by Karen Bromberg
When I think back to my days as an overwhelmed caregiver, the one thing that comes to mind was how stoically I went through my days. Oh, I complained. Just ask my friends. I complained about how tired I was and how frustrated I felt. You name it. I’d complain about it.
But when all was said and done (and I finally finished my complaining), the one thing I typically said was “ . . . all-in-all, I guess I’m doing as well as can be expected, given the circumstances.”
Of course, I wasn’t. Anyone who’s done family caregiving for more than five minutes knows that I wasn’t. But what was I going to do? Tell them that my heart was breaking? Tell them that I was in tears pretty much all the time and when I wasn’t in tears, I was so angry that it took all my self-control not to throw something?
How could I say that?
First of all, I felt that most people didn’t REALLY care. I mean, they asked but I felt as though they were doing it more out of social obligation than really wanting to know. (As I came to realize, in some cases, I was 100% correct.)
I also felt that I wouldn’t be understood and by extension, be judged. And of course, there was the guilt. There was always the guilt.
My years of being a caregiver to my parents are over now and what I’ve come to realize (even more now than before) is that caregiving is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard, requiring us to have grit and fortitude, wisdom and an internal strength that those who have never done caregiving can’t understand.
On a daily basis it requires us to look at our positive and negative qualities, our wants and desires then take them all and push them to the side in the service of another/others.
That said, I’ve also come to realize that caregivers also have certain rights.
We have the right to:
- not want to be a caregiver.
But, of course, you do it. You care-give every day and really, you wouldn’t have it any other way. But let’s be honest, no one ever asked for it. I mean, it’s not like you woke up one day all bright eyed and bushy tailed, excited at the prospect, rubbing your hands together, saying to yourself, “oh boy, I think today I’ll be a caregiver.” No, it’s more like you were chugging along in your life, then one day – BOOM — the you-know-what hits the fan and there you are – a caregiver. Perhaps, your caregiving situation came up slowly. Perhaps you saw it coming. Even so, it probably still caught you by surprise because, really, no matter how much a person prepares, somehow caregiving ALWAYS manages to catch one off-guard.
- to be angry.
Of course, you do! There you were: being a parent, being a spouse, an employee, a daughter (or son) then all of a sudden you became a caregiver. No preparation. No instruction booklet. And now, here you are on the front-line: dealing with the medical community, dealing with the insurance company, dealing with Medicare or Medicaid. All while the person you love so much is sick or injured. You feel the pressure, having it all in your lap. Having to deal with it day in and day out. Oh, sometimes a relative or friend will step up to help you out, but for the most part, it’s all on YOU. And you get angry. Not at the person you’re caring for necessarily but at the situation itself.
- to feel resentful.
You look at others: going out to the movies, going out to dinner, going away on vacation, and see them laughing and having a good time the way you used to. Enjoying life. You feel the knot in your gut as you remember doing all the things you used to do and long to do them again. Then there are the times when you find yourself on a bus or in a grocery store or at the newspaper stand and happen to overhear folks either behind you or ahead of you online complaining about their co-workers or their boss, whining about how tough their life is. You feel the grip in your belly. You want to tell them, “Tough . . . you think your life is tough? Try not sleeping for a week because you mother keeps you up at night. Try worrying about how you are going to keep it all together because your boss is getting down on you for all the time you’ve had to take off caring for your Dad. Try figuring out how you are going to do retirement because five years ago you had to quit your job to take care of your dying wife, now that she’s gone no one wants to hire you. Try that out for size then come back and tell me how tough your life is.” Except you don’t. You bite your tongue and move on.
As caregivers, we so often have to navigate situations and feelings similar to the ones above. We do it so often that we can think that’s all there is. Oh, we remember better times and we may even look forward to having them again sometime in the distant future, but we assume that in the present slogging through our days is all there is.
Now, to be clear, not everybody is going to go through all of these at the same time – at least I hope not – but if you do, if you find that your appetite or sleep pattern is being affected by the stress caused by your caregiving responsibilities, if you find you’re dragging through the day, if you find no pleasure in the things that you used to like doing please, please, please, I beg you, seek out professional help and support.
Remember, while you have the right to feel all your feelings, you don’t want them getting in the way of your day-to-day life. Remember, too, that even though you are busy caregiving, you have the right to feel joy and excitement, love and a sense of wellbeing.
You also have the right to
:: ask others for help.
Now, I know this takes courage. Picking up the phone. Making that call. Asking. It sounds easy but in fact, it can be one of the hardest yet bravest things you can do. Being vulnerable. But you might be surprised. People want to help. They just may not know how. Let’s face it, not everybody is equipped to do everything. Your sister might not be comfortable cooking dinner for Mom but she might be perfectly willing, even happy, to take her to her doctor’s appointment. Your brother might not want to change Dad’s Depends but is thrilled to be able to spend one-on-one time with him while feeding him. Ideally, the best thing is to have something akin to “a committee” of people to call on; different people for different tasks. Of course, if this is not possible (because most of the time it isn’t), finding those two or three people who are willing to pitch in, then asking when you need it, can make such a big difference.
Not just that, you also have the right to
By nature caregivers give. It’s just who we are. It’s what we do. And it’s how we’re comfortable going through life. But giving and giving all the time can lead to our “our cups” being empty which makes it that much harder to give. If it becomes hard to give, we risk burnout. We become burnt-out, we risk becoming less effective caregivers. I know, for those of us wired to give, it takes practice to be able to receive, but it is SOOOO worth it! As the old TV commercial used to say, “Try it, you’ll like it.”
Any comments? I’d love to hear it.
Karen Bromberg is the founder of Help You Thru, LLC, an online resource for family caregivers offering resources, relaxation and relaxation techniques to overwhelmed caregivers. Feel free to contact her, either by email at email@example.com or via phone 929-276-2109. Want to get more information about how you can make your caregiving journey easier, simply fill out the form below and join our mailing list.