When someone chooses a care giving occupation they are well educated and know what the job entails. Nurses and nurses aids are trained to handle the responsibilities that come with the job. Most fulfill their duties to the best of their ability and then go home. At that point someone else steps in to fill their vacated shoes as the shifts change. The patient is well cared for on a twenty four hour basis until they are discharged and either sent to a rehabilitation center or home. It doesn’t matter the age of the patient or the illness at some point family members will become responsible for their care. That’s what families that love each other do. They step in when they are needed and they give of themselves out of that love. It can be very healing and comforting to have your own loving people surround you when you are ill. The stress of short term illnesses usually can be handled quite well by most people. When the illness or impairment is one of a long and undetermined duration the amount of care needed can become overwhelming.
Most caregivers in the home are also working outside the home. Depending upon the family dynamics or even size there may not be another person there to pick up the slack. Recognizing the warning signs of burnout and addressing it before it overwhelms you is very important. It is very common for a caregiver to keep pushing themselves because they don’t know what else to do. One of the signs that you are in over your head is feeling hopeless. Another is sheer exhaustion all the time. This can be because you have squeezed every minute out of every waking hour with activity surrounding your loved one. The doctors visits, regular lab work and general companionship that a person with a long standing illness requires can seem daunting. Throw in cooking, cleaning, laundry and the job outside of the home and you have a breeding ground for “runaway bride” syndrome. It’s perfectly normal to fantasize about running off to an island with no phones, doctor visits, pharmacies or hospitals. If you are a primary care giver to a loved one complete this simple exercise to test if you are close to burnout. Close your eyes and be still right now for three minutes and focus on your breathing. Good, your back! You could feel the sand in your toes and the water lapping at your feet couldn’t you? Chances are you were even holding a Margarita. The last part of the test is go back to the island in your mind and check if you brought luggage. If you didn’t you are in the danger zone.
We caregivers need a little comedy relief now and then. In all seriousness though, it is very important to take care of yourself as well as your loved ones. It is not uncommon to feel sad and anxious when your path in life takes a turn that was most unexpected. What is necessary to overcome these emotions and move forth on this new journey is to get help. It’s alright to need help. There should be no guilt in feeling whatever you are feeling. Talk to someone you trust about what you are going through. This could be your doctor, minister, sister, or best friend. It is okay to feel whatever you are feeling without guilt. A caregiver is under enough stress without the added burden of guilt. A wise doctor once told me that the whole family should not revolve around one sick person all the time. It is important for all members of the family to receive attention, love and care. This includes yourself and your significant other.
Your ill loved one may be carrying a guilt load of their own. How would you feel if you knew you required alot of care that took time and resources away from the rest of the family? It doesn’t matter whether you had a choice or not it most likely would make you feel awful. I have a son that has lived with a mental disability for over seven years now. I clearly remember the day he said he was very worried about something. I asked him what it was. He said he was afraid that he was too much trouble and that I would get sick of taking care of him. My heart nearly broke as I told him that would never happen. Then, I had to evaluate why he would think such a thing. I knew it was because I was burning out and it was showing. My weight had dropped and I was’nt getting enough sleep. I looked horrible and felt horrible. I was snapping at everybody too. At that time I got into some counseling and it really helped. I learned that I was doing things for my son that he was quite capable of doing on his own.
My younger daughter and I started to have once a week outings. Usually they involved the mall and a credit card but I was reconnecting with her and that was what was important. Little by little I reconnected with other loved ones again. My husband and I started to go out for lunch again here and there. We felt guilty at first but knew we had to still have a private relationship. We were co-caregivers but we were still a couple. It took awhile to start talking again about other topics besides doctors and medicines. I gave myself permission to live and go places that I enjoyed. I didn’t go to islands or drink margaritas but I went to my mother’s house and drank tea again. I realized that I hadn’t been spending much time at all with my mom anymore. I missed her and she only lives twenty minutes away. I also take off now after supper when I get a surprise visit from my sister. She steals me away and we get coffee and just sit in her car and talk about everything. We like to take turns cracking each other up. Laughing was something I missed too.
Awareness of your thoughts and emotions are important to diagnosing burnout. Take some time to just think. If you find yourself browsing the Internet for plane tickets don’t buy one. Most gray days are fleeting and the next is usually better. You may think getting on that plane with a one way ticket is the answer. Trust me, there is no such thing as traveling without baggage. Whatever problems and concerns you have today in your home will travel with you. It’s better to reach out and talk to someone. Take a drive. Get some coffee and park somewhere and laugh. Surround yourself with positive people. Relinquish the control you think you have over anyones health and wellbeing. It’s not up to you how anything turns out. The only thing you get to throw back are fish and chocolates with that yucky pink stuff in them. Everything else that comes your way is usually something you have to learn to live with. Illnesses are difficult. Having to release a dream that you held in your heart for your loved ones life is most painful. Embracing the new and altered plan for yourself as well as your whole family is the path to coping and healing.