‘All the caring I put into my parents – the time, effort and money – is gone, wasted’

Tell Me About It: I feel I am just dragging my way through each day until I too become elderly, like my late parents

PROBLEM: My mother passed away recently. It really threw me in a way that my dad’s passing did not. Sometimes, I am not up to doing anything except self-medicate with alcohol. One family member phoned me and told me that it was all my fault, that I allowed myself to be consumed in caring for my mother.

I feel my world has got smaller. I live alone and have struggled with loneliness. I read a lot about the mind and have been able to reframe it that I am better alone. I had invited some friends over to dinner last week but they bailed on me. This has happened before, and I now don’t want to try that again.

I have very low self-esteem. I was sort of seeing someone for about three years and found it very hard to break free. This person treated me very badly, but I felt it was all that I was going to get. I have decided to stop trying to find a relationship – maybe I am too old or make wrong decisions. In some ways I am beginning to think the Catholic Church were right, that you should stay in a marriage for better or worse.

I think I throw myself into caring because I had an awful early schooling – beatings, being isolated because of my accent, which I now realise was because I have a soft voice. I feel that all the caring I put into my parents – the time, effort and money – is all gone, wasted. I am working in a very basic job. A while back I put a huge effort into applying for promotion, but I did not get any of the jobs, which destroyed my confidence.

Apart from reading, I am part of two online groups/courses. One is fitness, with people my age – healthy eating, 10k steps per day, workouts. I struggle to keep up with them. The second, which I have just started, is a course to change how we see things. I have tried so many of these things but so far, they have never worked. I did get a lot of benefit from volunteering in a specific organisation. I got a lot of support and friends but the pandemic has ruined all of that. I tried to go back but I got really upset when one person I was trying to help just started shouting at me.

Sometimes, I want everything to end – to stop the pain. I try not to burst into tears all the time. I feel all the big decisions that I made – caring for my parents, working in the family business until it closed, leaving my marriage – were all wrong. I feel I am just dragging my way through each day until I too become elderly like my late parents.

I know from my own adult children – despite the great social media postings – that the reality is there are many fights and many friends not getting on. I often think I should just be happy on my own and not having to deal with other people’s dramas. I am trying to reframe my thoughts so that, at 62, I no longer have to take on so much daily caring responsibilities and I can now finally put myself first, but I don’t know how to do this. The above may sound like depression. I feel exhausted and stupid most of the time.

I have tried all of the stuff that I have read about, making myself take exercise and walking each day, trying to get better sleep, journaling, meditating and gratitude writing – these sort of help but only a little. I am still back to me. I cannot stand seeing myself in the mirror, I really think people think that I am odd. I just want to hide away.

ADVICE: You are full of grief: for the death of your mother, for the loss of the life you wanted and for a worthwhile sense of self. You have engaged in all the things that, if given a chance to take hold, will help you find a way back to a connected life but the symptoms you are describing are also those of depression – exhaustion, crying, hopelessness and sometimes not wanting to live – so you might start with a visit your GP as you may benefit from medication.

You say that you have come to an understanding that you might be better off alone and not needing anyone but this is not a safe place for a human being. We are social creatures and thrive on belonging and connection.

Your old volunteering position is one worth going back to – you were very raw and vulnerable when you reconnected after Covid and were perhaps unable to see that the problem lay with the person shouting at you and was not something innate to you personally. The pandemic did indeed put paid to many social circles, but we are gradually and tentatively finding our way back to interacting with others again and you are far from alone in finding this difficult.

It takes courage and a sense of optimism to take steps towards renewing old connections, but you are feeling so vulnerable that this might currently feel impossible. However, with the support of your GP, your adult children and the new online groups that you have joined, you will again find a sense of wellbeing. Patience will be required so you have to practise faith that the life you want is attainable and be assured that it is.

You clearly value friendship and caring has been a cornerstone of your life, and you demonstrated these values in a very real way. However, there is a clear sense that you have not looked after yourself in this process and that has been a mistake that must not be repeated. Through your research you know what is needed in your life: a mind that is not trapped in endless negativity, a body that has exercise and a heart that connects with others. Going for promotion in your work suggests that you think you have a higher value than you are attaining and paying attention to this will be part of your recovery.

Organise a meeting with your manager, lay out your goals and ask for a training and mentoring plan that will allow you to reach these aims. Your manager will see your ambition and should be pleased at your interest in your work – if this is not the case, go to HR and have a meeting about who else might offer you support in your career. Sixty-two is no longer considered old in the world of work or dating, so do not approach this decade with a sense of fatalism but rather with cautious determination. You have had two poor experiences of love, one your marriage and another less than satisfactory relationship, you should explore the background to these choices so that you do not repeat the same mistakes.

A suggestion is to become part of a psychoanalytic group which will allow you time to explore your story while also connecting deeply with a group of people who are also on a journey of self-discovery (type “psychoanalytic group” into Google for options). You have a background of researching solutions to your problems and use this to your advantage now, while also allowing for the fact that grief and loss take a serious toil on us and we need to apply patience and self-care during our recovery. Start your self-care by making an appointment with your GP and include your children in your plan for recovery.