Part of the trouble with being a carer is that you can find yourself thinking and feeling ‘for’ the person you care for.
You see how they are, and you put yourself in their shoes.
If they cannot walk, your own legs or feet may become a problem. You may buy yourself more shoes than you did before.
If they have a stomach pain or a headache, you may develop one too.
If they cannot think, you may find it hard to think yourself. You may also try to think for them. You may lose touch with your own thoughts ; you may stop thinking for yourself and try to think only for them.
If they are confused, you may be unable to think clearly in the same room as them; you may have to go out of the house and talk to someone outside before your own thoughts clear.
If they are depressed, you may become depressed. You may feel guilty if you allow yourself to enjoy anything.
If they are suicidal, you may for a while feel suicidal.
Sometimes this happens when the person who is ill is not admitting to feeling suicidal, but their partner or carer has ‘picked up’ the feelings without recognising that they come from the ill person.
For a time, you may feel you are them. You may not realise you have lost yourself, until you regain yourself some time later.
The ‘them’ you are ‘being’ may actually be more stern, more demanding, more cruel really, than the real them. The ‘them’ in your head may not want you to have a life at all, while the real them, ‘out there’ does.
Separating at all can feel very threatening. It can feel as if it would kill the ill person; as if you are keeping them alive by being them, by keeping them in your head, your body.
Separating in your head may be important, particularly if the person is not going to get better. Separating in your head means ‘allowing’ the other person to be different; sorting out the differences between you and giving yourself permission to let them be.
Separating in your head may be necessary before you can allow yourself to leave them with someone else, or alone, for a while. It may be necessary before you can go out and find ways of regaining some pleasure in life, some enjoyment, some rest and recuperation. It may be necessary before you can attend to other members of your family, including your children.
Children who make demands may help parents to find ways of separating themselves when one has become too ill to care for the children. Children who try too hard not to cause trouble may end up deprived of significant aspects of their parents. Children and parents may not be aware what they do for each other, and how much they need each other, at any age.
This can also happen when you lose someone, particularly if you feel they have gone for ever. The ‘you’ you get back eventually will be a bit different, changed by your identification with the lost person.
Sometimes people are so afraid of becoming like the person they are caring for that they avoid being like them in any way. Which might mean they cannot admit to understanding how the person feels at all, even though they understand so well that they are terrified they will be lost, drowned in the other person.