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Caregiver Burnout (From the Sick Person's Point of View)

“I know you didn’t mean any of the things you said out of frustration, but I am hurting and I only wanted to cuddle.”

When you are chronically ill, requiring more than average assistance from your partner and just asking for some affection is the straw that breaks their back, you know you are dealing with caregiver’s fatigue. It took my husband nearly seven years to admit he was tired and something was wrong. Our family counselor introduced us to caregiver’s fatigue and how it affects approximately 43.5 million adults in North America taking care of an elderly, chronically ill or disabled loved one.

He had so much patience and compassion. His fatigue started out manifesting as depression and anxiety. Then he began losing his once unshakeable patience at the littlest of things, and to be brutally honest with myself and everyone, my cynicism at that time in my life was awful and didn’t help matters in the slightest. Our communication continuously got worse over time, and we became so entrapped in this vicious loop of not feeling heard. This was terrifying for our marriage.

We began to seek help when it had become apparent he had stopped caring about his own needs. He seldom ate because he was so exhausted by the end of the day his appetite was non-existent, and by proxy, he started rapidly dropping the weight he had worked so hard to gain when he was working out, something he seemed to fall out of as well. My guilt and his shame were a molotov cocktail for disaster.

After some sessions with our counselor, my husband took enough away to manage to get his feet back under him until we could afford to continue care. We walked away with a list of things to look for to avoid burnout and some tips on proactively caring for yourself when your plate is full (nothing that honestly couldn’t have been garnered from a simple web search but the efficacy of a well-educated professional is something that should not be traded for Google).

Seeking help much sooner would have been the best defense we could have offered ourselves as a couple under our circumstances, but at the time (2011) we couldn’t afford an insurance rate of $600 a month on top of co-pays for therapy. It’s 2019 and people still cannot afford to seek adequate help. Conditions like these will continue to plague relationships and divide families unless there is awareness raised and support provided at rates people can afford or is covered under a universal plan.

Here are some of the warning signs to look for if you think you or someone you love could be dealing caregiver burnout:

  • Lack of energy
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Sleep problems (too much or too little)
  • Changes in eating habits (weight loss or gain)
  • A feeling of hopelessness
  • Withdrawing from, or losing interest in, activities you once enjoyed
  • Neglecting your own physical and emotional needs
  • Feeling like caregiving is controlling your life
  • Becoming unusually impatient, irritable or argumentative with the person you’re caring for and/or with others
  • Anxiety about the future
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Difficulty coping with everyday things
  • Headaches, stomachaches, and other physical problems
  • Lowered resistance to illness

Burnout lasts only as long as you allow it to. It can be tamed back into submission with some trial and error. Eventually, you’ll have your own personalized list of steps to help you get through it and even ways to avoid the more severe symptoms. Self-care is not selfish. It is being responsible by recognizing your worth and impact on those around you and taking the time to make sure you can be the best at what you do.

Take advantage of the vastness of the internet, and seek out support groups for other caregivers. Even if you as the person requiring care send up a flare to find help for a loved one, someone will see it and toss them a life preserver. Search and see if you can find any local support groups that meet weekly or monthly. Expressing your frustrations in a safe environment can be one of the most powerful tools in your possession.

You can do anything but not everything. You deserve the same love you so willingly show those you care for. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need assistance.

Getty image by Irina Cheremisinova.

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