I am a caregiver. Maybe you are, too.
Maybe you have your mother’s pill box in your purse to deliver it every week to her. Maybe you quit your job after your child was born to monitor his breathing. Maybe you get your father out of bed in the morning to help him bathe. Maybe you share a vendor booth with your grown daughter to make sure the world gets a chance to see her talent and the skill at her craft.
I sometimes forget I am a caregiver. Mainly, I am just a mother. Maybe you are a daughter or a son or a mother, too. It is never good to define ourselves as just one thing. People are much too complex for that.
And yet, there is something helpful about labels. So that when I see an article titled “Caregiver Burnout” I realize, oh, this might apply to me.
It happened recently. I backed away from commitments, canceled outings, stopped calling my friends, nitpicked my husband and yelled at my kids. You see, my husband rounded out his schedule with a wonderful teaching opportunity. Good, necessary and rewarding.
But before he rearranged his other commitments to create a day off, I burned out.
WebMD defines caregiver burnout as, “a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude — from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned…Caregivers who are ‘burned out’ may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression. Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones.”
I first learned about self-care as a college student trying to get through a large load of classes while experiencing anxiety.
I next learned about self-care as a hospital mom while my baby slept.
After that, I learned about self-care while I grieved.
Now, I am learning the lesson again, as a caregiver.
I recognize myself as a caregiver, separate from the motherhood I knew with only three kids because I have to nod and smile when people talk about us visiting out-of-state and I have already explained why this cannot happen for now. I recognize myself as a caregiver because I have to have an awkward talk with new babysitters reviewing all the possible emergencies that might happen and what to do. I recognize myself as a caregiver because planning for the future stopped. We have to wait and see what the future holds.
But I didn’t always recognize myself as a caregiver. I am not the only one giving care. There is a team of us, all doing good for this person, working together, supporting him and loving him.
Do you recognize yourself as a caregiver? You might not fit the standard picture. That does not mean it isn’t so.
What I need in order to avoid burn out is time to schedule whatever I want. That means time away when another capable, educated caregiver can step in and be in charge.
To avoid burn-out I need a hobby or activity, to write or sew or upholster without interruption, to be able to dig deep into a project and not come out until it is done.
I need to talk to and see friends, not just any friends, but the friends who feed my soul.
When I was burning out, I continually interrupted myself to check on things. I could not let the other person be in charge. I put off errands, ordered things online and stayed home all the time. I let two or more weeks go by before I saw those friends.
Caregivers burn-out because of love. Their love obliges them to stick around, to give entirely of themselves to those they love. But you cannot give what you do not have. You cannot pour from an empty cup.
In order to fully carry out the love and intention to care for those in your charge, you will need to learn the discipline of stepping aside, training another, and letting go. When you take the time away to go beyond the label of caregiver and be other things, you will find a key piece to be able to continue the thing to which you have been called.
I am going to take a break. Maybe you should, too.