Too Busy Caring to Care?
I volunteer at a local Carer's group, and one thing I've noticed is how much everyone cares! That might sound obvious, but I have seen time and time and time again that these people put everything related to their cared-for before themselves. Of course you do - it's human nature.
Fine...but what about the Carer? What about you?
If you care for someone, whether it is an elderly relative, a spouse, a child or a neighbour, the chances are that you've experienced some feelings that you didn't like. Perhaps feelings that you were uncomfortable with, and often, you might have tried to hide these feelings, because you don't think that you should be having them.
The thing with feelings is that you can't help it. You can't decide what to feel - you just feel it.
Caring is not like a 9 to 5 job. Caring is very often a 24 hour - 7 day a week job, and the sheer relentlessness can be exhausting. Exhaustion can lead to feelings of frustration and anger. I hear this a lot when people admit to feeling angry because this isn't what they signed up for.
When you were growing up and making plans, perhaps to get married and have children, you don't think that one day you might not be able to leave the house alone, or even sit down and have a cup of tea because you have to care for your loved one because they can no longer care for themselves. You don't think that you might have to wash, feed and dress the person you got married to, and you certainly don't think that you will have to clean up the vomit and toileting accidents of the person that you were once intimate with.
These feelings are 'taboo' and can become compounded if they are not released in a healthy way, and often, when you are feeling exhausted, the very last thing you are thinking about doing is releasing your difficult emotions in a healthy way!
This can lead to feelings of isolation, again leading to anger and frustration, and because these feelings are uncomfortable, and very often not talked about, we also pile guilt on the top - just for good measure!
So you squash the feelings down and press on. You carry on caring, whilst feeling angry, frustrated, guilty, sad...
Sadness is a feeling lots of Carers experience. They feel sad that their loved one is no longer the person they were, they feel sad that they can no longer do the things with their loved one that they used to do, and they feel sad that their life is very much controlled by their situation.
As a Carer, these sad feelings can be similar to the feelings experienced after a bereavement. You are grieving the loss of the person you love, yet they are still living, and so the feelings of grief often goes unacknowledged. This, along with all of the other feelings I've already mentioned, as well as exhaustion, can lead to bouts of depression or other, physical ailments.
So what can you do to help yourself? First of all, you can admit to the feelings. Admit to the feelings and tell yourself that it's ok to feel like this. That is your first step to releasing those feelings. Next, start to look for any help that might be out there. The Carer's Group I volunteer at is full of people just like you, who felt isolated and alone, and as they've become part of a group, they now feel more connected and supported.
Also, take a look at your diet. Are you just grabbing what you can, in the few moments spare that you have, or are you taking in the vitamins and minerals that you need in order to function at your best? Try and increase your fruit and vegetable intake, in order to give you the energy and vitality you need. And drink plenty of water, as this helps your brain to function. You are important!
There are also lots of helpful websites out there, with forums which you can contribute to, by asking questions, or answering someone's question that is going through something that you may have already experienced. This will give you feelings of hope and fulfilment, knowing that you are part of something and communicating with like-minded people - people who know what you are going through. These sites can also signpost you to other areas of help, such as assessments and allowances. One site that many of my clients find useful is www.carersuk.org but I'm sure that there are lots of others out there.
If you are in a position where you can leave your loved one for a while, perhaps someone else can step in and help, or perhaps there is a group they can attend to give you some respite, plan how you will use that time. Don't fill that time doing chores at home - they will keep! Perhaps use the time by taking a walk, or getting a massage or having some counselling. Use that time entirely for you. These things will all support your mental and physical health, and in order to carry on with the amazing job of caring that you do, you need to be at your mental and physical best.
What you do is incredible. Please tell yourself that at least once a day. Your loved one might not be able to tell you that, but what you are giving to them is a precious, valuable and unique gift. The gift of caring. The gift of love.