Retirement to the Rescue

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Retirement to the Rescue

I have always had a tough time saying “no” to anyone. Saying “no” fills me with guilt.  I like to solve problems and make others feel better. I, therefore, tend to suffer a lot of blame if I can’t solve the issues presented for resolution quickly or at all.  I feel like a failure resulting in feelings of depression and anger.

On the other hand, pushing to answer complex problems can result in positive outcomes, too. To avoid feelings of guilt, I struggle to try harder. To succeed in reaching my goal of meeting the person’s needs, I strive to be more creative.  However, often along with the added energy and motivation comes additional stress and anxiety.

Feelings of Guilt Common

Many other caregivers share with me they too have these feelings. Guilt and resentment seem to be common themes among us. I know I’ve internalized a lot of disappointment, anger, fear, and anxiety. All the feelings bundle together building into a cluster of emotion that never seems to go away. 

Recently, I’ve been forced through circumstances to take a hard look at myself. I realize I have internalized a lot more over the years. Unfortunately, until now I failed to acknowledge what was happening to me. Intellectually, I knew not to ignore building emotions. But my human side wanted to avoid the pain. Like Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, I chose to “think about it tomorrow.” Maybe if I ignored it, the problem might go away?

Change What You Can

I used to tell people who came to me for advice on how to deal with issues that bothered them, “Our bodies will only hold so much stress.  It’s like we have a large bucket inside to hold stress.  The bucket can only hold a certain amount. Once the bucket gets full, the extra stress will overflow into other parts of our body. Then we get sick and develop other problems.” 

My bucket overflowed years ago and the overflow is looking for new places to go. My doctor finally told me I had to leave my job.  She put it in common sense terms, “You can’t change Lynn’s condition. You have several stress-related medical conditions that are getting significantly worse.  You can’t change the fact that your family has special needs.  All you can change is that you work. You could retire or reduce your work hours leading to more rest and less responsibility therefore, less stress.”

She was right, I realized. For years, I had been trying to do it all. However, I wasn’t ready to stop working.  I loved working outside my home.  Working outside my home, helped me reduce my stress level, however, and I could not imagine giving that up.

Caregiving is Isolating 

I didn’t want to go back to a world of just me, Lynn, and MS where we rarely saw another person.  Knowing the outside world only through what I saw on TV or at the doctor’s office was so restrictive. I wanted exposure to something besides MS and my family; I needed something to challenge my mind. When people thought of me, I wanted to be known as Donna Steigleder, not Lynn’s wife or caregiver.

Giving up Dreams
  • Giving up my job and career was very difficult, and I realized over time something I resented. Because I had to do Lynn’s care each night, I could not take classes after work to advance my Education and get my master’s degree. Being unable to get that degree, prevented me from being able to apply for leadership positions other than the one I held.
  • I could not risk losing my FLMA eligibility by changing jobs because Lynn had at least 1-2 hospitalizations annually. A new employer might not accept that amount of absenteeism in a new employee.
  • All my decisions centered around Lynn throughout my career. Even as I made decisions about retirement, I needed to put his needs first as I made decisions regarding what I could or should do when I left full-time work to retire.
Retirement Best Option for Now

For many reasons, retirement is my best option right now. I decided to leave full-time employment and take early retirement. I am applying to reactivate my nursing license.  I will be assisting a member of my family with special needs with her medical care needs. I also have other prospects with telework that might lead to some income soon.  I’m hoping by fitting all these opportunities together; it will be enough that I can work at home, over-see Lynn’s care, keep the stress to a minimum, and maintain a level of income that we can pay the necessary bills.

I’m Happy

I’ve been out of work now for a month, and I haven’t been this happy in years.  I don’t wake up with that heavy feeling of guilt and dread each morning.  Before, I knew I could not do everything I needed to do that day and would certainly disappoint someone.  My daily dread was letting someone down and if not someone else, I always let myself down. Feeling miserable, frustrated, angry, and depressed every day was a horrible way to live. With rising blood pressure, three emergency room visits, four visits to GI specialists for GI problems, I was no closer to solving my medical issues.  My weight was increasing, my arthritis worsening, and pain was becoming a constant companion. I was fast becoming one of those statistics where the caregiver was likely to die before the one receiving care. But not now.  Now, I’m at peace, and it feels great. Thank goodness for retirement plans.

This article originally appeared on Multiplesclerosis.Net by Health-Union, LLC and has been reposted with permission.

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