From Lover to Caregiver

…to lover again

The temptation is sometimes overwhelming to try to fix the one near you who suffers from debilitating anxiety and panic attacks. Those irrational fears, you tell yourself, can be reasoned away. Those cognitive loops can be opened up to emotional freedom. Frustration builds, of course, as every attempt to “bring your loved one back” is stonewalled or sabotaged. Anger takes the place of love, and a circle of anxiety is created, with the lovers entwined in some terribly destructive anxious behavior. It struck me like a thunderbolt, some years ago, that: 1) I couldn’t fix Deb; 2) I had my own anxieties with which to cope. At that very moment, while I looked into her eyes, I saw a plea for mercy behind that fire of helpless rage, and from that moment, I dedicated myself to the pursuit of understanding what she was pleading for. Not that I have it figured out even now; not even close. These anxieties and the attendant paralyzing panic attacks plumb depths of the human psyche that I can’t possibly fathom. I can’t go with her down there, wherever there is. Whatever it is. Chaos seems like a good word to choose, but it’s not quite right because the rigid formula of irrational thought and circular reasoning is definitely a structure, highly structured, easily navigated within its own system. It takes you with it, though, where you yourself, as a lover, should not go. And so you have become an accidental caregiver. Caregiver is a role many lovers take upon themselves, with good and bad results. Even though the caregiver is guided and impelled by the forces of love, care-giving is a role far removed from the initial impelling force of love. The lover, in other words, is performing a role which any qualified person can do apart from the compulsion of love. Moreover, the lover is not performing his role as lover, into which he entered by solemn oath on the basis of reciprocity. A lover needs love of a particular kind, in a mutually beneficial exchange, and, as an accidental caregiver, he receives it not. An outside force is essential; otherwise, anxiety captures a community and threatens to unbind what was bound. The spouse who suffers within the realm of anxiety is like a drowning person, causing great anxiety to those who would help her, especially to the one who wants most to help her, but she is grasping at anything to keep afloat, even at the expense of drowning the one nearest. As a caregiver, you can’t help but to rush headlong into the thrashing in an effort to make saving effort, but without dispassionate training and professional distance, you’re likely to become overwhelmed by her anxieties, so that both lovers are lost to flailing helplessly. As a matter of practicality, the two of us have done a great deal of work to identify her triggers, especially the big ones, i.e., holidays, social events, traveling. I remind her to set an appointment with her professional in advance. As for me, I’ve developed coping mechanisms so that I react to her meltdowns with patience, tenderness, understanding–inasmuch as we strike the balance between compassion and enabling–in an effort to prevent my entering into that endless loop of trying to “fix” her. It also helps that I employ a professional to help me understand my own anxieties which are tangled up with hers. And so I only occasionally become an accidental caregiver, but with limits, so that, with the help of dispassionate professionals, we can return to our preferred roles as lovers. In that role we help each other best.

From Lover to Caregiver

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