Resuming your life after spending significant time as a caretaker is not a simple task of “getting back to normal.” Our friend Penny Hill shares her personal experiences.
When I was fifty, my mother had a stroke. It upended my life.
I made my mom’s care my priority for ten years. I had to let go of a lot of the life I’d built – things that defined me, such as a thriving freelance public relations business.
When all the caretaking was over, I found that several people around me had the expectation that I would pick up where I left off, just splice together those pieces of life. It’s not something I talked about, and I hadn’t heard anyone else talk about it until this past week when I started asking friends. It turns out several of them have been through a similar prolonged caretaking responsibility, and they also felt that expectation.
THE NEW NORMAL
If you’ve been the one designated to care for the elderly parent, the ailing spouse, the failing or flailing adult child, I congratulate you for your strength and devotion. But I also warn you – you will probably encounter some strong expectations as you emerge from it.
First of all, the idea of splicing back into “your life” is a bit silly. When my mom was gone, a decade had passed. I was sixty. I had changed so much that the idea of picking things up where I left them just caused me more stress. And yet people persisted in telling me how exciting it would be.
One of my friends tried to do just that. She didn’t count on her profound and prolonged grief. She also didn’t count on her brain and body working differently at sixty than at fifty. There are exceptions, of course, but most people do not have the same energy, mental processing speed, and even interest at sixty. So when my friend tried to go back and pick it up, she didn’t do well.
I didn’t try, and that really puzzled people around me. At least three times in the decade of other-care, I had to downsize and then reinvent my freelance business because not only had my circumstances changed, the business environment changed. I didn’t want to reinvent again, and I no longer wanted to try to be the hard-charging person I’d been at the peak of my career. And honestly? I was embarrassed that I wasn’t the person who could/would do that.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Many of you are now in or have been in that other-care mode that literally pulls you out of your own life for years. You will emerge from this a changed person.
You may have completely lost touch with yourself. When one of my friends emerged from a prolonged other-care phase of life, she didn’t have the sense of relief one would assume she’d feel. She said it was like a huge void. Nothing was there – not the other person and not herself. She began writing a book that was based on her career experiences, and that helped her reclaim herself.
Some people can splice past and present just fine, but from what I’ve noticed, I don’t think that’s the norm.
For most of us, coming back to “you” after extended othering is not what we thought it would be. It’s not about going back and reclaiming something you think you lost. That just doesn’t fit who you’ve become. Don’t give in to internal or external expectations of picking up where you left off. There are a lot of options and possibilities going forward. It will be much more rewarding to focus your attention and energies there.