One of the challenges that can face a woman entering perimenopause is totally outside her control. This challenge is one that I faced starting in 2005 – caregiving for an ailing parent. The stress and strain of taking on that role can have a tremendous impact not only on the body, but the psyche of the middle-aged woman who becomes a caregiver. Add in the changes that come with perimenopause, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed.
A recent Newsweek article by Gail Sheehy entitled “The Caregiving Boomerang” was very insightful in describing what we are encouraged to expect at mid-life (which coincides with “The Change”) and what often happens when caregiving is required. Describing her previous views from the past 15 years, Sheehy wrote: “Fifty is the gateway to the most liberating passage in a woman’s life. Children are making test flights out of the nest. Parents are expected to be roaming in their RVs or sending postcards of themselves riding camels. Free at last! Women can graduate from the precarious balancing act between parenting and pursuit of a career. Time to pursue your passion. Climb mountains. Run rapids. Rediscover romance. You have a whole Second Adulthood ahead of you!”
However, the “Boomerang” was one thing that Sheehy hadn’t counted on when detailing her idyllic view of middle age. She wrote, “With parents living routinely into their 90s, a second round of caregiving has become a predictable crisis for women in midlife.”
I totally can relate – I was thrust into caregiving in my mid-40s when my mom started having memory loss to go along with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. One thing I hadn’t foreseen was that Mom would end up being so paranoid and irate with my father due to her memory loss. In 2005, I realized how bad things had become when Mom’s blood pressure was 80/40 (and she didn’t realize her situation). With that, I was thrown into a caregiving role.
“It (caregiving) usually turns into a marathon, averaging almost five years,” Sheehy explained. “Many recent clinical studies show that long-term caregivers are at high risk for sleep deprivation, immune-system deficiency, depression, chronic anxiety, loss of concentration, and premature death.” And that’s without adding in the stress placed on the body and the psyche caused by perimenopause’s changes.
So what can you do if you find yourself in this situation? Becoming more vigilant about diet, exercise and stress management seemed to help me while I was a caregiver (although I did gain weight and ended up with a heart arrhythmia for a period of time that was attributable to the stress I was under). Finding a support group of people who have been in caregiving situations also helps. Taking daily time for your own interests gives your mind a break. And Sheehy has one other important suggestion: “Above all, do not fall into the trap of Playing God. When the devoted caregiver comes to believe that she is responsible for saving a loved one’s life – often reinforced by the care recipient – any downturn will feel like a personal failure. It’s not. No mere human can control disease or aging.”