“I have lost the one person with whom I could share everything. I still talk to him like he understands but he just looks at me. Lonely doesn’t begin to describe this feeling. My biggest fear is that I have not cultivated enough close friends to sustain me when he is physically gone. There will be a lot of empty hours to fill” – Christina, caregiver to her husband.
These are the words of someone who is caring for a person with FTD. Sometimes, when you get caught up in the day-to-day life of a caregiver, you lose sight of yourself and reality.
Dealing with constant observation and supervision, food fights, diaper changes and walks keep one busy. Akin to the life of the parent of a toddler, one often yearns for a little peace and quiet. But after all that, after the night comes and calm is present for a short while, the pain of not having your partner to bounce the day off sets in.
Wanting to take advantage of time when you are not needed to guide what can often seem like a military exercise is natural of course. A little time to yourself, quiet time to just sit and do nothing seem like a pipe dream. But when it happens, you don’t really want it. All you want is to have those times back when you sat and talked About nothing, about everything. You just want it back.
“Conversation, I think that is worst. I spend all day talking to someone who never answers me back. Or seems to understand what I’m saying. And then when I do get her to bed and have my quiet time is when it sets in. Oh well the life of FTD” – James, caregiver to his wife, Peggy.
The quiet brings different feelings too. Pain, anger, sadness. Left to your own devices, you begin to dwell on how things might be different if it weren’t for the damn FTD. Conversations about your day, your work, your kids, your friends. The vacation you’re planning, the honey-do list.
Fear and dread overwhelm you. Fear of what you know is to come. Dreading the end result of this bastard disease. But still you endure. Still you go on, because – well, what else can you do? This mission that you have accepted has no defined beginning or end. It just morphs into a total disruption of your life. Eats up your love like an insatiable demon and forces you to think of the unimaginable.
“I’m always torn between being grateful for the peace and quiet so I can relax from the responsibility/demands for a bit, then the lonely crawls in and takes over.” – Lynn, caregiver to her husband, Len.
Guilt can be a powerful emotion during these times. You long for the times when you felt “happy”. Remember those? Happy is hard to define until you don’t feel it any more. Then you know. You know exactly what is is once its gone. And if you do happen to have a smiley moment, the guilt will jump up and slap you in the face. “How dare you feel anything but duty, loyalty and subservience at this time?” Laughing? Don’t you dare! The FTD guilt police will be after you!
All the negative emotions you feel – guilt, loneliness, emptiness, are far surpassed by what you are achieving every day as someone who fights this evil disease. Yes, you’re fighting. You know you can’t win, but you will give it a good run for it’s money. Being alone when you are with someone is absolutely soul-destroying. A form of torture in my opinion.
“That was my worst feeling. Being lonely even though my husband was right there.” -Michelle, caregiver for her husband.
Even commenting on something you are watching on TV, or see in the street returns little to no intelligible or understandable response. It’s like solitary confinement, except you are allowed to go out. Those little private jokes you shared belong only to you now. Even menial things around the house can become a trigger for loneliness. The chores that your other half always did suddenly don’t seem to get done anymore. It takes you a while to notice, but one day, the plants in the yard are all dead, the pool isn’t cleaned, or the laundry isn’t done, or you have no dinner when you get home. It comes as quite a shock, that they don’t remember how to do those things anymore. It’s not important to them. Not as important as where (and when) their next meal/snack is coming from, or where their money is. How did that happen? Their ability to think of anyone but themselves drives your loneliness. As they withdraw into their FTD world, so do you into yours. You have no choice.
‘The other night our dog started barking. I had to wake up Ian to tell him I thought someone was outside. He ever so slowly got dressed, went to the toilet then strolled out and then asked me what I wanted him to do? I sat alone crying because it made me realise how truly ‘on my own’ I am now.” – Vicki, caregiver for her husband, Ian.
I know that you know all this if you are or have been a caregiver of someone with FTD. I don’t have any magic answers, but I do have the advantage of hindsight. Although I can’t tell you how not to feel, I can tell you that with each phase and stage of FTD, as your loved one’s behavior and level of withdrawal changes, so will your resilience. Your strength will come from those of us who have gone before you and survived. Think of it as a marathon, with some runners just finishing and some just beginning. You will get to the finish line in the end. It’s not the end you want, but it is an end. You will handle the cramps and blisters along the way, because you are travelling with someone you love and they need you to help them reach the finish line. If you don’t love them, then I admire you even more, because this is not a journey for sissies. This marathon is only for the stout of heart and those with levels of determination that would defy gravity.
The loneliness of the long-distance runner cannot be underestimated. Take heart from the people on the sidelines, cheering you on. They may be people you know, or total strangers, but they are there, waving their flags and handing out cups of water.
As you escape into your quiet world tonight, when the tumult of the day has finally fallen into a calmer place, close your eyes, breathe deeply and exhale the loneliness. Feel it leaving your body and just enjoy the peace. For tomorrow will bring new challenges, new belligerence, new meanness.
You can do it. I know you can.