Do you feel like you need to find yourself again?
Last week, I got a letter from the hospice bereavement coordinator that helped my family care for my mother in her final days. They acknowledged that family members who have spent most of their time caring for their loved ones for months or perhaps years often ask themselves after their death, “Where do I go?” or “What do I do?”
That’s exactly how I felt after my Mom died.
I was the primary caregiver for my Mom who had Lewy Body dementia, a combination of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s that rendered her helpless both physically and mentally. Being a caregiver was the hardest job I’ve ever had – by far. When she passed away last June, I assumed that while I would grieve for my Mom, I would also feel a sense of relief that my job was finished and my life could get back to normal.
Instead, I felt lethargic, depressed, and yes, lost after she died. My life, my thoughts, and my feelings had revolved around the care of my mother. I discovered that when your roles change drastically, you lose a sense of who you are. Your self-image is shattered.
This uncomfortable feeling can happen whenever you go through a major change in your life such as a divorce or losing your job. Or perhaps you’ve recently retired or became an empty nester. After dreaming of all the things you’d do when you had more time after child rearing and working 9 to 5, you feel lost instead.
Remember, although you may no longer be a caregiver, part of a couple, an employee, or full-time parent, you are still 100 percent you. You just need to find that person again.
Allow Yourself Time to Mourn
If you have suffered a loss, be kind and patient with yourself. Acknowledge your feelings instead of sweeping them under a rug. Everyone is different. Emotions can range from anger, loss, guilt, sadness, lethargy, regret, confusion, and depression.
Whether you lost a loved one, a spouse in divorce, or a job, you may have lost your lifestyle and identity as well. It’s okay to mourn that loss.
However, be careful not to isolate yourself during this process. You’ll need a network of support. Healing may mean lots of heartfelt prayer, talking out your feelings with a supportive loved one, and/or focusing your energy in a healthy activity you enjoy.
Let it Go
As I wrote in my blog, Moving Forward After Adversity, avoid getting stuck in all the “I should have…” or “I wish…” feelings that often comes with grieving but can interfere with your recovery. Don’t allow sorrow, stress, resentment, or bitterness to become a way of life. Take all that negative self talk out of your head like, “I’ve lost everything” or “My life is over.” The fact of the matter is that your life isn’t over; it’s just a new beginning for you.
The goal is not to wallow forever in negative feelings but to move on, be there for the people who need you, have a meaningful and productive life, and enjoy living once again. Be grateful for what IS working in your life right now. Live in the present and focus on the positive. Learn from your experiences and prepare yourself for the next exciting chapter of your life.
It’s easy to get lost in caring for your family and children or elderly parents or nurturing a career. You may have given up a lot of things that you enjoyed. Make time to get to know yourself again.
“To move your life forward, it has to start by focusing on yourself,” wrote Mark Branschick, M.D. in an article, Seven Ways to Thrive After Divorce, for Psychology Today. “Use this precious opportunity to rediscover who you are. Think of this time in your life as an adventure to explore the real you.”
You can lose sight of your unique gifts if you’re focusing on what you don’t like about yourself or your life. Think about your qualities and skills and how you can best use them. What truly makes you happy? What really matters to you? What do you feel is your true purpose in life? What hobbies and activities did you enjoy before becoming a caregiver, a married couple, or a parent? What is it that will make you excited to get out of bed every day? Make a list of what you can do to reach your goals.
Rediscover what brought you fulfillment, satisfaction, fun, and joy as a way of rebuilding yourself and your life.
My life changed overnight and that can be disconcerting. Last summer, we moved into a new home we had built to be closer to my Mom (who unfortunately died the week before it was finished). My husband and I went from being empty nesters to a house full of grown children and grandchildren. Plus, I had to find new clients as a freelance writer and begin working again.
It was a tumultuous year in other ways as well. As I’ve shared before, my mother-in-law lost her fight against ovarian cancer and my son began going through a nasty divorce and custody battle.
Let’s get real, between all these events and changes in my life, I was shaken. I felt fragile and fought depression for the first time in my life.
It’s been a journey, but I am beginning to recover and heal. In the process, I’m learning to embrace all the new changes in my life. My new job writing magazine articles does require meeting strict deadlines, but the subjects are fun and it’s exciting work. We are a multi-generational family living together, but I’ve come to enjoy having the cocoon of family love around me during this difficult time. My oldest son is going through many of the same emotions as I am as he finds his way after divorce and we’ve connected on a whole new level. When our three grandchildren are with us, they bring us joy and keep us young.
My friend, Cindy (left), me, and my husband getting ready to zip line for the first time.
So, don’t be afraid of change. Get out of your comfort zone and discover a new side of yourself. Maybe that means a new career, trying a new sport, traveling to a new place, changing your hair, or taking classes. Shake things up a little.
A few years ago, I reconnected with a childhood friend, Cindy, who was also a caregiver. In the last few years, she lost her husband and both her parents.
Cindy is my inspiration. Talk about embracing change. She is traveling around the world, went back to school, and moved to North Carolina to be near her daughter and three grandchildren. We went zip lining together for the first time and are making plans to go up, up, and away in a balloon next time she visits.
Embrace Your New Role
You will go through several stages before this step can happen. However, the time comes when you make a choice. You can move on and discover possibilities that a life change presents you or get stuck in negative emotions.
Find a way to put one foot in front of the other. If you can move forward, eventually you’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know this from experience.
In time, you’ll reconnect with old friends or make new friends, go to work, back to school, or volunteer, rediscover what once brought you joy, enjoy new adventures, and find your way. You’ll look at the changes in your life in a positive way, feel more confident and in control, and become more productive and optimistic about your future.
The time will come when you will find yourself again, embrace your new role in life, and feel like your new shoes are a good fit. You will breathe a sigh of relief. Life will never be perfect, but eventually, you won’t have to struggle so hard to “make it work.” It just will.
Images courtesy of surasakiStock, Ambro, and renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.