Four years ago, my husband had an accident at work that crushed two vertebrae in his back and broke his hip. Due to multiple complications like a heart attack a year later and long-term diabetes, he is pretty much wheelchair-bound now. While he can take up to 20 steps with a walker, he is incapable of almost all other physical activity. He has lived with constant pain in his right testicle ever since (imagine!!).
My husband is a wonderful man who is as loyal as the day is long, funny and truly caring. Because of multiple surgeries, shocks to his heart over a period of many days, constant pain, medications, and other issues, he does not have the mental capacity he once did. His memory is bad, his mood can swing from week-to-week and sometimes day-to-day. All of it is understandable, but it can be difficult for me to deal with.
Because of that, I would like some words of encouragement — words I can say to myself when his diaper is full and I am late for work, the laundry needs to be done, and the dog just puked on the carpet. I married this man, I love him, and I took a vow that included “in sickness and in health,” but I need some thoughts to remember when things get rough and I start feeling down.
You and your lovely community always seem to have such positive attitudes, even in difficult times, and I was hoping you could all share some ways I can turn my head around when things get dark. I do not have suicidal, or any other morbid thoughts, but I am running out of things to laugh at or smile about.
Understand, I cannot leave my husband for an extended period, our family members are long passed or long distance, and we barely have two nickels to rub together on his disability and my income.
I just need a little encouragement. I have seen how helpful and caring you and your commenters can be. Can I ask for help? — Needs Encouragement
Of course, you can ask for help! And you should — not just from this community, but from your community of neighbors, friends, and family. And you should find new communities to join that will give you the kind of support — if not physical support, then emotional support — that will not only help you get through each day, but also help you find the joy that seems to be missing from your life. Do a Google search for support groups or organizations in your area tailored for family caregivers, and ask about such groups at your husband’s care facilities/ hospitals. If you have trouble finding such groups locally, check out websites like Family Caregiver Support Network. I would also recommend finding your own therapist, social worker or counselor to check in with regularly and to unload some of your burden. If you are at all religious and aren’t already attending a place of worship, you may find that doing so will give you a spiritual life as well as open your circle of friends. Even if you aren’t particularly religious, it may not hurt to search for a non-denominational place of worship where you can congregate with other like-minded people, sing songs and celebrate life together.
I really love all the helpful tips listed in this guide for family caregivers and would encourage you to read them carefully and think about where there’s room in your life and schedule to apply some of them. Maybe you have friends nearby who could be of service to you in some way whom you haven’t yet asked for help. Maybe they’d love to help but don’t know exactly what they could do for you. I like the idea of pointing out very specific ways they can be of service to your and your husband, especially in small ways that may add up over time, like dog-sitting one weekend or driving your husband to an appointment when you have to work.
Beyond the practical suggestions, I know what you really want are some words of encouragement and the best thing I can think to say to you is that it’s OK for you to take time for yourself. It’s not only OK, it’s necessary. You have to fill your well in order to gather the strength it takes to care for your husband. You may not be able to fill your well in the same way you used to, but with modifications, you can still do things that bring you joy, like watching movies, reading books, baking, gardening, doing crafts, writing poetry. Any of these things are inexpensive or free — some could even save or make you some money in the long run (you could plant and harvest vegetables in the summer, for example, to save on your grocery bill and then use the savings to hire a dog-walker or a cleaning service or treat yourself to something you couldn’t otherwise afford).
Still, you want words of encouragement and maybe DW readers will have some that resonate with you. I just keep thinking that if you had some bright spots in your week — things to look forward to — it would make the full diapers and dog puke and hard moments a little more bearable. But you can’t wait for those bright spots to come find you. You have to seek them out. And it may mean expanding your social circle or it may mean carving an hour or two of your week to make time for something you love, but I want you to know that that time away from obligations is the thing that will not only save your marriage, it will save YOU.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.