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Sunday, September 6, 2015

Your Dying Spouse 53 - Say Yes to Drugs?

Being a caregiver in this most stressful of situations is probably the hardest challenge you'll face during your lifetime. Caring for the person you love most while he or she is fading from this life is not only physically difficult, it's a constant emotional wrench that affects you in ways you may never have imagined.

It' two long a list for five minutes, but this road can raise your blood pressure, reduce the effectiveness of your immune system, make your appetite vanish (or the opposite - comfort foods got that name for a reason), keep you from sleeping (or lure you to escape in sleep), and cause a very understandable degree of depression and anxiety.

You're surrounded, and you may find yourself fighting on all fronts.

You may need help to come through this in the best shape possible. Pharmaceutical help.


Many people - and I am one of them - hate the idea. It' feels like admitting a weakness, to take medication. And we may have a valid dislike of the side-effects...when you stop taking narcotics, withdrawal is horrible.

And you may be afraid of addiction.

On the other hand, when you break a leg, you need a crutch. And terminal illness in your mate or yourself is way worse than a broken leg. Long-term stress can really damage your long-term health.

It comes down to you, as an individual, but here are my thoughts. I am assuming thatyou are working with a doctor or counselor who's got prescription privileges.

  • FIRST, do NOT self-medicate. Alcohol is not something you can turn to under stress, and if you're worried about addiction, it's the most addictive substance out there. If you drink wine with dinner, you may be tempted to have just a little more, to calm you down. That can be an easy start to a bad road.
  • It should be obvious...but illegal and quasi-legal drugs are also a terrible idea. Marijuana is legal in some states, and legal for prescription in others; your spouse may well have it under prescription, for pain. Don't 'borrow' it, and don't find your own supplier. It's not harmless to begin with. It can impair judgement in the long-term, and the strength and quality can vary widely.  DOn't go there...and obviously, none of the hard drugs under any circumstances.
  • If you're blood pressure's up, accept what your doctor prescribes (if you can tolerate it). Hypertension, over time, can cause severe kidney damage (among other things), and that would be a nasty legacy of your caregiving days. You may be able to find a combination of lifestyle factors you can use (change of diet and meditation) to reduce or even eliminate the meds.
  • Antidepressants can be very helpful in pulling you through the down days, and helping you avoid making bad decisions in while in the grip of sadness. The depression, in this case, is probably situational, and it will lift at some time after your spouse's death. It sounds cold, but while we carry sadness to the grave, Situational depression's a temporary phenomenon. It goes away over time. (Obviously, if you  have clinical depression, caregiving can make it much worse, and you need to be monitored more frequently than usual.)
  • The anxiety engendered by are giving can make life miserable...and it can lead to a depression that's hard to shake. There's not a bit shame attached to taking medication that will help you keep an emotionally even keel.
The important thing is to let your doctor or counselor know what is going on, and how you're coping; and if medicine's prescribed, give it a chance.

Yes, this will make you a more effective caregiver, but even more important is the care you give yourself.

You are important. Your health is important.
And the happiness you may yet find in life is important.


What do you think? We're often described as an over-prescribed society, but there seem to be areas in which an aggressive approach with medication is helpful, and needed.

We're linking with Inspire Me Monday and Testimony Tuesday.
We're also linked with Messy Marriage's Wedded Wednesday.


  1. This is a very important subject and I'm glad you've gone there, Andrew. There's almost always a physical component to our emotional suffering, and until that's addressed it's hard to do the work we need to do to make wise choices with what to do with our distress, our pain, our baggage.

    Anxiety and depression are real and they can kill us if we don't address the medical needs they represent. There's a time and a place for well-moderated medications. They can be lifesavers and allow us to do the work we need to do to move forward in health and wholeness.

    Been there. Done that.

    1. Linda, thank you for weighing in. With PTSD, I have a very hard time with medications that in any way affect mood, so this was tough to write.

      But you're right; they can be lifesavers, when used appropriately. Itcan be a tough call, and a good doctor is really needed to care for the caregiver.

