Dr. Ducharme’s Blog Care-taking the Caretakers

April 16, 2018

April 16, 2018

Obviously I am a caretaker. I have been a clinical psychologist for over 30 years and specialized in treating trauma.   Many days I send 9 hours listening to the intense pain of clients and helping them process these experiences and moving forward to a place of letting go of the pain and thriving. It is difficult work. But, to be honest, it is a privilege to work with so many incredibly resilient people. I am always learning from them.

Many of you know that I am also a nurse. I actually began working with abused kids while working on a pediatric unit. So, care taking seems to be a part of my nature. I remember, even as a kid, if my parents had an argument, as most parents do, I tried to talk to them and fix it. They assured me it was not my job, and they could handle it. And they did. But, I always felt good when I was helping someone.

So, while this is all true, sometimes even the caretaker gets really tired. Recently, my husband had major back surgery. While the surgery went extremely well he developed some complications from the anesthesia. So, while we had expected he could not bend, lift (more than 5 pounds) or turn for two months, requiring me to do pretty much everything that needed to be done around the house, we had not expected some of the medical complications and therefore nursing roles that I would be doing. I also was seeing patients most days after he was home from the hospital and dealing with general things we all have going on in our lives. It was a lot to handle. But, handle it I did until he actually started to get much better. Well, more or less…until I was just plain exhausted.

I noticed that I was starting to get a bit cranky and even resentful if my husband asked a basic question such as “what are we having for dinner?”. I noticed I was not sleeping very well, was looking forward to being alone in my car and NOT talking on the phone to anyone. I did try to use more meditation but, frankly, I did not have time to do the self-care that would have been helpful. And one day, after getting some news that would require additional and unexpected work for me,  I decided I had reached my max. I got home and told my husband that if he expected to eat dinner he could figure it out and I was shutting down for the night. Actually, it was quite empowering! This is not something I do very often. Mom’s, Nurse’s and other caretakers think they are expected to take a deep breath and carry on. And many of us are not very good at asking for help. But, we need to.When we let people know we need help, many respond. And I must say, my husband was feeling terrible that he was not able to do more household chores.

The next day my daughter and I had planned a night out to see Maks, Val and Peta from Dancing with the Stars. She arrived at my house with the most gorgeous bouquet of roses. She is an amazing young woman! When I posted a photo of them on Facebook and mentioned they were in response to my mini “breakdown”, all my friends reached out with words of comfort and support. The hot molten chocolate cake I had with dinner before the show didn’t hurt either. I scheduled some time to do some shopping for myself…new shoes are actually quite therapeutic!

So, why am I sharing this personal information? Because, the reality is that caretakers need to take care of themselves in order to help others. It is something I lecture to other therapists about. But, even those of us trained to deal with this, can get overwhelmed and need support. I have made sure I am getting better sleep, taking time to meditate and talk with friends. I am doing things that nourish myself.

So, here are a few tips for caretakers:

Recognize how draining care taking can be.

Remember you can’t do everything. Get take-out for dinner.

Maintain your own personal relationships…even if it is by phone or a quick message when you are really busy. My friends and I often send quick messages of support while playing Words with Friends.

Ask for help if your loved one can’t be alone and go out with friends, go shopping  or get a manicure.

Make yourself laugh. Care taking can feel so serious. So watch a funny movie or read a funny book.

Exercise. Even 15 minutes a day can help. Aim for 20-60 minutes 3 times per week.

Avoid excessive alcohol and junk food.They may feel comforting in the moment. But the long term effects are negative.

Think of what  kinds of things you enjoy…massages, hot baths, listening to music and try to make some time every day for at least one thing that feels good.

Get adequate sleep. This is critical. If you are having trouble sleeping, talk to your health care provider or a psychologist trained to teach you ways to get better sleep. Several Apps such as Calm, Insight Timer and Simple habit  have wonderful sleep stories and meditations that soothe you into sleep.

Be kind to yourself. Recognize that your feelings of frustration and anger are normal and often come from fatigue and acceptance of necessary and although sometimes temporary, sometimes permanent change.


If you find yourself feeling very anxious, depressed or just overwhelmed in spite of doing the above things, talk to a  psychologist or other mental health provider trained in helping people deal with the very real issues faced by caretakers.