Caregiver Stress: It Might Eventually Kill You

The serious look on the eye doctor’s face was obvious. Then she said, “Are you under a lot of stress at work?”

Instantly I let out a nervous laugh. “At work – no. But home can be another story.”

No doubt, parenting children with special needs isn’t for the meek – as I know from personal experience. Nineteen years with three still at home. While this 24/7 responsibility can be immensely rewarding, the challenges are real.

Often intense. Sometimes without warning. Constant stress.


According to my doctor, the two layers of tissue under my retina had sprung a leak. And a bubble of liquid formed, as a 3-D image clearly indicated. Fortunately it was off to the side and not affecting my vision. At least not for now.

The condition is Central Serous Chorioretinopathy. Although stress is the common cause, other factors may contribute: overuse of steroids, autoimmune diseases, chronic insomnia or high blood pressure. None of which apply to me.

In other words, STRESS!

Since the “bubble” problem often resolves itself in one or two months, I didn’t worry. Three months later at my follow-up appointment, the bubble hadn’t shrunk but grown.

Not what I expected to hear.

stress ball

No doubt, I had to reduce my stresseven though I typically had managed my life without complaint and didn’t feel overwhelmed on a daily basis.

Each morning I must do a series of self-tests for blurred and distorted vision. If my condition worsens and begins to affect my sight, a special laser procedure can repair the damage.

Yet side effects may create permanent distortion. Plus a new bubble can quickly form in either eye – ultimately causing blindness if not addressed.

SELF-CARE to the rescue!

First, saying “no” to increased responsibilities or new opportunities is perfectly ok – even when I want to say “yes.”

Second, certain things can wait until tomorrow. Or be done less frequently. Life will go on regardless.

Third, my kids can do more to help me – and they have.

Fourth, restful sleep truly matters.

Fifth, healthy eating and exercise – although a priority in the past – became a daily ritual.

And lastly – something that I had never considered necessary. Psychotropic medication. Without any shame or reservation.


Surprisingly, a small dose of an anti-depressant immediately improved the quality of my sleep and eventually increased my focus during day. Suddenly I endured fewer headaches.

Most importantly, it reduced the effort to be a patient parent – almost like I went into auto-pilot mode much of the day.

Over time, my perspective changed too. I let go of many things that I simply can’t control with reasonable influence.

Every day I make sure to do at least one thing just for me. This includes reading something pleasurable for 15 minutes or more before bedtime. A temporary escape to free my mind.

I turn off my phone at 9pm.

I tell silly jokes at mealtime and laugh – whether anyone listens or not. Occasionally I pull an old-fashioned prank. 

And I avoid negative talk about anything – which is easier said than done. Without question, positive words are always good for the soul.

The result is a whole lot LESS stress.

I’m not talking about silly stress – like waiting in a line at the grocery store. I’m not talking about moderate stress – like calling the insurance company a dozen times to authorize one of your children’s medications.

I’m talking about toxic stress.

It’s the uncertainty that starts first thing in the morning and intensifies throughout the day. It’s the “never-wanting-to-go-there-again” mentality that force the parents to be vigilant in preventing problems, because the ugly fall-out demands twice the effort in terms of both time and sanity.

No wonder many parents of children with special needs – and especially those with chronic behavioral challenges – show signs of secondary trauma. Some develop PTSD, which makes them easily triggered by their children’s actions.

Stress on top of stress.

And very few want to talk about this sad reality, even as the stress of caring for aging parents gains public attention.

Moreover, people outside the home can add to this toxic stress – when they blame the parent for the child’s behavior. Luckily I realized that such people need to be removed from my life – or avoided whenever possible. My How Did I Become So Angry? blog delved into this very essential topic.  

In a growing number of tragic situations, too much toxic stress overtime eventually kills a once-healthy person. Stroke. Heart attack. Cancer. The list goes on and on.

The human body can only take so much.  

So the choice to change is yours. Today, not tomorrow.

Increase self-care.

Reduce stress.

Become more content with daily living.  DCP 


Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To learn more about Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love, Craig’s soon-to-published memoir about raising six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold

6 thoughts on “Caregiver Stress: It Might Eventually Kill You

  1. We do need to work on taking care of ourselves more, for sure. But I would advise, take anti-depressant meds with caution. If they work for you that’s great. But, they didn’t really help me, plus caused me to gain a bunch of extra weight which I’m still struggling to shed 2 years later. I’ve implemented yoga and more exercise; they seem to help more than meds did for me.

  2. It seems to often take a health condition to bring a “wake up” call. A often very effective and useful, but under recognized component to true self care and healing is psychotherapy. As a licensed clinical social worker who specialized in professional and personal caregiver stress, overwhelm and burnout and trauma, l can attest to the healing power in a variety of therapies that allieve emotional and physical stress. We take care of our physical health, I suggest we do the same for our emotional, mental and spiritual well being. Sending you my best on your healing journey.

  3. I am an addict…..I need Jesus for my strength & guidance, go go juice (coffee), & my “Happy pill” to get me started at my best every morning. I try to wake up, take my morning meds, & spend a few minutes of alone time before exiting our room in the morning…ready to take up my cross & see what the Lord has for me this day. It doesn’t always work so smoothly, & not all days are great, but every day that we wake up is a fresh start!

  4. I am deeply in the midst of this. After finally emptying the nest, it is the first time I have thought about myself. I started my own therapy a few weeks ago. I have lived in such constant, endless, fear, anger, exhaustion, mental and emotional abuse and hyper-vigilance for 17 years until my body is completely consumed with 24/7 intense pain. Of course they call it fibromyalgia. I can see now that my breathing has even changed in all these years. I think I spent half of my days (or more) holding my breath in anxiety and fear, trying to hold back…which just consumed my body with permanent muscle locking tension. I am in so much pain now until I cannot function normally. I was in the parenting situation totally alone, without even a person to call in an emergency. I am absolutely worn out. I am 53 and not sure how to recover from this physically. It would be nice if I had daily human support but I’m still going it alone. You really just touched on the edge of the iceberg here. This intense stress is so REAL and so destructive. I had no idea I would come out on this end so wrecked.

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