For those of you who have been following along with me, you may have read, that I was married to a man who struggled with a range of mental health conditions and substance use problems. He was unwell for a very long time, and due to his unwellness, I naturally fell into the role as his caregiver. This is not uncommon. According to the Canadian Psychological Association, 7.8 million Canadians (1 in 4) provide some level of care to a family member or friend with a chronic mental or physical illness or disability (Statistics Canada, 2018). I was one of those people. I spent years taking care of an unwell husband and although I did it out of love, and desire for him to feel supported, it was not without its toll.
And I am not alone there either. With 6.1 million caregivers juggling both work and caregiving responsibilities, it is not surprising that the toll on us is not uncommon There are the obvious work related concerns such as requiring leave of absences, unpaid days off or needing to manage crisis at home while completing your tasks at work. I did all of that. I balanced working or school full time, while trying to manage ongoing things at home. I did the typical things that we caregivers tend to so such as eating unhealthy, not getting enough sleep, not tending to my own psychological stress or isolation myself from my friends and family. And in the moment, I didn’t realize any of it.
And like most other caregivers, we tend not to notice it. We don’t notice the effects of what we are offering until it is either brought to our attention (usually by a medical professional) or the individual we are taking care of is not longer needing our supports. But it does impact us and according to the Canadian Psychological Association, it impacts us a lot. Some of the symptoms of caregiver burnout may include:
- Depression, anxiety and/or irritability
- Trouble concentrating
- Disturbed sleep
- Feeling exhausted despite adequate rest
- A weakened immune system
- Loss of interest in personal needs, desires and pastimes
- Increased feeling of resentment towards the care recipient and/or family and friends
- Loss in satisfaction of being a caregiver
- Feeling helpless, hopeless and isolated.
Check. Check. Check.
This doesn’t include the change in the dynamics in the relationship, especially, like in my case, where it was a spousal relationship. It can be challenging to try and navigate being a caregiver and a partner at the same time. And the part that is important to note that sometimes these challenges don’t just disappear when your caregiver role is over. It can continue to impact you for days, months or years afterward (which I am only just beginning to understand now).
So then, what do you do?
According to the same source, there are some options;
- Counselling or therapy
- Meditation, Yoga, or journalling
- Communicate your concerns or needs with others
- Consider seeking out local organizations or support groups
- Learning it is okay to say “no” when feeling overwhelmed
- Ask and accept help from others
- Be mindful of your physical and mental health
- Have Self Compassion (this one is the hardest but very important!!)
Try one. Try them all. Find some more ideas of your own. Just make sure to make yourself a priority too. Regardless of what you do, just remember that being a caregiver is an honorable role. It is a thankless, hard and challenging role and you usually do not get any financial compensation for doing so. So, remember that YOU are a rock star and need to make sure you are treating yourself like one! I am going to work on doing the same.
“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.”– Audre Lorde
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