Is Your Blow-Up Around the Corner?

Caregiving can test your patience like no other life experience. Day after day, it seems that caregiving chips away at your patience, bringing you closer and closer to a blow-up.

How close are you? Take our quick test to find out.

A. Your mother calls you to her room for the umpteenth time in 10 minutes. You know what she’ll ask before you reach her doorway. Sure enough: You find her in her bedroom, ruffling through her nightstand drawer. “Yes, Mom,” you say, in your calmest possible voice. “What do you need?”

Your mom turns around: “I need my Rosary,” she says, “that’s what I need. What did you do with it?”


1. Say, “Mom, we’ve been through this 20 times already today. I don’t know where it is. I didn’t take it. You’ll just have to find it yourself” and leave the room. Thirty minutes later, you check back on your mom and find her room is disarray. An hour later, you’ve put her room back in place—and forgot to pick up your daughter from school.

2. Say, without a twinge of guilt, “Susie (your sister, your mom’s favorite) took it. I don’t know why she keeps taking your Rosary from you. She knows how important it is to you. I would never do that.” (Serves Susie right, you think, as you head out the door. She never helps, she might as well take some of the blame.) This, of course, becomes the only thing your mom remembers all day. She follows you from room to room asking, “Why doesn’t Susie love me? Why would she take my Rosary?”

3. Help her find it. You say, “I know how important the Rosary is to you,” you say. As you move things around in the drawer, you place one of the replacement Rosaries you keep handy in the drawer. You let your mom find it. “There it is,” you say. “I’m so glad you found it. Let’s go in the kitchen and make some tea.”

B. Your husband starts bellowing for you: “Take this oxygen tank outside,” he says. “I’m going to have a cigarette.”


1. Take the oxygen tank outside, but make as much noise as you can and ding as many walls as you possible. You stand outside with the oxygen tank for 30 minutes (this will show him, you think!!) and, once you feel frostbite take hold of your fingers, drag the tank back inside. Your husband looks up from the paper as you bang, ding and swing the tank back into the living room. “You put some dents in the wall,” he says as he calmly points to the living room wall. “You’ll have to paint and spackle tomorrow.”

2. You scream and stomp one foot, then another: “You can’t smoke!! You can’t smoke!! I’m calling the doctor!” You call the doctor’s office; as a result of your phone call, the doctor prescribes valium—for you.

3. You say, “I think we’ll keep the oxygen tank in here. I’ll open the door for you so you can go outside and smoke.”

C. You finally are out of the house (your neighbor volunteered to stay with your care recipient), although it’s only to run to the grocery store. You’ve run out of hard candy, the only thing that seems to keep your care recipient calm in the afternoons. Sucking on the hard candy seems to keep her distracted, keeping her late afternoon agitation at bay. On your way to the store, an older driver pulls in front of you, almost causing an accident.


1. Lay on the horn, which keeps blowing and blowing and blowing and… You applied so much pressure it seems you’ve stuck your horn. You drive to the store and all the way with your horning blowing. In addition to the hard candy, you also bring home a splitting headache.

2. Without thinking, you raise a particular finger which relays a particular message. And, then because you know the driver is probably hard of hearing, you roll down your window and yell: “Don’t you know how to drive?? Get off the road!” Ten minutes later, the guilt is so great about the finger and the screaming that you purchase the wrong hard candy at the store. It’s a long evening for you and your care recipient.

3. Say a quick “Thanks”, with a look to the sky, that no one was hurt as you change lanes. “I think I’ll take the long way home,” you say to no one in particular. You call home and speak to your neighbor: “It’s such a nice day,” you say, “that I’m going to take 15 minutes to sit in the park.” “Good for you,” your neighbor says. “Enjoy!”

D. Your spouse is having a bad day today—so you’re having one, too. No matter what you do or how you do it, it’s not right. Now, she wants lunch and is requesting the very meal you don’t have.


1. Run out to the store and buy what she wants. Inside, you’re cursing her. You call your daughter and say, “I can’t stand your mother today. You’ll have to come here and take over.” Your daughter arrives and takes advantage of the opportunity to lecture you: “I can’t keep rescuing you,” she says. “If you can’t handle this, we’ll have to talk about nursing home placement.

2. Fix the meal you had planned. You’re so burned up about her lack of gratitude that you burn lunch in the process. You tell her, “Too bad! It’s what we have, so it’s what you’re getting.” You and your spouse spend the rest of the day in silence. The silence lingers overnight and into the next day.

3. Stop for a minute to take a few deep breaths. “Let’s sit and talk for a minute,” you say to your spouse. “What’s going on today? We’re having such a bad day. I love you too much to spend a bad day with you. How can we make it a good one?”

How did you do?

Mostly 1’s: The bad news: You’re angling for a blow-up. The good news: It hasn’t happened yet. Take as much time on your own as you can; whether it be at night after your care recipient has gone to bed, or early in the morning before your care recipient gets up. And, give yourself a break from some scheduled activities when you can. Your rest is the top priority. And, continue to vent and rant to your support system—letting it out to them is healthy.

Mostly 2’s: The bad news: You’ve had your blow-up. The good news: What goes up, must come down. Give yourself a break, let anything but the most important caregiving responsibilities go. Call in the reserves, schedule extra help, go to bed early, get up late—whatever you can manage. Everyone has blow-ups. Move on, but be sure you move on by taking some important time to yourself. And, look to your support system to share those bad days; they often can turn a bad day into something that’s amazingly not so bad.

Mostly 3’s: The good news: You’re in good shape! The bad news: The challenge is keeping yourself in good shape. Give yourself time, even if you feel you don’t need it. And, continue to participate in your support system; they’ll be great to have on your bad days.

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19 Comments on "Is Your Blow-Up Around the Corner?"

Oct 26, 2009

What support system?

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Jul 21, 2012

I can identify as well. I have very little support. I’m going to check out that online support link as well. God Bless.

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Jan 19, 2013

I have the same problem; what support system!?! My siblings are selfish, and I get their speeches of, ” well you decided to move to help our parents, I didn’t so deal with it.” that is how much help I get and I am the sole Caregiver for 2 parents. I am so stressed out and have no one to talk to.

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Oct 27, 2009

Hi Sher– Would you like to join our online support groups? The members understand… Here’s more information:

Kendra Ruffino
May 11, 2010

Thanks you for the referral, I’ll check it out… lord knows I can identify with Sher…

Jun 3, 2010

What if your sick spouse is the one blowing up at you? All the time, about every little thing? I’m at my wits end. Any referrals for this problem?

Nov 2, 2010

After 9 months of caregiving, I understand blow ups personally.
Today after taking my husband (who is still on a walker due to a brain bleed the last day of Jan. 2010,) to vote, I backed into another vehicle as we were leaving the voting place. We have a lift on the back of our vehicle and I did not give enough room to back up without scraping the bumper of the other vehicle. “Blow Up” or crying time for me. I had to blame someone, so I blamed him for not helping me watch. Went home, called the our insurance company to report, got on the internet to try and find someone else as frustrated as myself.