  2. Good information, Andrew...we all need to give this good thought before we go off making our own decisions! We should definitely let our doctor(s) and counselor(s) know how we are feeling and what meds, if any,we are taking. Sometimes, many times, I've seen (in my parents and/or grandparents) that they have different doctors for different things (cardiology, primary, whatever!), and one doesn't know what the other is prescribing!

    Thanks for sharing. Prayers...

    1. You're absolutely right, Barbara...and that point is very well-taken. It's too easy to have different doctors working at cross purposes, and potentially prescribing meds that can, in combination, be quite harmful.

  3. Once a doctor gave me an antidepressant when I wasn't depressed. (He thought my illness was psychosomatic and it wasn't.) The medicine made me depressed, which was the worst experience of my life. Please be careful about taking antidepressants. There's a difference between feeling sad or discouraged, which would be normal under the circumstances of having a terminally ill family member, and having clinical depression.

    1. I hear you, Jan; and I agree. Antidepressants can be very, very tricky. I can't take them, even though they can be used for pain control in certain instances. They make me very dangerous to be around (as does medical marijuana - I've tried the distilled THC in pill form, by a very expensive prescription...once.)

      You make an excellent point that we don't want to 'take away' sad or discouraged when they are the expected result of a situation; where medication may be necessary is in the cases in which grief and emotional paralysis are out of keeping with the actual situation, or they become an obstacle to the required duties of a normal life.

  4. Andrew- Thank you for opening the lid on this very important but controversial discussion. I think the only people who are qualified to speak on this are medical professionals and those who have walked through the pain- such as yourself. Yes- be careful, yes, be honest about your symptoms, but definitely use what is necessary without any prescribed guilt. It's great to see you linked up here! Thanks for sharing your well-crafted words.

    1. Thank you, Karen! Caution is the watchword, and one should definitely be under professional supervision - the caregiver, as a matter of course.

      DIY medicating is like DIY surgery...oh, wait...I actually have operated on myself. (There was no one around, and there was rather a large piece of palm tree where it should never have been.)

      I've been guilty of feeling shame over the need to use drugs to control pain. There are some things that you can't tough out, and trying to do so is idiocy. (I do plan to write about my pain med story in a future post.)

      Thanks for being here!

  5. What a well-thought-out post, Andrew. No surprise there. Your words make a lot of sense. Can meds be over-prescribed? Yes. Is there a time and place for medications in peoples' lives? YES. You pointed this out with precision. In the classroom, there were certain children with ADD/ADHD who functioned significantly better when taking medication. Not all children with ADD-like symptoms need it, but there are times when it's beneficial. Well said.

    1. Thanks, Jeanne. This was a hard one to write, and a hard one to keep balanced, partly because I personally don't like taking medication; it's done some pretty weird things to my head.

      Did I hear a whisper of "How could you tell?" out there, somewhere?

      Yes. Well, when I took some meds I was actually sensible. Sometimes.

      But I digress...it can help in many cases, and if the object is a well-lived life...not a trial of strength...and that well-lived life is only attainable through medication, the answer's pretty obvious, and there should be no shame or guilt attached,

      Thanks for being here, Jeanne.

  6. Yes! I agree with you! Let me add that caregivers should be under a physician's care during the entire journey as well. I don't know why the medical types don't just automatically enroll caregivers in a wellness program!

    1. I agree COMPLETELY. The caregiver should be in a wellness program, and should be monitored regularly. We are not indestructible.

      There's a couplet that applies, from Sir Walter Scott's "Rokeby":

      Hearts are not flint, and flints are rent.
      Hearts are not steel, and steel is bent.

  7. Why are we so reluctant to accept help in some of our deepest need? I am resistant to taking medications too but honestly, sometimes you just have to. Thanks for reminding us all of the need for self-care...whether it's appropriate meds, or healthy eating and exercise, we all need to take care of ourselves. Our lives are stressful regardless of what's going on in them and taking care of ourselves enables us to better care for others.