“We caregivers tend to hurl ourselves recklessly at caring for a vulnerable loved one—and assume the entire burden of their well-being on our shoulders alone.”
Even as I wrote that statement, I had to let it sink into my own heart. This isn’t theory to me—it is everyday life. Looking back over my three decades of this, I see where that belief system of “It’s all up to me!” took me into some unhealthy places—emotionally, physically, financially, and professionally. I still fight against that belief.
One of the caregiver landmines is thinking “It’s All Up To Me”
Many people mistakenly believe that the hot-button issues for caregivers are medical insurance, the medical community, family members, the loved one, and/or the chronic tasks—all of which indeed can weigh heavily upon us as caregivers. The relentless onslaught of crises, the “death by a thousand paper cuts,” and the “valley of the shadow of death” stretching beyond the horizon—all of those things can and do wreak havoc on a caregiver’s well-being.
But a lifetime of caregiving has convinced me that the main issue for me as a caregiver is a relationship issue—but it is the relationship I have with myself. My own heart, my own beliefs, my reactions to events, my behavior and choices have caused far greater stress than anything my wife’s condition has ever done.
We’re as happy or as miserable as we choose to be
I don’t have to wake up every day and ask someone else what kind of day I’m going to have! Just because I’m a caregiver, doesn’t mean I have to feel miserable. In fact, I’m as miserable or as happy as I choose to be. Even while dealing with harsh realities, I don’t have to be harsh—with others or with myself.
I spent a lifetime reacting to things beyond my control and trying to wear the superhero costume and run to the rescue—only to crash and burn in the face of something I remain powerless to change. As the “crash-test dummy of caregivers,” I have arrived at a place in life where I’m comfortable stating what doesn’t work—I’ve butted my head against enough walls to identify dead-ends, traps, and landmines for caregivers. Three decades provides ample time to make virtually every mistake possible as a caregiver.
And the biggest mistake is thinking that it’s all up to me.
The Goal Is Not To Feel Better
Once I better understood my role and responsibilities, I started to make healthier decisions. Making healthy decisions doesn’t mean I feel better about all this. In fact, I’ve learned that the goal is NOT to feel better. My wife is missing both legs, has endured so many surgeries, so many doctors, so many bills, and is in relentless pain—I’m NEVER going to feel better about any of that.
But I can be better as I care for her.
My role is one of stewardship—not ownership. I didn’t do this to her, and I can’t undo what has happened to her. But I can care for her to the best of my abilities—and part of caring for her is recognizing that I am only human and cannot …and must not …think that it’s all up to me.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or defeat, but rather one of wisdom. Once we as caregivers accept that premise, then we can make additional healthier choices.
Looking into the eyes of countless fellow caregivers, I see past the weariness and am able to encounter such strength of will, resolve, and self-sacrifice. We caregivers, quite bluntly, are an amazing group of people. We shoulder the impossible, attempt the unattainable, and try to manage the unmanageable—all out of love and a reflection of our own sense of duty and responsibility.
All that nobility, love, sacrifice, and character, however can crash on the rocks of reality—we simply cannot sustain efforts at a consistent level of intensity. We need help in every area of our lives. Health, Emotions, Lifestyle, Profession, Money and Endurance.
I put them in that order to spell out: HELP ME Boiling it all down, crying “HELP ME” is the first step toward improving your life as a caregiver. Individuals in trouble rarely get better without asking for help.
As a frightened young man faced with a nightmare, I did not know how to ask for help—or maybe I asked for help but not in a way that others could understand. Every caregiver struggles with asking for help—usually due to at least one of the following reasons:
- Not knowing what help looks like
- Being afraid of asking for help…and being refused.
- Fear of asking for help and then the person doing it wrong—can create a bigger mess
- Being afraid of the person helping for a season and then simply quitting.
Regardless of why we won’t ask for help, it doesn’t negate the fact that we need help. If you go down, what happens to the individual(s) depending upon you? How will that vulnerable person function if your finances, emotions, and health all crash? If you lost your job today, how well would your system function?
As to the person you are caring for, I appreciate their pain, challenges, situation, and/or disability; it’s serious and it’s significant. They will, however, be in even more difficult circumstances if you are not functioning as a healthy individual. Emotionally, physically, spiritually, financially, professionally—each of these areas require constant attention.
Caregivers often fail to address these areas out of some misplaced ideology. Thinking that it’s all up to us, we “white-knuckle” ourselves through this, and often make unhealthy decisions in the isolation of our mind. We hit one or more of the seven caregiver landmines.
As caregivers, we do not have the ability to fix what our loved one endures. Yet we push ourselves to insane levels to manage something that is unmanageable. It’s like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic—we may look busy, but are we doing something that is sustainable?
Understanding our limitations changes our decision paths. Our way becomes clearer towards asking for and receiving help.
One of the most devastating caregiver landmines is thinking that it is all up to us. We avoid this landmine by admitting and respect our limitations. This landmine can also be avoided by raising our hand to ask for help. Sometimes that request for help is a simple task like cleaning the gutters or picking up groceries. Other times, it’s asking someone to sit with our loved one while we go to the doctor for our own health needs. On even different occasions, help is needed in matters of the heart. In those times, we can ask a friend to listen to us, or we spend time with a clergy member or a mental health provider.
Yet help is not necessarily getting more assistance for our loved ones—it’s getting aid for us. As caregivers, we stand between our loved one and even worse things than they already fight. Our well-being directly affects theirs.
A common objection is, “I can’t afford to pay for help.” Upon digging deeper into that objection, the underlying belief is “I have to pay for help.” That belief means it still is all up to me.
The goal is not to map out the “how.”
The goal is not to map out the “how.” The goal for us as caregivers is to admit the truth: “It’s not all up to us.”
Help may not come in the exact way we wish. That’s okay—we’re still on the right heading when we ask for help. Over time, we will learn to fine-tune the request, but it starts with recognizing it’s not all up to us, and asking for assistance. Some may reject our request—that’s okay, as well. A “no” is one step closer to a “yes.”
I’ve discovered that it’s often not a lack of resources, but rather a lack of resourcefulness. There are resources available. Maybe not the exact ones we desire, but ones that can move us further down path of healthy decisions. We didn’t get here overnight, and we’re not going to move past this overnight.
But we can make progress. Regardless of how many landmines we hit last week—or even yesterday, we don’t have to hit those same ones today. We can look to those trail markers to help us regain our bearings, and we can start making healthy decisions today.
Healthy caregivers make better caregivers—and today is a great day to start being a healthy caregiver!