to be kind to yourself and to deal with your depression. Allow yourself to cry. Allow yourself to rage. And allow yourself to rediscover some pleasures in life. This is a rough road we are walking-- ignoring or denying that fact will just make things worse.