If you are reading our articles, you see two related to our experiences with protracted illness. My third installment of that series will address my struggle with caregiver burnout. I decided to post on the blog a description of caregiver burnout and some of the steps to mitigate its effects on the caregiver.
Caregiver burnout is more insidious than loneliness. It is as pervasive as depression at its worst. It can creep into a life or relationship and never be noticed. It can remain “under raps” for long periods of time. When it finally rears its ugly head, it can be managed or it can be like a sudden spring storm or a squall on the open ocean; it is there and unloads all its force in short order. There is a multitude of resources on the Internet that describe caregiver burnout. Some are quite lengthy and others are succinct as is my list below. Here are some indicators I have gleaned from multiple sources and personal experience.
- Fatigue–physical, mental, emotional, spiritual; feel tired all the time.
- Frustration–with oneself or with the one requiring care; over meals, clothing, conversations, the condition of the dependent person, almost anything in the relationship
- Overwhelmed–never feel like you are caught up on daily tasks, washing, cleaning, etc.
- Feel guilty–about your own needs, rest, relief, being tired, lonely, or not doing enough for the dependent.
- Depression–often a result of other factors, if continuous see a physician!
- Loneliness–comes when there are no relationships or no caring individuals to care for you.
- Unhappy–I found this very general but it colored my days and nights because of our circumstances.
(This is not an all inclusive list.)
Weariness–often this is included in fatigue but the fatigue for me was almost always physical. Weariness, I had never used the word before particularly not to describe me. I was an lifelong athlete and I knew tired, aching all over, wondering if I could last one more step or breath. I had NEVER known weariness. Weariness is all pervasive. There is no part of the person that is not affected. Sometimes it may be diagnosed as depression or a symptom of depression and that may well be the case in the practitioner’s thinking. For me, it was more related to my physical and mental state. I remember it felt like a physical weight hanging on me all the time. Weariness, I had never used the word in a sentence, never used it to describe how I felt, nothing more than read it a few times in literature. I was thankful when the realization came, likely from God, that I was experiencing weariness. Knowledge is helpful at the most unusual times. Realizing I was facing caregiver burnout and weariness allowed me to address them. The burnout, I searched the Internet for a description and steps to correct it or mitigate it. You must be sensitive to yourself, your body, your mind, your attitudes, you emotions. The weariness, it was good to have a name, a description for it. Now I could face it. If you become one needing care, you cannot help your dependent. I will address this burnout more in part three and will provide some steps to mitigate it as well.
The next logical question(s) is “what can I do about these feelings and conditions when my loved one needs me?” Let me ask you the caregiver a question. If you are forced to take time off to rest or recover from exhaustion, how will you continue to care for the one depending on you? Realistically, you must care for yourself as well. Here is a short list of steps that you MUST take to continue to serve the one in need.
- Eat well. Do not underestimate this need. Your body is being drained at least in the short term of
energy resources. The physical, mental, and emotional stresses consume much energy. You must eat well and NOT overlook your own body. If you are able, retain a “normal” eating schedule; your body will thank you.
- Engage with those that bring meals, come to see the dependent person, or ask how they can help.
You need outside contact to keep your mind and emotions refreshed. Do not politely thank them and quickly return to your tasks. I am thinking about the short conversations that you can have.
- Allow yourself to talk to those that care enough to call or stop by. YOU NEED AN OUTLET. You
must talk to someone or the stress will build up like an old pressure cooker without opening to relieve the pressure. It will blow the top and that is dangerous. Your conversations with others, whether they understand or not, is your outlet. It relieves some of the stress and does so a little at a time. Here I am thinking about longer, 20-30 min. or more when you have time to truly let down your guard and share your needs. At times when the dependent person is sleeping during the day, you can allow yourself to take a longer call or visit with someone that stops by. These conversations can be as restorative as the short nap.
- Develop a system or method to get needed housework, or whatever done. You do not have to do things the way they have always been done. You’re in charge. Make life work for you. For example: I hand washed all the dishes so that I could do one meal at a time and have the cooking and cleaning in the kitchen done. I did not leave things for hours or days to add to my stress.
- Rest! I know it is hard, but do it whenever you have the opportunity. Your rest may include short naps–better than no nap, reading, watching something on TV that is totally distracting. Just rest your body and your mind!
- If you pray, do so frequently. Notice I did not say pray on a schedule or a set time. Such an expectation can completely fail when you are a full time caregiver. St. Paul said, “pray without ceasing.” At least one application of this concept is to learn to pray short, quick prayers when you need to release some stress or feel overwhelmed or discouraged and your dependent needs you now. I prayed, well, more like complained to God, when I was frustrated having to fix three different meals for Gini to find something that would not increase her nausea. I prayed when I would finally get to lay down for a few minutes rest, usually just a prayer of thanks for the moments of reprieve. I had my daily prayer time during my 10 min shower each night. Somewhere along the lines of life, I learned to talk to my Lord all during the day so when Gini’s illness came, I applied that concept all day long because the demands and needs for her care were so great.
- Get or accept help! Often this is not something you can control. I know I did not have much support from our local church in this matter. A couple of ladies did come and sit with Gini for a day, but 2 days in months of intense care isn’t enough. An old friend of Gini’s came to visit and provide me some much needed relief and stayed a week. She is a nurse and that was nothing short of a Godsend. If you have the opportunity to allow someone to take a day or two or more of the care-giving, accept it without GUILT. You need it.
Watch for the full article in the coming weeks.