Family Illness is Emotionally Overwhelming

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Reader’s Question

Why am I emotionally tired? I am very emotional 75% of the time, and feel like crying all the time. It’s mostly concerning my grandma, who is in the last stage of Alzheimer’s, and my uncle, who is ill with it as well. It has taken its toll on me.

Also, I am angry at my sister, and just feel like no one cares about how I’m feeling.

What can I do to get through this?

Psychologist’s Reply

It sounds like you have good reasons for feeling so emotional. You are facing major illness in two members of your family, which can probably only end in death.

When a family is under stress, as yours is, conflict is common. Old rivalries and problems are often exacerbated by unequal participation in caretaking duties, concern over medical bills, and battles over the distribution of the loved one’s estate. Added to this is the fact that every family member is experiencing their own grieving process; this can also cause conflict if each person’s process isn’t ‘acceptable’ or respected by other family members. For example, if your sister is so overwhelmed by her mourning process that she is unable to pitch in to help you care for Grandma, you would understandably be angry about the added burden placed on you, and perhaps would become critical of how she is handling the situation.

Because of the multifaceted issues facing family members of ailing patients, organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association in the US sponsor support groups so that people like you can give voice to their feelings and frustrations within a group of people who will truly understand what you are going through. You can find such a group through the Alzheimer’s Association, or ask for referrals from the facility where your grandmother is receiving care. It may be that attending a few meetings where you can hear and be heard will help you feel less isolated and more supported in your experience. There are also support resources available through other agencies; for example, the American Cancer Society has a whole page of resources specifically for caregivers.

You might also consider seeking out some short-term individual therapy to help you cope with this emotionally stressful time. Having a place where you can speak your mind and air your feelings without judgement can feel incredibly grounding when your whole world is in turmoil and transition. Again, you may be able to get a referral from your grandmother’s (or uncle’s) treatment providers for a therapist with a specialty in working with family members of ailing patients. Above all, realize that taking care of yourself and giving yourself room to experience all of the feelings that are overwhelming you right now is vital. It can seem impossible in the moment, but you will be better able to handle your emotions and the stressors in your life if you are caring for yourself.

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