Author Topic: The Toll on the Body  (Read 2474 times)


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The Toll on the Body
« on: June 29, 2015, 07:59:05 PM »
I have had an unusual conversation today, about the toll of long-term, extreme caregiving on the body. First, my doctor brought it up, by asking me if I had considered seeing a psychiatrist. Long story, short, it is still up in the air as to whether I actually had a mild stroke a little over a month ago, or not. All the tests were clear, which my Bible-believing, devout Christian mother would say is simply because people were praying for me, so God answered prayer and provided healing. To me, that makes perfect sense, but I know not everyone believes the way I do.

The other possibility is that stress and anxiety triggered a very real physical reaction, which I am still very slowly recovering from. I could tell my doctor was trying to be careful in her approach, when she brought up the idea that there could be a psychiatric link to my physical issues. We discussed the fact that I was raped, while in college, nearly strangled to death a few years later, that I had spent a few years as a single mom, that I spent 13 years as an extreme caregiver, that I lost my husband to death just over a year ago, that I am struggling financially, and that I am getting ready to move and start a new teaching position. From her perspective, any of those could be enough to trigger some of my physical issues.

We, as widows/widowers in extreme caregiving situations are aware of the toll that it takes on our bodies, and research does show that we often experience more illness than usual, during the first year or two of widowhood. Knowing this, I told the doctor I am open to the idea that there could be a psychiatric link to my physical health, that it is not out of the realm of possibility. My only concern was the fact that, as a general rule, I tend to handle stress quite well, after years of necessity.

Her response surprised me. She said it is typically the ones who hold it together best, who are more prone to having the psychiatric link to physical illness. She said that those who fall apart have a release and are able to let it go. Those who hold it together, keep all of that stress and anxiety inside, and eventually, that has to come out somehow. It was an ah-ha moment for me, that also makes perfect sense.

So now I have a question for other extreme caregivers. Have any of the rest of you been in the situation that doctors have suggested the stress and anxiety has taken a toll on your body, even though you thought you were handling the stress okay, all things considered?

"The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude." - Thornton Wilder

Thank you, my dearest Kenneth, for loving me and for giving me the best 13 years of my life.


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Re: The Toll on the Body
« Reply #1 on: June 29, 2015, 11:18:30 PM »

I've had my share of physical issues since I was first widowed.  I was an extreme caregiver for 18 years with my first husband, who was disabled from birth.  I voluntarily took on an extreme caregiving role.  I held it together pretty well, but I feel in many ways that my body has failed me since he died.  I've had back pain problems, I injured a knee and needed surgery, I had chest pain that turned out to be gastritis and reflux.  It hasn't helped that I've gained weight.  Then John died...and more problems - anxiety and panic, followed immediately by major surgery and a diagnosis of cancer and failure of neuropathy and lymphedema to resolve after the offending tumor and organ was removed.

Nobody, though, has suggested that my physical issues have a psychiatric basis. In my 26 year career as a PT, I saw a few cases that were thought to be psychogenic, but they also were unusual presentations such as a woman who could crawl and climb to and from the floor using patterns that required complex movements, but couldn't walk.  No matter what the cause - physical (even without definitive tests to prove it) or psychogenic - the symptoms are very real to the individual that is experiencing them.  I might suggest that seeing a psychiatrist might be helpful no matter if the symptoms are physical or not.  You've had a lot of stress and you deserve to have your mental health treated along with your physical health.


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Barry 11/29/55-9/22/09       John  1/16/57-1/11/14

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Re: The Toll on the Body
« Reply #2 on: June 30, 2015, 05:43:40 PM »
I never had a DR suggest this but I don't doubt the link between caregiving and physical ailments because I can see them in myself, my husband (who was a caregiver to his late wife) and in my mother, who was a caregiver for many years for my father and recently for my aunt. The physical toil is plain as day.

I think that your DR isn't entirely correct in her theory that stronger people tend to suffer more ailments. My LH's mother broke down on a regular basis and this didn't seem to prevent the toil that stress has taken on her.

Do you think that talk therapy might be beneficial? Medication even? Personally, I found writing (blogging) to be quite useful and yoga. I am wary of medication but only because the new research suggests that it's not as effective as it was made out to be and that other things like exercise, meditation and simply getting good sleep on a regular basis works just as well or better.

I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility to suffer the effects of stress long after the fact and I am (ten years on) still dealing with physical aftereffects though they are less and less because I really made an effort to rid myself and my life of unnecessary stress and I don't "suck it up" and "soldier on" but that doesn't lead anyway good.

Bottom line is that whatever the cause, you shouldn't ignore it. Ignoring is what we caregivers learned to do because we had to and it's a habit that should be thrown out as soon as possible because it's not a good one.
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Re: The Toll on the Body
« Reply #3 on: July 02, 2015, 09:08:17 PM »
lcoxwell, thanks for this post.  I can relate and am not surprised that there is research showing that caregivers suffer more illness than the general population.  It has been the case for me.

Extreme caregiving absolutely sucks.  But I would do it all again for someone I loved that much.  Perhaps you feel the same way.  You have been through so much. You inspire me.  ((lcoxwell))
« Last Edit: August 03, 2015, 05:42:25 PM by canadiangirl »


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Re: The Toll on the Body
« Reply #4 on: July 09, 2015, 03:54:19 PM »
I feel there is a definite toll on the body. Starting with physical pain I experienced after the long-anticipated death of my husband. I remember commenting early on that I had no idea that I would have such physical pain as a response to grief. That being said, the months and years of heavy lifting seemed to finally culminate into low back pain, which in my case is always worse with stress. My doctor prescribed sleep meds for me which I was loath to take. I also started experiencing colds for the first time in decades. Even when the house was full of sneezy runny nosed kids, I NEVER caught a cold. My doctor said that none of this was uncommon.

It took me about 2 1/2 years to finally start paying attention to improving my health. For me that meant regular exercise, a therapist, and getting a good night sleep. Now at three years, I can say that things are better. The exercise and therapy has done wonders for my sleep, and I have recently stopped taking nsaids for my back pain. I still have mild anxiety, but I am hopeful that that will continue to diminish.

If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.      ~ A. Einstein