Protecting Your Mental Health When Others Around You Are Losing Theirs

Thoughtful woman reflecting quietly. Clouds are part of the image.

When you read the title of this article, you may be unsure if I am being facetious or if I’m being flippant. I am being neither. I am being quite intentional because I wrote these tips a few years ago on a plane after a visit to Kentucky to visit my mom, who had recently moved into a nursing home. I wrote these tips for me — and maybe also for you.

  1. Disconnect and let go. The conversation with someone who is “not there” in the same way they were at an earlier time of life is not the same. Recognize that you may be having a conversation that flat out doesn’t make sense. Be good with that. Don’t try to make it make sense. It doesn’t and it won’t and all you’ll do is wear yourself out and cause the other person stress if you try to “force” the conversation to make sense. Note: This is true whether you are on the phone or in person or on video conference.
  2. Laugh with someone else who won’t think you are nuts. You may need to enjoy some gallows-type humor that if you engage in with people who don’t “get it,” you will be disparaged.
  3. Avoid dwelling on only talking about your mom, your dad, your ______ (whoever it is that is losing his/her mental capacity). It is incredibly draining and there are no real answers — and it won’t get better overall even if it gets better some days.
  4. If this person has you on his/her speed dial, don’t pick up the phone every single time. Not only will every phone call break your concentration on whatever else you were trying to do, but it takes recovery time after talking because it may also have broken your heart. Use your caller ID or turn off your phone all together.
  5. Know that you won’t be responding in the same way you used to because this person is not fully here anymore. Not only has your loved one’s conversation and focus shifted, yours will have to as well. It may feel strange to hear yourself saying certain things or responding in particular ways.
  6. Allow for the fact that it requires extraordinary emotional and mental energy to interact with someone who is no longer mentally “there” — especially when you have been extremely close to this person. Adjust the rest of your life accordingly. Essentially everyone will understand. And for those who don’t, you don’t have the energy to worry about them right now.
  7. You don’t need to be right. This applies to many, many aspects of caring for someone who is slowly (or rapidly) declining. Sometimes, there is no “right.”
  8. If this person is pushing some of your buttons, recognize that it may not be intentional. Avoid reacting. You’re the one with all the mental capacities and capabilities, right? Right!?
  9. Visit this person and bring pictures or questions about the past. Helping your loved one focus on something other than the here and now is often helpful for both of you. In fact, it may be the best part of every visit for both of you. Give yourselves that gift.
  10. It’s not about you. You can read this statement in many ways, but the one I am not intending is that your feelings, emotions, pain, and frustration are not valid. They are. This is meant more to convey that the breakdown in the brain the other person is experiencing is not because of you, due to you, or intended to mess up your life. It is just part of the cycle and it’s not a very fun part…

There are many resources to access for this period of your life. Find some books, podcasts, friends, apps, and/or practices that will give you some peace and will help you move along on this part of life’s journey. It’s definitely not the most fun part and it won’t last forever

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Meggin McIntosh

Meggin McIntosh

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Meggin McIntosh, “The PhD of Productivity®”, invests time & energy with people who seek ways to be overjoyed instead of overwhelmed. https://meggin.com