Happens -Without Self-Care
When caring for Dan, I devoted most of my time ensuring he was safe and relatively happy. I took him to appointments, cooked, cleaned, and entertained him daily.
The Cleveland Clinic website says,
Caregiver burnout is a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that happens while caring for someone. Stressed caregivers may experience fatigue, anxiety, and depression.
Burnout happens when people devote most of their time, energy, and resources to caring for others and neglect, forget, or don’t care for themselves.
I first learned about burnout in graduate school - but didn’t give it much consideration. In retrospect, I should have.
After graduation, I was offered a unique opportunity with a police department to develop a counseling program for children. Several years later, I resigned. The program was successful; I was worn out and beaten down.
A few years later, I felt strong. So, I took a similar position with a local school district. I promised myself that I would work part-time, give myself breaks, and not get so involved. Nice try! After a couple of years, my health said I had to quit again.
You would think I learned my lesson when Dan needed care. I did take breaks, journaled, walked, and had a coach. It wasn’t enough.
After the fact, I learned that additional factors may contribute to caregiver burnout. They tripped me up.
Role confusion: Quickly stepping into a caregiver role can be confusing. It can be challenging to separate your role as a caregiver from your role as a spouse, friend, child, or other close relationship.
I had to accept that we were no longer a couple. I became the parent - he was the child.
Varied expectations: The reality is that caregiving is challenging. It can be gratifying while stressful.
Caregiving was stressful for me. I wasn’t prepared for Dan’s decline and had no plan to manage my emotions.
Lack of control: You may feel frustrated or held back by a lack of finances, resources, or skills to effectively plan and manage your loved one's care.
I didn’t have the skills or knowledge to do the job.
Too many responsibilities: Many caregivers experience stress because they see it as their sole responsibility.
Dan refused to believe he had a problem, and we were in the middle of a pandemic, so I took care of him - until I couldn’t any longer.
Not realizing burnout is happening: Many caregivers don’t recognize that burnout is happening.
I didn’t think of my feelings as burnout - until much later.
What does caregiver burnout feel like?
Everyone’s experience with burnout is different. Caregiver burnout may cause:
Anxiety or fear: If you do something wrong, it will harm someone.
I was anxious all the time - was he safe? Was I doing the right thing? How would he act?
Anger or frustration: The person in your care doesn’t accept or want the care you provide.
Dan was very appreciative of what I did - at times.
Denial: The severity of the person’s condition you’re caring for “isn’t that bad.”
His condition got progressively, albeit slowly, worse, so the changes weren’t that noticeable.
Guilt: Spending time taking care of yourself is less important than the person within your care.
I felt responsible for Dan and guilty whenever I wasn’t there for and with him.
Negativity: Your caregiving journey started positively, but now it feels like a dark cloud is following you.
I reached the point where I didn’t want to live any longer - if that was all life held.
Secluded or alone: You feel like you don’t have support, or asking for help is a sign of weakness.
It was my job - he was my husband, and I didn’t want to burden others with “our situation.”
Numerous websites offer suggestions for mitigating the stress of caregiving. Here are four to check out:
The newsletter, The One Essential Strategy to Conquer Burnout, says
When you put out more than you put in and when your output of energy and resources is greater than your input, you slowly drain your energy stores and battery life; you end up empty - burnt out over time.
Many ideas didn’t work for me. What did help was journal writing, talking to a coach, and finding new ideas to try - if only for a short time.
I share this story so you have a clearer picture of what care-taking involved for me. I would have a more comprehensive plan in place today, and I will discuss that plan next week. The first step, though, is to take caregiver burnout seriously.
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