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“I’m Not There Yet” or “I’m Not There, Yet”: The Comma Makes a Difference

By Lisa Weitzman | 09/03/2020

A caregiver embracing an older loved one

Why it is hard to face caregiving responsibilities

How do we respond when someone talks with us about services for older loved ones? Are we receptive, or do we run away? Are we prepared for the reality that we are all getting “there” – to that point where we may need to provide care for an older loved one – or are we still struggling to admit that a loved one is showing signs of aging? And if we are not “there” or cannot envision ever being “there,” what is it that’s getting in the way?

With resources available online, in the community and through employers to facilitate planning, it should be easy to prepare for that inevitable time when we will provide some level of care for an older loved one. And yet, talking about any aspect of aging can be difficult. The media conditions us to see aging as the plague, and then entices us with lotions, potions and treatments to help us deny – if not defy – it. Seen from this vantage point, it can be painfully hard to accept that a loved one is “there” relative to needing care, or that we are “there” in terms of needing to step into a caregiving role. 

Aging may be inevitable, but conversations around aging can spark uncomfortable emotions. As a result, we may be afraid to plan, perhaps because we fear that the very act of planning will make aging happen. We may love to plan weddings, or we may have read myriad “What to Expect” books to prepare for each stage of child development, but we still may avoid putting together concrete plans for how we will respond to a potential caregiving role in the future. We want to be ready, but, in the moment, it feels much easier to “cross that bridge” when we come to it.

Why do we resist the idea of caregiving?

So why the resistance? Resistance in the face of any new reality may originate in fear. Perhaps we fear the unknown or feel suddenly vulnerable. Perhaps we fear being ridiculed and believe that admitting a loved one’s challenges will expose us as inadequate or as someone who has failed to provide the level of care a loved one needs. Maybe we fear the sadness and pending loss that acceptance implies. To avoid being hurt, it is simply easier not to know what we do not know. After all, when fear is greater than pain, it may feel more comfortable to walk away. As writer Sonya Derian states in regards to getting started in situations where we don’t feel ready, “You think you need to wait until you’re more prepared, knowledgeable, financially savvy, confident, secure…to take action. But then you never get to that place and never take the action. Then [time passes] and you’re still talking about it, feeling ‘not ready yet’.” The status quo, then, feels safe and comfortable, with few if any unknowns in the moment.

Ultimately, resistance expresses a fear of change. Perhaps the change involves finding a new living arrangement for a loved one, or maybe the change is acknowledging our evolving role in a loved one’s life. Whatever it is, be it tangible or intangible, behavioral or emotional, it can provoke insecurities, trigger previous negative experiences with change and make us feel vulnerable and even out of control. In the end, according to research, “the brain prefers predictable negative consequences rather than uncertain outcomes.” Thus, resistance—whether it is seen in efforts to deny the problem, to focus on minor issues rather than the big picture or simply in an unwillingness to engage in the conversation—is a way for the brain to protect itself from a reality it is not yet able to process.

While resistance provides stability, predictability, security and comfort, it can also work against us. It can prevent us from connecting with others and from getting the support and guidance that we need. Resistance may cause us to spend energy reinforcing old stories rather than on finding solutions to current problems. It may allow us to cherry-pick the reference points that reinforce the story we want to tell, while enabling us to ignore the rest of the narrative. Ultimately, then, resistance may not protect us; in fact, it may actually cause us to act against our own best interests.

Why the comma make a difference

When looking at attitudes of “I’m not there yet” versus “I’m not there, yet,” the comma makes a difference. So, what about that comma? The comma is the difference between stagnation and progress, between denial or resistance and a growth mindset, which prioritizes resiliency and the process of change. “I’m not there yet” embodies the person who is not mentally prepared to assume or admit to the role of family caregiver and may be blinded to the reality of the situation. Conversely, “I’m not there, yet” represents the person who accepts that caregiving is on the horizon; recognizes the need to establish resources and connections in order to be efficient and effective in planning care when the time arrives; is prepared, as much as possible, for this role; but also recognizes that his or her loved one does not need caregiving support at this moment in time. The “no comma” people take action only when confronted with a crisis. The “comma” people, on the other hand, understand the value of developing a realistic plan of care even before it is needed, by reaching out to local and national resources and seeking assistance from care coordination programs like WeCare…Because You Do. They do not need to scramble for resources in a panic because they have worked to minimize the likelihood of a crisis. 

Let’s take a moment to think about how we will respond the next time someone asks us about family caregiving. Are we ready to take on the realities of aging, or are we fearful of change? In the end, are we a “comma” or “no comma” person?
 

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