Ignoring their own needs, the caregiver spends their day supporting - playing the role of nurse, chauffeur, cook, and counselor. They often mask their own fear and pain - ever trying to be the optimist in the midst of a difficult medical situation. In addition to caring for the person who is sick, the caregiver often shoulders all the additional household responsibilities as well.
For the caregiver, the life they knew prior to this illness is also gone - as are dinners out with friends, vacations, and having the freedom to choose how to spend a weekend.
Days turn into weeks, months… even years. Consider the fact that the person who is ill will spend about 10-20 total hours a year interacting with medical professionals, but their family caregiver will spend over 2,000 hours each year caring for them. The caregiver’s compete focus becomes the well being of the person they love who is sick. Often, they even lose their emotional identity as the wife, husband, son, daughter, father or mother - the duties of being a caregiver crowd out any opportunity to simply be themselves. On the outside, they are the “rock” - but on the inside the caregiver’s energy is being drained. Too much selflessness is not healthy for anyone on any level. Eventually, the caregiver’s work becomes unsustainable.
If you are reading this and you are a caregiver - give yourself a much needed break. You’re not super-human. Caregiving can have many rewards. For most caregivers, being there when a loved one needs you is a core value and something you wish to provide. But a shift in roles and emotions is almost certain. It is natural to feel both the emotional and physical stress of caregiving. Remember that caregiving is not a sprint, it’s a long marathon, and you need energy if you’re going to be able to sustain yourself. Here’s a few suggestions that may help:
If you know someone who is being a caregiver today, reach out to support them. Become part of a network of caregivers for the caregiver. Make a meal, offer to sit with the person who is ill for an afternoon and give them a break. Bring a gift for the caregiver with a thoughtful note.
Sit with and really listen to your caregiving friend. They aren’t expecting you to solve their problems, but having someone listen is a rare, wonderful gift. Finally, ask “what can I do to help.” And do something. Simply “sending thoughts and prayers” isn’t very helpful.
Michael is an executive coach, entrepreneur, investor, and strategist with 30 years of experience leading investor-backed, high-growth organizations.
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