These two words define the last four weeks for me – and even though it was a gradual process, now that I am on the other side, I am very aware of the consequences of letting me come to a point of no return.
Caregivers are heroes – many people do not realize that when a family member or friend becomes full-time staff, they essentially give up some of their lives, of whom they are, to take care of another. Many times this was not a choice – this new role – but a role handed to them by a life event. Aging parents, injuries, accidents and major medical events can all lead to a significant change in life, not just for the person who is concerned with the change of life, but also for those who surround them.
Caregivers are often completely wrapped up in the world of care. What can seem like small daily tasks can quickly take over all other daily activities, even things like watching TV or getting a haircut for the back burner.
When a caregiver is wrapped up in someone else's life needs, losing their own world focus, becomes weak, less important. It is easy to lean in and worry about another; Those who are caregivers provide without thinking about their own losses. But by doing so, it is easy to lose perspective on one's own personal needs.
These needs, things like regular meals, naps, stress relief and self-care, become a thing of the past. The things that were once a part of common daily needs become special, only needed every now and then, and the one who takes care of trades begins to break down. And as I can really say, when the caregiver can no longer be the support system, there is no system.
My own personal burnout just happened last week. I've been sick for a few weeks, but I'm part of the belief that I can do everything, and that it will be good. I've always gotten over my illness in the past; There is no reason why anything is different this time.
But this time was different. This time, after being a caregiver for 15 months, I am impoverished. I'm tired. I do not give me break or good nutrition or positive self-catering.
This time I'm tired. I'm sorry. I am emotionally drained. I'm not nutritionally well-grounded. And I don't give myself time to do things for myself.
So this time it is different.
This time, I ended up at the doctor, in bed for four days, could not be the caregiver of my family, the support my husband needs, my mother of my children.
I failed them. I failed myself.
And I know better.
Part of my education for others living with a family member who needs help, especially when it comes to brain damage, is that we have to give time. When we do not, life begins to take bits away from us. When enough bits are removed, we can no longer support others, not to mention ourselves.
I know this lesson. I teach this lesson. And yet, when it came down to it, I didn't listen to my own lesson.
It's an easy place to get to; the rejection, "I can do everything" attitude. But none of us is invincible. We all need support for each other. And the first person we need to support is ourselves. I know that this goes against our nature – to think of one's own first is not the nature of a caregiver – but when we do not support our own self first, we fail and the whole system we support crumbs.
I'm lucky that not much injured occurred when I crumbled. There were enough people who surrounded us that I could recover soon, and we could get through that time. But not everyone is so happy; Not everyone has people available for immediate takeover of care, if something happens to the person who leads the packaging. It is a plan that should be in place for all families, not just those in the care of care.
It will continue to be a skill that I need to develop – the skill to take care of myself first. It is not in my nature. I bet it is not in your nature either.
But we are important to those we love. They need us here. We must be at our best. And only we can give us what we need.