Caregiving is a core part of my nature. The layperson side of my caregiver role was weaved into my life as a daughter, sister, granddaughter, wife, godmother, and friend. I began a career as a professional caregiver first as a Social Worker in 1975 and ultimately, since 1978, as a Registered Nurse. I want to explore the tendency for many caregivers to unwittingly overextend themselves and in that exploration perhaps heighten the awareness of caregiver readers to the dangers of caring too much.
I am not sure how my role as a caregiver started. Perhaps the fact that I grew up in a household with my aging grandmother played a part. Then again, the reality of having a Mom plagued with chronic migraines and ulcerative colitis clearly had an influence. Where the seed was planted is not the issue; the fact that it took root and grew is.
I think the first time my grandmother smiled at me to thank me for some small act of assistance was the beginning. It felt good to be of service and to know that what you did mattered. Hearing someone share how good my help made them feel was like music to my ears. It gave me a sense of purpose and it began to shape how I would later come to define my place in the world.
It would be many, many years before I would come to the realization of just how taxing caring could be and of how toxic caring too much could become. I was so caught up in the need to be needed that I was blind to the damage that my caregiving was causing. In many cases, my caring became the fix to someone’s addiction to bad behavior or irresponsibility. I had begun to buy into my self-delusion that if I stepped into a challenging situation (invited or uninvited), I could be a part of some miraculous answer to a prayer. Wow!
My inability to keep the boundaries of my role clear cost me a great deal. My well was running dry and I didn’t have the first clue as to how to refill it. Running on empty turned into a subtle resentment which then mutated into repressed anger. I started to look and act like someone I didn’t know and this stranger spilled into my personal life, my home life, and my career. It wasn’t that no one saw this or cared enough to reach out to help me; it’s just that I could not see or sense the help offered. I was too far gone.
Fortunately, the Universe interceded. I hit the bottom and slowly began to bounce back. The way was slow and littered with many issues and lessons; but my faith, courage and a good deal of patience from some amazing teachers supported my journey back to peace and contentment. My joy in serving survived but it is a much more mature and insightful part of my nature now. I have found a balance albeit a delicate balance, but balance nonetheless.
It is to this end, this outcome of gaining personal insight and balance, that I want to share with any family or professional caregiver reading this blog. I want to help you find an answer to the question, “Who takes care of the caregiver?” As we explore issues, the answer that we are each responsible for giving good care to ourselves will become easier to accept because we will have gained the skills and tools to keep our spirit intact.