Apathy & Despair: A Dementia Affair
It used to be Mom's territory. Now it's my turn.
Three years ago Mom and I spent a loathsome month in Downer Town unable to escape as Mom ricocheted from sadness to despair to apathy at a frenetic pace. When we finally got in to see her geriatric psych doctor, she calmly diagnosed depression, adding in her soft, lilting voice, "She's got dementia. That's pretty depressing."
Doh! Yeah, I probably should have figured that one out on my own.
A daily dose of Zoloft swept away about 80% of the crazy, leaving us care-daughters with a much more manageable Mom experiencing a much more typical amount of dementia unraveling.
Three years later I'm roaming around the twittersphere and come across a tweet from Dementia Who (@dementiawho), a family caregiver-in-arms across the Atlantic:
"I know caregivers don't always talk about it, but I've been so sad, I can't sleep & have no motivation for a while now. Trying my hardest to keep going for mum, but been unhappy for a long time. I know I have depression like many others..."
I realized I could have written this. That I too had been stricken by a low-grade sadness that, while barely perceptible, has permeated my days for some time now. That sleep had been elusive until the early hours of the morning, then unable to be shaken off until well into the afternoon the next day.
And that while I'm still doing my caregiver job capably, I have an utter lack of enthusiasm for any aspect of it, or my life.
For some time now, this apathy has taken the form of out-of-control indulgence in drink, smoke, eats; I am absolutely gluttonous in my futile grasps at comfort. And the listlessness with which I now face my future, well, it's like I've given a giant shrug to the universe with a lethargic "Whatever..." for the remainder of my days.
I've apparently made the executive decision that if Mom's not gonna die anytime soon and release me from this mess I'll just take matters into my own hands - accelerating my earthly departure with unabated debauchery.
It feels like not only is Mom's life ending but mine is too. Or already has. I just don't know it yet.
This depression has crept in unnamed but not entirely unnoticed. Past posts show that it's been waning and surging within me since last summer. It's largely remained under the wire as it doesn't pack the rage I feel when I've worked myself up for a big bout of caregiver burnout. This malaise is more slippery; foregoing the daily pounding of burnout to lie-in-wait for the opportune time to pull me under for a week, two weeks, a month, before I thrash my way to the surface for a big gulp of mental respite.
And of course, COVID is making a tough situation worse. For me. For everybody.
So I waited for a day when I had some modicum of motivation and slogged my way around the internets to find that caregiver depression is a thing, and that smart people study it, write medical papers on it, provide recommendations for treatment, and make lists of coping mechanisms.
With Eeyore levels of enthusiasm I perused the recommendations...
Medication - Besides my disastrous self-medicating, I already take a low-dose antidepressant. Might be time to review its efficacy with my doctor.
I don't wanna.
Support - I've waaaaayyy got this covered. I share caregiving duties with my sister and our MotherMinder. I meet virtually with two caregiver friends every week who have been the best of support for over a year now, and friends who aren't in the dementia "industry" are also a virtual moment away whenever I send a "Hewlp!" out into the textaverse. NEXT!
Journaling - Gee. Why didn't I think of that? (She said dryly with a roll of her eyes.)
Meditation/Yoga - This falls into the "I don't wanna" category too, but I know I really should give it a shot as so many caregivers have extolled the benefits of both.
The problem with all these solutions is that it requires me to DO SOMETHING and it's been months of not wanting to DO ANYTHING! Where's an f'ing fairy godmother when you need one? I got no problem prostrating myself on a sofa while a magical sprite sprinkles pixie dust over me that instantly cures apathy, bestows joy, gives me a life-long aversion to Cheez-Its, and removes 30 pounds off my frame in one go. <sigh>
Sans fairy godmother, I can already feel myself floating to the top for a bit of respite. It took me a week and a half to write this post - I realize I began it in a much darker frame of mind. Maybe when I break through this time I can find the motivation to make a fresh start with my big, bad caregiving self.
But for right now that early grave ain't gonna dig itself - time to crack open a bottle of wine, a pack of smokes, and drink myself into a stupor.
'Cause I'm a dementia family caregiver. And sometimes, that's pretty depressing.
P.S. Just cause I can't pull it together at the moment doesn't mean you aren't ready for new strategies to help lift yourself out of caregiver depression. Here's some helpful articles that may fix 'ya up good: Depression and Caregiving (Family Caregiver Alliance), Alzheimer's and dementia: Caregiver depression (Mayo clinic), Caregiver Depression (Alzheimer's Association), Caregiver Stress Statistics (Sixty+Me).