Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,
I am 86 years old. My husband is dead. Until recently, I worked all my life. I have 5 kids, 10 grandkids and 15 great grandkids. My daughter took me to a psychiatrist. She thinks I am depressed. She says I have a problem with alcohol. My daughter is a pain in the ass. I don’t think I am depressed. I am old! I am tired. I am done.
What can a psychiatrist possibly do? What can anyone do?
Much of depression in seniors is really just grief. When you’re young, grief is lessened by time; but when you’re old time amplifies grief.
I have found that sometimes those who feel old inside have always felt that way. Starting in childhood they were given adult roles, sometimes even forced to be the parent themselves; and ever since they have carried other’s loads. Although time may make our bodies more fragile and makes our brain a bit foggy, it isn’t age that makes us weary. It’s the load we’ve been carrying all our lives that wears us down.
Your daughter is probably correct about the alcohol. Booze is often the friend we recruit to help us carry our load. The problem with alcohol is that it’s a devious friend; it is a trickster. You think it helps you to forget your problems but it in fact only quiets them momentarily. Soon, the alcohol begins to amplify the problems- at this point you will drink again thinking that the booze will quite your thoughts. It’s a vicious cycle; alcohol is a bully and it forms an abusive relationship with you.
Alcohol also can isolate you and leach off of you. It steals your energy. It steals your memory but leaves the sense of shame and whittles your sense of self. It encourages you to blame life for your problems. Alcohol steals your freedom and eventually steals your mind. It confuses everyone you touch. You are at an age where you can say and do what you want. You could be free, but if you continue to drink, you will only shackle yourself.
A psychiatrist could do a great deal to help you. A therapist can listen and lighten your load. Meetings at AA could give you perspective. Your thinking may be working against you. For instance, you might believe that keeping quiet is helping your family. You’re sacrificing for them as you always did. But remember, imagination is often far worse than reality. When you don’t speak, your family can imagine the worst.
Life is hard, but you are still a role model for your clan. Don’t teach them to be silent, don’t teach them to sacrifice, and don’t teach them life is best handled on the rocks.
What is left to do? Learn the secret to being young inside: focus on now. It is always now, it has always been now, it always will be now. Tell the truth. Let your family in. Give up the booze and learn to capture the present.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: I’ll make it simple for you, Finito. You have lost everything that you used to define yourself with, job and husband. Unless you find something new to define yourself with (other than booze) you ARE done.
I know how you feel. Why wouldn’t you feel as if life is over? Before, you had a job to give your life meaning, you had a husband to share your life with. Now you are facing a giant void, and you are uncomfortable. Alcohol makes you feel more comfortable. What you have to remember is that there is no free lunch. You are paying a price for the comfort. Alcohol temporarily relieves depression… then when the alcohol wears off, you feel worse than ever. Alcohol also increases your risk for cancer, heart attacks, liver problems and stomach ailments. Granny doesn’t recommend it as a solution to your problem. You need to find some new things to define yourself. If you stay in your house and drink, you will probably never figure out how many other lonely senior citizens there are who would love your companionship and could share your life. You can replace the things that you have lost. But you aren’t going to do it by sitting alone with a bottle.
Go to AA at least once, just to hear people talk. We all think that we are the only ones suffering and feeling hopeless. I went to an AA meeting to help a friend and was inspired by how honest people are there, how much they open up and share of themselves. In everyday life, people don’t talk about feelings as much as they need to. Your family may not talk and your daughter may be a pain in the ass. But at AA, EVERYONE talks and no one judges. I think it would do you more good than private therapy sessions. Turning the spotlight on yourself can just make you think about yourself too much. You need to look outward. Get to a freakin’ AA meeting and be prepared for a pleasant surprise. You are not alone at all and there is still plenty to hope for in life.