First of all, I see you and appreciate what you are doing. I know caregiving is not for the faint of heart. You may feel like a natural caregiver; you may be in over your head. You may have sought out a caregiving role, or you may have found the role thrust upon you. Maybe you feel fulfilled; maybe burdened. Regardless of the situation, supporting someone who needs care can be confusing, challenging, overwhelming and inspiring and gratifying in both predictable and unexpected ways, and sometimes all those things at once. It can bring up discomfort around role changes, family of origin issues, values conflicts…and it can hold an element of grief. What is it like for you?
Our society is not set up to support caregivers. Systems are complex, resources are limited, and people who have not been through it don’t understand. You might be caring for a parent while you are raising kids and working outside the home, and it’s hard to ask for help. When do you get to take care of yourself? The biggest risk for caregivers is neglecting their own self care, and yet you may feel guilty for attending to your own needs. It’s complicated!
I know how hard it is to carve out time for yourself, but if any of this sounds familiar, it might be time to make some changes that will help you climb out from under the overwhelm, reclaim your identity and recognize your own needs. It’s not selfish: self care—whether it’s respite, counseling, journaling, a spiritual practice—can give you the support you need to continue supporting someone else.
What would it take for you to transform your caregiving experience from one of stress and overwhelm into one of exploration and inspiration? I think the most important step is to simply accept the situation for what it is, in all its messy reality; unless you can do that, you will likely be expending more energy than you have to give on wishing things were different. That doesn’t make the situation any better: it just wears you out. Sometimes people feel like their life is on hold while they are caregiving. It’s your PLAN for the life you thought you wanted that is on hold. This IS your life. Can you embrace it as it is and be curious about what it might have to offer, about where it might be leading you?
Maybe you could find a way to allow yourself a little time and space to step back and reflect, ask yourself some of the big questions, like these:
I’m not offering up these questions with the intention of putting more on your plate. This is not an assignment. Maybe just allow yourself to carry some of these questions, holding them gently in the back of your mind. Just notice if any of them turns out to be a “trailhead” that leads to a little bit of a shift. You might not be able to change your situation, but you can always change the stories you tell yourself about it.
I’ve worked with patients and families in a health care setting for 25 years. I know what it takes to care for someone who is aging or ill. I know the toll it can take as well as the growth, connection and satisfaction it can provide. I know that when caregivers have the support they need they can re-create their identities in the midst of tumult, care for themselves while caring for others, and cultivate a sense of wellness and fulfillment under any circumstances. That’s what I hope for you!
June 16, 2021