Caregivers are happy, energetic, helpful people ready to jump in to lend a helping hand. Caregivers are individuals who find it impossible to say no and who refuse to manage their schedules but instead allow schedules, requests and demands to manage them. It’s this inability to say no in addition to readily accepting additional caregiving responsibility that results in caregiver stress and burden. After all who wants to admit we can’t do it all? Not us.
I often hear “ I’ve never been sick in my life“ or “I’m never sick” from caregivers as if what they’re experiencing, not feeling well, is a shock or a surprise. These statements are the first in a long sequence of denial and faulty beliefs about the individual invincibility of caregivers. These statements are a reality check that the rapid recovery, the ability to bounce back quickly from health issues occurring in our youth is a memory of the past. “I’m never sick” is a reminder that we can no longer abuse our bodies by not sleeping, not eating properly, not exercising and not paying attention to stress that affects our bodies. It’s a reminder that remaining healthy and resilient as we age now takes effort and work.
Caregivers experiencing “ I’ve never been sick in my life” tell me that they don’t have time to attend to their health or go to the doctor. This is when I pose the question, “then you do have time to be sick?” A caregiver recently told me that caring for her mother took such a toll on her health and wellbeing that she retired from her job. To make sure I understood her statement, I asked, “You retired from your job so you could spend even more time being burdened by caring for your mother?” The caregiver smiled back at me and nodded her head realizing that this may not have been the best choice. Hindsight is 20:20.
Caregivers are irrational. We make excuses and poor decisions rather than taking a step back and taking responsibility for our actions or inactions or heaven forbid do we ever say no to requests to add one more item into our already over-scheduled schedules. We do this because we lack the skills to cope with our day to day reality. We continue to allow our schedules to spiral out of control.
Caregivers find working on their own health issues too much work, we’re not that sick — yet. You’ll rarely hear a caregiver say that caregiving is too much work. That is until the caregiver is forced to take a step back and look at the current situation because of a now serious health issue that can’t be ignored or because of repeated statements from loved ones of concern that are now final demands instead of gentle caring reminders. How many relationships and marriages are ruined because of irrational caregivers who continually insist they have to run errands, grocery shop, clean house, pick up prescriptions, pay bills or help with other tasks?
How many of us realize that when we’re not feeling well we’re not as effective in managing our day to day lives? Physically we’re slower. Mentally our brains feel tired or sluggish. We make poor decisions because we’re distracted or overwhelmed. And if we’re a caregiver, how beneficial are we to loved ones requiring our full attention? We’re not. Rather than being a positive force we’re a sinking lead weight. In these situations both the caregiver and the care recipient are at risk.
Caregiving doesn’t have to be stressful and burdensome unless we allow the role to affect and consume our entire life. Both part time and full time caregivers easily fall into this trap. Caregiving is like quicksand. Only when caregivers are neck deep and drowning are we willing to accept help or realize that something in our daily scheduling and planning must be altered. Change is challenging.
Hmmm, how could this be? It is possible that caregivers are as stubborn and unyielding as the person for whom they now care, who initially refused all offers of change in routine, care and assistance? Similar to innocent statements of “I hope I never become like my mother”, caregivers have become the exact person who previously angered and frustrated their daily lives. The caregiver has behaviorally transformed into the frustrating and irritating person for whom they provide care. Caregivers become their own worst nightmare, especially when they need care.
How do we as caregivers begin to change our behaviors? By first recognizing that we’re not invincible, that the experience and advice of others who may have walked in our shoes is valuable. By acknowledging that it’s not possible to do it all if we hope to preserve our health and our relationships. By asking for and accepting help and support, similar to the actions of the person for whom we’re providing care and by realizing that life does come full circle. If you’re a caregiver ready to acknowledge outside support may be helpful, request a care navigation assessment to provide recommendations and options and seek other beneficial support.