Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


You're a Caregiver, You're a Hero, and You're Exhausted

Divorce, Illness & Life’s Uncertainties – 9 Ways to Manage

Everybody gets a turn going through bad times.

And, sometimes it feels like it’ll never end.

Case Example: Jody’s husband, Sam was just diagnosed with treatable form of cancer. Everything has changed. Sam had been full of energy, the center of the party. Now, he’s tired all the time and comes home from work exhausted and ready for bed. Their four children continue to live their lives, but Jody is constantly on the lookout for problems. Is Harry, their teenage boy getting his work done? Will her two middle children break down at some point? And, what does Jody say to her 8 year daughter, Caroline, who constantly asks, “How do you know that Daddy is going to be okay?” It is too much.

But, Jody has a life to live. Sam gets his chemotherapy. Jody takes time off from work to join him. Sam is moody and needy. He can’t help it. Jody wants to set limits with him, but can’t. He asks and she supplies. The give and take between them is almost gone. Jody fluctuates between exhaustion, anger, loneliness and determination. She cannot come first. Too much is at stake.

No one asks to be a caregiver: At first, Jody gives up her own needs by necessity. How can you take the time for exercise or friends when Sam is so needy (with good reason), the kids require a functioning parent and Jody still has to work? The gym goes, dates with friends go and even religious events go as well. Jody becomes self protective of her time and rest. Only the necessities remain.

Is Jody depressed?

No, she is oppressed. Life has thrown her a handful. Jody's in the full swing of life, marriage, kids, work and now everything has changed. The question is how to best deal with this. Jody is not the first, nor the last person to deal with bad times.

The caregiver is heroic: It's time to step out of your needs to take care of someone you love. It's that simple...and that hard. But, just because someone you love is in trouble, doesn't mean that your needs just go away. Assuming the caregiver role includes building a bridge back to yourself.

Some Thoughts:

1. Acceptance is critical. Not a mournful acceptance; whatever will be, will be. No, you must accept that life is capricious and that our measure is not in what happens to us; but rather, what we do with what happens to us. Sam and the kids need Jody now. They are front and center. It is the way of things. Her time will come.

2. Be kind to yourself. Jody has so much on her plate; Sam’s treatment and any side effects, doctor’s appointments, setbacks, worries about the kids. And life goes on; shopping, preparing food that Sam can handle, and the kids can eat. And things like parents, job, bills and taxes don’t go away. Jody will make some mistakes. No one can keep it all together all the time. The trick is to let go and just try to do better next time.

3. Consider professional help. An hour a week in a support group or with a therapist, who understands the pressures of a caregiver, could be worth the investment. Jody may get some good advice about her children. And, if anxiety or depression starts to creep in, good treatment can make a difference. Often this can be done without medications.

4. A good night’s sleep is healing. Jody has so much on her mind, and bedtime is often the place where things get too much. People like Jody ruminate for hours. “Is Sam okay?” “What will chemotherapy be like next week?” “I feel so overwhelmed.” Sometimes melatonin can be helpful, or a warm bath, or a talk with a loving friend. As much as I refrain from medicating symptoms, fatigue due to insomnia justifies a trip to your internist or psychiatrist.

5. No woman is an island. Jody needs love and support; and it’s hard to get what she needs at home. This is no easy task, but it counts. No one can be heroic forever without support. Sam is a great guy, but how much can he give? The chemotherapy is hard, keeping whatever business he has alive is taxing – so what does he have left? The best Sam can offer is to give Jody whatever space she needs to rejuvenate – even if it turns out to be little space indeed.

6. Build in support. Jody needs to find support that nurtures her – and stick with it. Going to church or synagogue may nurture but it may do the opposite. You don’t want to be a stranger in a crowd when you are raw and needy. Jody needs to find those people in her life that are affirming. Anyone, for any reason, who takes energy away or makes her feel vulnerable, should be tabled for now. Yes, Jody is needy. It is okay. She carries a lot.

7. Bring back your life. Slowly, put the pieces of your life back into place. Work out once a week, make a lunch date with a good friend, and keep the stress eating under better control. Building back healthy habits will give you strength. And, having something to look forward to will help. Jody will not be under duress forever.

8. Find a healing spirituality. Jody may believe in God or not. If so, it may be helpful to allow God’s love into her heart. If she’s told that bad things happen because she or Sam are somehow guilty, my advice would be to reject that religious advice. It’s presumptuous and mean spirited. God’s ways are beyond our knowing. If Jody has no personal God in her life, spirit is to be found everywhere. It is in the beauty of nature, in the soft cuddliness of an infant and in the good energy between people. Nurture it and it will nurture you.

9. Forgive: Whether the person you’re caring for is the child in divorce, a brother with schizophrenia, a niece with bipolar disorder, an ill spouse, or a traumatized friend - its inevitable that you’ll lose some attention and focus. It’s a good idea, every so often, to take breath - and forgive. Forgive the world for thrusting this upon you, forgive him/her for sometimes asking too much or too often, and forgive yourself for not always having the strength to endure

Life has its blessings and its curses.

We can be up one minute and down the next. Not every situation is like Jody’s; there’s no sick husband in a divorce, but there may be unhappy children to think about. There’s no marital issue in a natural disaster, but you may all be overwhelmed. The key is to take stock, deal with the hardship and get the sustenance that you need.

Everybody gets their turn: Tough things happen and you go from living a normal life to living a heroic one. Make sure you are surrounded by people who are good for you. Allow good love in – and unnecessary relationships out.

What is dignity? It is not what we are born into. And, it’s not what happens to us.

Our dignity is found in how we deal with our lot in life.

And, it’s a measure that we can all meet.


For More:



Online Parenting Course:

Radio Show:


More from Mark Banschick M.D.
More from Psychology Today