God never gives you more than you can handle. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. These and similar axioms were never very convincing to me, and certainly not in the case of caregiving. I didn’t feel the least bit stronger when the job was completed–just exhausted, sad, guilt-ridden, and angry. As for not having more than I can handle… Well, I guess it’s a matter of opinion. After all, I was standing in one piece during an after the caregiving, so one could say… On the other hand, trying to balance children, my mother’s care, the travel and managerial responsibilities involved in long-distance caregiving, and my work was really more than I could handle.
At the same time, I acknowledge that there are plenty of people who have gone through and are going through much worse situations and with much-more-difficult care receivers (or so it sounds). There are certainly people who have cared for loved ones with dementia for many, many years–who have long since forgotten who they are and suffering from incontinence and other physical challenges as well.
But that’s objective–and doesn’t mean I felt any less challenged during my caregiving years. One of the “mistakes” I made in life was marrying late, and as a result, had kids who were still teenagers when caregiving for my mother became necessary. My brother’s kids, in contrast, were independent and on their own. And need I say more about some of the trials and tribulations even the best-adjusted teenagers go through? There were days I felt I didn’t have one minute to myself or one thought to myself that wasn’t connected to either kids or parent. My children occasionally complained that I wasn’t paying enough attention to them. No matter how much I spoke to them about respect for parents, that remained theoretical when they had a problem or needed someone to listen to them.
Another part of being in the sandwich generation is work. Being a freelancer meant considerable flexibility, compared with people who work at one job all day. On days when I didn’t have to travel to do interviews or meet clients, I could theoretically stay at home all day and not venture out. There were days, indeed–and some nights–when I spent hours upon hours making phone calls related to my mother’s care: doctors, social workers, health insurance, long-term-care insurance, aides, social workers, and on and on. There was no way I would have been able to do that had I a full-time job, especially with an inflexible boss (of which I’ve had many in the past). However, being a writer is not a mechanical thing: depression, sadness, distress, anxiety–all of these affect creativity and did. In the past i had almost never missed a deadline; while caregiving for my mother, I had to ask for extensions a number of times and missed a few assignments completely. Every minute I spent traveling on Amtrak back and forth were spent working, and occasionally catching some shut-eye. I had to refuse projects, and those I accepted and turned in were probably not on a comparable level to that of the past. So who says being a freelancer isn’t affected by caregiving? Maybe I could handle what I handled, but at what price? Which is not to say I wouldn’t do it again, simply that cliched axioms may not be quite accurate.