By Kay Clark
Hats off to all of the caregivers in the world; be it those in formal institutions as well as households. Indeed, it is quite a feat to be everything to another person. It takes the foundation of love, passion, and purpose to do it well. Caregivers make the choice daily to put themselves on the backburner to get things done. Time passes so quickly that the deep lines and tired eyes are no longer noticed as they wash their face in the morning. No time for that. Besides, isn’t it par for the course? Selfcare cannot compete with food shopping, doctor’s appointments and pharmacy runs; not to mention the mental acclimation to stuff you never thought you would have to deal with.
If the caregiver has his or her own family in the mix, the division of time is another layer to consider. Homework, chicken nuggets, and haircuts all must be worked out somehow. Being a caregiver is akin to having three full-time jobs. Squeezing in a little sleep is restless while the brain works to sort the day and plan the next day all at the same time. Sheer exhaustion leaves one numb while smiling so no one sees how really stressed we are.
Hear me clearly. We do it because we love. We do it because we want to make sure our loved ones are well cared for. Trust, it is a fight indeed if anyone tries to breach the sacred threshold hard won during the construction. The delicate balance becomes potentially derailed by a phone call or flat tire. The image that comes to mind is the circus performer spinning multiple places on top of tiny poles. Think about it. How much core strength does it take to pull off such a feat?
Among other things, the pandemic opened conversations of seeing mental health the same as physical health. For the caregiver, it is a subject held in cultural judgement and silence. How do you reconcile love and disheartenment at the same time knowing you would give everything to make the days easier for the one under your care? Days turn into months, then into years so much so that you have forgotten what it’s like just to go out to dinner in peace. Where do you go when you need support? Of course, there are those who advocate for support groups. Lord knows they are desperately needed. Thank God for them. But what if the meeting doesn’t fit into the schedule? Or maybe you work in a not-so-family-friendly environment; feeling stuck because the money is decent, but there is no paid time off. Culturally, prayer is a given … a well-respected and surely well-worn path. What do you do when you can’t or don’t want to pray anymore? Or when there are no more tears to cry? Or nerves are frayed. Obligation disintegrates into resentment and guilt. And God forbid you wish aloud that the end would come. It would finally be over. How selfish is that?
To keep the guilt at bay we tell ourselves little half-truths by saying how hard it is to see our loved one’s suffering. What would happen if the truth got out because your insides are hollow? Looking in the mirror at a mere shadow of who you used to know, you want your life back. You want to sleep without the heaviness of responsibility as a bed partner. Oh, and for those who would self-righteously judge. Pump your brakes. You don’t know what it’s like until you have lived it. I am speaking the distasteful and unsayable. The words choke in our throats in condemnation. But it’s the truth anyhow! Your world is completely unrecognizable. Fragments of familiarity flit about in the winds of your mind, slamming shut the way of escape as though you might have enough courage to bust through it.
To you, dear caregivers, I implore you to give yourself some grace. Having negative emotions is normal. Even the horror that you might feel at entertaining such thoughts about the ones we love is normal. Disrespectful and disgusting. You are not alone. What you are feeling is real. Afterall, we are only humans. I encourage you to resist suppressing your feelings. It is your truth, if only for a time. The negativity will come out, sometimes inappropriately. Overindulgence, ill will, and other life stealing behaviors of oppression and depression will occur. It is necessary to get it out of the mind and the body. Scream to the top of your lungs. Get into a safe space. But get it out so that it doesn’t eat you alive from the inside out. Be aware that the process to relieve the stress of being a caregiver can be traumatic and therapeutic. Silence is detrimental. Perhaps in your speaking comes your healing. Accepting all your feelings. Love yourself enough to speak on the unsayable. It may very well save your life.