CEMM Virtual Library

The Caregiver's Journey

Your Emotional Health

Caregiving requires you to take on new roles. You will need to learn new skills to help your family member with TBI. Keep in mind, all these new demands happen at the same time that you and your family are coming to terms with the impact of TBI on your loved one.

You want to give the best possible care and support for your family member’s recovery. You may find yourself spending all your time and energy dealing with your family member’s needs. This may leave you feeling drained.

You may be tempted to put your own needs on hold. It’s not wise to do this. You won’t be able to give the best care or cope with your new tasks.

You may move through a series of stages as you come to terms with the changes in your family member. In the first couple of months, for example, you may be feeling happy that your service member/veteran is alive and hopeful that he or she will recover fully and quickly. As time goes by, progress may slow and you may feel anxious and scared. Sometimes you think that a full recovery might happen faster, if only he or she would work harder at it. As recovery progresses, you may find yourself feeling discouraged and depressed or even guilty. You just don’t know how to help your family member get better.

Feelings of depression may progress into feelings of despair and a sense of being trapped, if recovery slows down over time. If your service member/veteran has sustained a severe TBI and recovery is difficult, you may find yourself experiencing a period of grief and deep mourning. Eventually—and this may take up to two years or longer — you may find yourself stepping back from the pain, accepting what is, and finding peace in your family’s situation.

You may not go through these stages exactly like this. Knowing what many caregivers and family members go through, as they adjust to life after TBI, may help you know that your reactions are “normal.”

Although your reactions are normal, there can be harmful effects if you focus all your attention on your service member/veteran:

  • You may experience caregiver burnout. 
  • If you do not take care of yourself — emotionally and physically — you may end up being harmful to yourself.
  • You may feel listless, isolated, or bottled up. Those who are burned out may try to use alcohol to cope. You may have poor hygiene or have emotional outbursts. These are signs of burnout and compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is an outcome of chronic, unrelieved stress.

If you do find yourself suffering from caregiver burnout or compassion fatigue, take heart in the knowledge that you are a deeply caring person.

Here is a list of what you can do:

  • Find a friend or family member to talk to about your feelings or join a support group with other families affected by TBI. Talking with someone can relieve stress and reduce anxiety because you will learn you are not alone.
  • State affiliates of the Brain Injury Association of America can help you find a support group.
  • If stress, sadness, or anxiety begins to feel out of control, seek professional help from a counselor, therapist, religious/spiritual leader, or social worker.
  • The Coping With Caregiver ChallengesCoping with Caregiver Challenges table describes many of the common issues that caregivers face. Also, the table offers ideas for steps you can take to cope.

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