A nasty virus attacked Chez Woodward this week. It was that pounding-head-upset-stomach-sore-throat-low-fever-body-achy- intestinal-distress kind of virus. The kind of virus where the sufferers lay on the couch under three quilts and moan. Or whine. Or that unique combination of both — whoaning.
Yep, everybody got it.
Which meant I became the Step And Fetch It Girl. The nurse. I tell you, I was freakin’ Florence Nightingale. And by mid-day Day Three, Flo was mightily ticked off. And exhausted. And way behind in work. And slightly niggled with guilt, feeling like I hadn’t done enough by my sick kids.
This is the predicament caregivers find themselves in. And I felt this way after just three days — I can only imagine what it feels like to care for an ill loved one for months, or years.
The National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP surveyed caregivers and found some interesting statistics:
- The typical caregiver is a 46-year-old Baby Boomer woman with some college education who works and spends more than 20 hours per week caring for her mother who lives nearby;
- The average length of caregiving is 4.3 years;
- Almost 60% of all caregivers either work or have worked while providing care; and,
- 62 percent have had to make adjustments to their work life, such as reporting late to work or giving up work entirely
The burden on a long-term caregiver can be so difficult to manage. Caregivers often feel anger, guilt, anxiety, exhaustion, an inability to concentrate and depression. These feelings mount, bringing on more unhappiness — “How can I be so selfish to think of myself when she’s so sick?” It’s a spiral downward.
But taking care of yourself will allow you to take better care of your loved one. If you find yourself burned out from caring for someone else, here are a few things you can do:
- Manage your stress by taking brief breaks for yourself. Take a walk. Read a magazine. Talk with a friend on the phone. Even 15 minutes can be refreshing — and help you recharge your batteries.
- Build a support group for yourself. Talk with other caregivers — share your experiences and learn from theirs.
- Share the load. Find people to give you “respite care” — who can come in for an hour or two to allow you to take some time to attend to other things you may have put off to care for your loved one. Giving other people a chance to show they love and care the ill person can be a great gift for everyone involved. You’re only in this alone if you allow yourself to be.
- Acknowledge to yourself that what you are doing is hard, and give yourself credit for doing the best you can. It’s tough to accept that you might not be able to “fix” the situation, because we all can go to the place where we’re superhuman and “should be able to make this work” — but sometimes… we can’t. And acknowledging that is a step towards maintaining your own balance.
- Understand what you can control. You might not be able to control a disease, but you can control the information you need to understand the disease and its treatment. You cannot control the ill person’s mood or energy level. You can control your own approach.
Caregiving is perhaps the hardest task we can do for each other. It requires patience, endurance, stamina, and lots and lots of love. But, at its essence, taking care of another requires that you take care of yourself. Only then can you provide those you love with the loving care they need.