For Men’s Health Week, Peter Watson, reflects on the guilt he felt when his wife first went into care and speculates that we may encounter similar emotions as lockdown lifts. Peters sits on our Carers Advisory Panel and cared for his wife for several years before her vascular dementia diagnosis in 2006, he continued caring for her at home for three more years until he was unable to cope any more and she moved into a care home.
It struck me that for some people there may be an unexpected emotional consequence of coming out of the Covid-19 lockdown. I wonder whether our new-found freedom will result in feelings of guilt. This may sound strange but a past event in my life produced just such a juxtaposition of good and bad. This was when I could no longer cope with my wife’s dementia and she moved into a nursing home.
During lockdown our infrequent outings have been conducted with care – we’ve all perfected the Corona-swerve. We’ve been concerned, even fearful, about how our actions can affect our own and other people’s health. We’ve been confined, restricted, cut off from close contact with friends and family, living in our own self-contained bubble. If you want to call it a benefit though, we have also been insulated from the uncertainties of daily living, existing, in an albeit humdrum, routine. This is not so different from the “normal” life of a carer living with somebody in the difficult stages of dementia.
My life was one of 24-hour care for my wife who had a diagnosis of vascular dementia. At this stage I couldn’t leave her on her own, had to do everything for her and, just as now, was confined, restricted, largely cut off from close contact with friends and family and we lived in our own, self-contained bubble. The time eventually came when I could no longer cope, and my only recourse was for her to move to a nursing home. At that stage, you could argue, my freedom was given back to me. Apart from visiting her each day and ensuring that her care was good, I was able to do whatever I wanted. I thought I’d done the right thing. Good friends and family assured me that I had done the right thing. But deep down, in the dark times, I felt that freedom was a yoke of guilt around my shoulders. Could I have done better? Could I have managed longer? Whenever I went out, I felt people were looking at me thinking “He’s the one who consigned his wife to care home!” And my routine had gone. I didn’t know what to do each day. I didn’t know how to rekindle lost relationships and to re-join activities that I had many years ago enjoyed. I felt guilty that here I was, feeling desperately sorry for myself, while my wife had been moved from the family home and confined with strangers.
As we start to get freedom our back, will we feel guilty? About standing too close to others? Handing real money that hasn’t been disinfected to shopkeepers? Using public transport? Going to see the GP? Will we feel guilty about those doctors, nurses and carers still on the front line fighting this virus while we can get back to a form of normality. I already do a bit. But I do believe that I can learn from my care home experience. In the end I turned my metamorphosis into a sort of project of positive things. I made myself meet people, I did some decorating, I took up golf, I reduced my alcohol consumption. Taking small steps at a time, knowing in my own mind that they had to be taken if things were to get back to normal, and also knowing that my wife was perfectly happy where she was, meant that the guilt gradually subsided. That’s what I intend to do now – ‘Project Covid Release’. Take all the care that I can, and look at the benefits to me, others, and the economy of getting out and about. From experience, I’m sure the guilt will go.
Our team of healthcare professionals have been working hard throughout lockdown to ensure partners, family, members and friends caring for someone with dementia continue to be well-supported at this time. Please visit our Virtual Carers Centre for online resources and support from our Services Team.