The Caregiver’s Dilemma

(Editor’s Note: Once in awhile, we publish articles from guest bloggers that offer an interesting perspective or helpful information. Today, we feature an article written by Dr. Forrest Beck, who shares his thoughts about resolving a caregiving dilemma: How do I care for myself as I care for another?)

Let’s face it. One of the greatest challenges a family caregiver confronts is navigating priorities. You are constantly pushed and pulled, tugged and shoved in a hundred different directions, needing to make a hundred different decisions that dictate someone’s well being.

After a while, though, isn’t the temptation to succumb overwhelming? Don’t you just want to curl up in a ball and cry? Maybe you’ve even done this and it’s okay. But, before you discover one solution to this despair, you first need to understand the heart of the matter.

Before going further, let me tell you what this article is not. It’s not Seven Tips to Great Caregiving. Instead, it is a distillation of just one tip. And in my estimation it is the most important.

At its core, the true source of a family caregiver’s dilemma has to do with an innate battle of wills. On the one hand, a caree one needs help during a critical juncture in his or her life. Every fiber in your being tells you that there is no other choice but to extend support in whatever way you can.

On the other hand is a source of wisdom that stands a great chance of being stifled if you are not ever so careful.

This is your voice of self-preservation, meant to not just steer you away from danger, but optimize your vital force, allowing you to continue your precious existence. I doubt it will come as any surprise in telling you that all too often the former (giving) wins in this tumultuous tug of war.

The price paid can be just as dear as your caree’s life which you attempt to improve. What is the final product then? Is it two sick individuals instead of just one? It may be, but it doesn’t have to be. I believe you have a choice.

Essentially, what you have to decide and reconcile is your love for yourself with the love for your caree. They are not mutually exclusive. To love and care for another comes from first doing the same for yourself. You may feel that if you take those all-important steps in attending to your own needs, you abandon the caree. The only real way to sustainably help the person you care about is to make sure your help emanates from a place of strength, a solid foundation of self-love, self-attention, and self-care.

In fact, you do have the ability to reconcile this dilemma. Selflessness and continually giving will provide a fast-track to burn-out, personal health problems, emotional anguish, and mental weariness. Understanding what happens when you go down this road is the first step to awareness of the issues. After all, how can you correct a problem if you don’t dissect it?

And it is not as if there are just a few examples around us of family caregivers giving all they’ve got and then some. It is an epidemic and typically the norm, not the exception. How many people do you personally know that have helped a family caregiver or work as a professional caregiver? And out of these individuals, how many of them had a network of support and made sure their own needs were met, in addition to the person for whom they care? A minority, right?

Unfortunately, more often than not, the guilt talk begins, which often stems from society’s promotion of selflessness and altruism.The guilt here is not simply self-defeating but self-destructive. It will not serve you here so you need to lose it.

Now, let’s do a little theater. Some of you may recall the old Saturday Night Live skit in which Stuart Smalley, played by Al Franken, demonstrates his daily affirmations by speaking in to a mirror, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” I remember watching these classic episodes growing up in high school and college.

Recognize that you are more than just good enough. Your caree’s continued success might depend on your good health two years or ten years from now, not just tomorrow. Besides, putting this off is “stinkin’ thinkin,” according to Stuart.

At the end of the day, it is the family caregiver who shows up that is important. Tthe fulfilled family caregiver, the cared-for family caregiver, will show up with a smile on his or her face, with patience to manage adversity, and with resilience to overcome the inevitable challenges that arise. Let’s strive to make this the norm. Let any guilt you may feel in taking your necessary personal time wash off your back and down the drain.

It is time we foster the next generation of healthy family caregivers with optimal self-awareness and support to continue their beautiful and essential art. Please join me in making this a reality.

Forrest Beck is a naturopathic doctor, author, and entrepreneur traveling full-time with his wife, Nicole, and son, Paden, in their motorhome. His new book Cultivating the Fine Art of Selfishness: Improving Community by Empowering Individuals is now out in bookstores; learn more and download free resources at www.artofselfishness.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/artofselfishness.

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About Denise Brown

I began working with family caregivers in 1990 and launched CareGiving.com in 1996 to help and support them. Through my blog, I share words of comfort and offer coping strategies and tips. I also write opinion pieces about recent research, community programs and media coverage of caregiving issues. I've written several caregiving books, including "The Caregiving Years, Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey," "Take Comfort, Reflections of Hope for Caregivers" and "After Caregiving Ends, A Guide to Beginning Again." You can purchase my books and schedule a coaching call with me in our store.

3 thoughts on “The Caregiver’s Dilemma

  1. Carol

    Timely post! Just yesterday I came to the realization that most if not all of my current “issues” stem from various ways I feel guilty! Let go of it already! Put your own oxygen mask on first!

    Reply
  2. Forrest Beck

    Hi Carol,

    Funny that you use that term, “Put your own oxygen mask on first!” as I use the quote from United’s safety announcement in my book. Guilt is a heavy weight, for sure, but diminishing this weight as much as possible will further strengthen your resolve.

    Reply
  3. Profile photo of BobBob

    Hi Denise: I re-visited this blog and it is so important that a care-giver maintain a sense of their self-preservation while on this journey. I’ve talked about before how demanding caregiving can be. I feel that without this site and the important knowledge, wisdom, support, resources, and focus on self-care, I don’t know where I would be. With much gratitude to you and our Caregiving family, Bob

    Reply

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