Last week I came across a reader’s comment to a post on caregiving stating that she often found herself so angry and depressed by her responsibilities that she no longer cared about living.
Another commenter tried to shame her and stated that the depressed caregiver should not feel that way because it is an honor to care for someone else. While I strongly agree that it is an honor to care for someone else, there are a variety of emotions that come with caregiving, and it is acceptable to feel every single one of those emotions. Millions of caregivers are struggling with their feelings, including guilt for feeling the way they do. Because this country relies so heavily on its unpaid caregivers, to the tune of 44 to 65 million of them, it is imperative that we support them in all of the good, bad, and ugly emotions, so that we can help them to continue in their work without adding to their stress. It would be a nightmare if all of these caregivers walked off the job.
When I was a caregiver, there were times when I felt so unappreciated and overworked, tired and pulled in too many directions, that I fantasized about my own demise.
“If I got diagnosed with a terminal illness today, I would be okay with it,” I would sometimes think to myself. Then all the conflict, both internal and external would be over. It was not that I didn’t like what I did. It was not that I didn’t care deeply for my friend who needed me. The demands just got to be too much sometimes. I never told anyone how I felt in those dark moods because I feared I would sound like a monster. Mostly I felt that what I did was an honor and a privilege and I said those words often but occasionally those were not my feelings. Unlike many caregivers, I was fortunate to have a lot of people to talk to so I could have tested the waters and been honest about my negative emotions. Looking back, I think I would have been supported. For a large number of caregivers, however, there are few people to talk to in their world. They are cut off from friends and family; for these caregivers, online forums can be a lifeline. Social media and discussion boards can be a place to unburden and find connection with people in similar situations. For those who are isolated they can have conversations with online friends from around the world. This social setup can have tremendous value to people, alleviating loneliness and providing problem solving ideas.
When a caregiver comes to a forum looking for help and a chance to vent, it can drive them back into isolation if they are reprimanded by their fellow caregivers.
Tearing someone else down does not make you better. There are plenty of positions available so there is not a job shortage for which you need to compete. You are all on the same team but you do not necessarily have the same circumstances. Some people are dealing with exceptionally challenging illnesses, or complete lack of support or respite. I was always thanked profusely for what I did but some caregivers never hear that. Some are abused by their loved ones. Some are watching their hard-won careers and savings dwindle away. Some are sick themselves and yet still provide care. You caregivers are all doing the best you know how to do, most without any formal training. You are cleaning, ministering, laundering, phoning, scheduling, listening, researching, holding, loving. All under the pressure of time, and with the knowledge that you may be devoting yourselves to a losing battle. Sometimes in your pain you want to turn to another caregiver and whisper, “I am not happy. I feel unappreciated. I feel resentful and impatient.” The last thing you need to hear from a fellow soldier is, “Your feelings are bad. You should be ashamed.” What you need to hear is, “I understand. I feel angry too sometimes. Tell me about it and then I’ll help you get back up on the horse.”
People often say to caregivers, “Let me know if there is anything you need.” If you cannot provide hands-on assistance with their duties, my suggestion is to be thoughtful of caregivers and listen to them without judging. Be supportive. This advice is especially targeted at caregivers, current and former. The demand for caregivers will continue to grow. We want to boost those who are facing conflicted emotions, let them know their feelings are normal, and praise them for all they do.
Taking care of our caregivers will help us to preserve our front-line team whom we rely on to meet the demands of our growing aging population.
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