Caregiving is probably the single most difficult challenge I’ve faced in my life. Earlier this year I read an article titled “Eldercare: The Crisis Facing America’s Working Daughters.”
The article points out that the caregiving or eldercare crisis tends to hit when women are in their 40’s. This a time when those with children are facing transitions at home and often at work. It is also a time when one’s own health problems may rise to the surface. Often, caring for an aging loved one means going without meeting your own needs. This is harmful…emotionally, physically, spiritually and/or financially. Harm because of poor nutrition, insufficient rest, no time to re-charge and generally an inability to show up for one’s self and one’s life…because the plate is just that full.
Overworked & Out of Time
In 2017 there were a series of news reports about the work culture in Japan, where they face a horrifying phenomena called “karoshi” which translates roughly as “work death” or “worked to death.” These reports focused on the growing problem of people working themselves to death. Those dying from overwork are essentially succumbing to heart attacks as a result of a combination of poor nutrition and a chronic lack of sleep.
While there are some work industries in the U.S. that support overwork, there is a limit to what the Americans will accept. We, as group, value our down time and fun. However, in my experience as a caregiver, it’s clear that overwork can have nothing to do with career and everything to do with limited support.
It’s no wonder that many of us often feel like there is so much to do and so little time to get it done. How do we break out of this cycle that impacts our very quality of life? I don’t know for certain, but I do know that it is not easy. We can know intellectually and even emotionally that we have reached our limit and that we need to change something. We may even know what we need to change. But the familiarity of the current circumstance or the fixed belief that the way one is doing it is “the only way” can keep us stuck.
I am in the process of crawling out from under feeling overwhelmed. Not by work or even entrepreneurship, but by the challenge of caregiving on top of my normal day-to-day responsibilities for the better part of 6 years. I often receive the message from people “You’re such a good daughter,” or “Your mom is lucky to have you.” I’ve come to dislike these phrases but I try to receive them in the supportive, acknowledging tone by which they are intended.
In all honesty…
The truth is that caregiving for someone with dementia is very difficult even if you are not housing your loved one personally and attending to them 24/7. Most of the time as a caregiver, you are keenly aware of all that needs to be done that is falling through the cracks. I don’t personally feel so much that my mom is lucky to have me. Mostly I acknowledge that on some level I am one of the only people she can depend upon. While that is an honor, it is also a tremendous burden. (I mean burden in the truest sense of the word…it is heavy load to carry.)
I’d like to be able to express that freely in real dialogue with people without being prematurely shut down by compliments. These compliments serve as a process of hushing the person who is sharing. Ironically, my mother – while compromised herself – tries in her own way to take care of me. At one point saying, “How can you do everything for me and still do everything you need to do for yourself?” I almost teared up at the profundity of that sentiment. Yes, we are in this together. She is increasingly losing her self and I am losing her as well as aspects of myself. It is vital that I get that back so that I can serve as an anchor for us both.
I have confided in a few people who know the journey. As a culture, we are woefully under prepared for the needs of those who are aging and ill. Caregivers, whether working or retired, face serious risks to our own health and well-being.
I, for one, do not have the answers. What I am doing is:
- steadily setting boundaries and limits;
- saying no;
- asking for help and deciding what can fall through the cracks versus what absolutely can not.
In this moment I am honoring one of the things that we therapists know holds value, which is speaking the truth of my experience.
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