On Being Care-Full

Louisa

On Being Care-Full

Louisa

The following reflects my perspective on the very deep subject of family caregiving and trauma. This piece is based solely on my thoughts related to this type of emotional stress. 

Family caregiving is a timeless and multicultural rite of passage that many of us take part in during our lifetime. Whether it is children caring for their elderly parents, spouses caring for one another, or parents caring for their children, self-identifying as a family caregiver can be a significant chapter of our life stories. When we care for another person, we are given an array of responsibilities that require physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual strength. This task/family duty is nothing short of life-changing, and if we are not care-full it is not always to our betterment. Without breaks, family caregiving is a vehicle headed for a hairpin turn in the road with no warning.

When we are caregiving, we are often encouraged to take care of ourselves and repeatedly hear the words take care. These two words should not be left weighing down the end of a conversation or the conclusion of an email. Nor should we devote undue attention to figuring out what these words mean in our day-to-day lives. Unless we truly understand it, the simple thought of “taking care” requires a lot more muscle than we give it credit for. 

Taking the care that’s needed means developing the awareness of knowing where and when to receive it. “Taking” is an action that very often family caregivers don’t have the bandwidth to process because, in general, they are not good at receiving anything. Agony, chaos, and many other emotions play a role in blocking the care we need for ourselves from getting in. This is where the fault line of trauma continues or begins. 

The essence of a life disturbance, like caregiving, is in the overextension of self--the weight of pain, the distress of mental strength, and the emotional burden. Since trauma is all of these responses to a terrible, life-changing event, we must remember, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” (Quote credited to Lena Horne.)

When we carry the intimacies that caregiving requires, our human psyche holds these experiences and memories in our bodies so much so that, in many cases, the mind cannot remember the trauma until years later. At the onset of caregiving, we are silently wounded in the undertow of our sub-conscience. When we are amid caregiving, we buy stock in mental and emotional bandaids as we cover what causes pain, anxiety, and stress in this process. Then there are the scars that continue to develop when we find ourselves coming out of the caregiving itself. 

All of this is potentially traumatic, if not completely so. Whether we feel it before, during, or after a caregiving experience, trauma and stress are ever-present, bubbling just below the surface. This deep well of sadness abides in our humanity. We must challenge ourselves daily--sometimes even hourly--to fill up with the care we need to take so that we may give. For it is when we take, permit, receive, and possess the benefits of care and let it assist in navigating our lives that we are best equipped to give. After all, we cannot give what we do not hold within.

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