A week or so ago I sat down to plan some things out. I find that I don’t tend to be a planner unless I feel the need to have something concretely in front of me to refer back to. This was less of a planning than a brainstorming session, really. Brainstorming to develop the plan. The plan was how to fix myself. The brainstorming was to figure out how.
Caregivers rarely take the time to consider their own needs. They are constantly putting others’ needs before their own, in some cases to their own detriment. Sometimes it’s saintly, and sometimes it’s sick. After talking with a few people I found that I was teetering toward the sick end of the spectrum myself.
In CPE some form of self-care was part of your weekly report. You had to say at least something about what you did to take care of yourself and how it was working for you. When my CPE program ended, I maintained those practices for a while. I can’t remember when I quit. As in most cases it probably just trickled off, the time and effort expended toward something else. It went toward the next thing that I thought needed to be done, I know that. But those things were no longer directed toward myself, they were for others.
When I sat down to brainstorm I got a plain sheet of white paper and a clipboard and decided to write out the things that I liked to do in the past as well as today, and also the things that I thought that I should do for myself. The things I felt I should do came relatively easily: exercise, yoga, running, Tae Kwon Do (which my youngest son wants me to take so he can kick my butt). But when it came to the things that I liked to do I was stumped. I couldn’t even remember what I liked enough at first to write them down. I had to think back to college for some, and even put question marks by some, as if to say “do I like this still?”. It was a surprising exercise to see, as a caregiver, how far I had forgotten my own needs and desires, likes and dislikes.
I’m working on that. It was a reminder to me of how easy it is to slip into self-neglect because the needs of others seem so constant and help seems so distant.
The reasons caregivers don’t ask for help and bury themselves are many:
- I don’t want to bother others with my problems.
- I can handle it – I need to handle it.
- it’s my responsibility.
- God wants us to put the needs of others before our own.
- by giving of myself others will appreciate me.
- it makes me feel valuable, useful, and needed.
Christians seem to have the worst time with that fourth one. We are called to deny ourselves, to put ourselves last and others first, and to lean on Christ when times are hard. However I am thinking now that these calls to lose ourselves are perhaps not directed at the perpetual caregiver who has already given so much.
Those of us who identify ourselves as caregivers can give of ourselves too much, but we fail to see that. Rather we think we haven’t given enough, and can’t identify when we have given enough and need to stop and ask for help. That’s burnout waiting to happen, and it’s no wonder that it happens so often.