Episode 79: How Not To Hate Caregiving
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You might have woken up today and thought how crappy it is to have to be a caregiver. It could be a difficult week, month, or year for you. I know how it feels. I get having the feeling that caregiving is suffocating you. If you feel like you can’t breathe, like you can’t do this anymore, that caregiving has ruined your life or that you’re getting really close to feeling that way…then maybe we should talk about trying to approach things a little differently.
Let’s talk about how not to hate caregiving.
Now I’m not an overly positive person. I have met people who have survived cancer and they are full of gratitude for just being able to wake up each day. You’ve met them… the people that when you want to talk about how much life sucks you know they’ll respond with everything you should be happy about right now. There’s nothing wrong with seeing the world this way… I’m just not that person. If you are, I’d love for you to send me an email and let me know what keeps you going with that mindset. In fact, if any of you want to send me an email I’d love to hear from you. If you’re signed up for the newsletter all you have to do is hit reply and I’ll get it.
Now even though I’m not a rose-colored glasses type of person I do try to find the good out of a situation and I work hard at holding on to the ability to enjoy my life as much as possible. That isn’t a gift for me it’s a skill that I am continually refining. I have to work at this because oftentimes the best things to do in life are the hardest. I’m sarcastic by nature. I’m quick to respond especially in difficult situations. I’m always reading between the lines and I’m quick to create boundaries.
So when I say that caregiving can fuel you. When I tell you that it is possible to feel good inside when you’re a caregiver I am not telling you that because I feel that being a caregiver is easy. I am telling you because caregiving is easily one of the hardest things I will have to do long-term and I refuse to hate my life while I do it. I believe you can do the same.
It isn’t easy to figure out how to enjoy life when you first become a caregiver. I didn’t gleefully jump into being a spousal caregiver when my husband was diagnosed with cancer. My beginning experiences with caregiving were horrible. I quickly started to experience caregiver burnout and I was oftentimes miserable but there were some moments of clarity. If you listened to last week’s episode you know I learned a valuable lesson in the hospital with my husband and I went through that first year having many little aha moments but I was just too exhausted to put them all together to see the big picture.
A lot of us find ourselves struggling in the beginning. We work hard to get a handle on things and right when we think we know what we’re doing something changes and we have to start all over again. It’s very easy to not even notice how life feels, in general, when you are in this first phase because you don’t have a chance to take a moment to step back. But when you do have that quiet moment it can really bring you down. Do you remember when you had just enough quiet time that something inside you made you look back on the past year or years of caregiving and you realized that you haven’t been happy in a while? Or maybe right now is that moment. Then you just didn’t have the energy to know what to do with that information and you went back to the way things have been. You continued to be unhappy but it was worse because you now knew you were unhappy. Before you didn’t realize it and it wasn’t a thing you thought about but after that moment that fact was always there.
Knowing you aren’t happy with your life and being able to make changes are two different things. First, you have to know you aren’t happy with the way things are before you can become open to making a change. Making a change has to then become important enough for you to do it. I understand how hard it is to make changes in your life. I see it every time I work with a caregiver. There’s too much going on for you to make a change and you don’t have an idea of what that change would even be or how to address it if you did.
We all become family caregivers for a specific reason. You could have decided on it because there was no question in your mind that you would care for your spouse, child, or loved one. Maybe there was no question in the minds of the people around you that you would be the one to do it and so you did possibly out of obligation. Or it’s possible that you are somewhere in between those two.
So let’s move forward on the assumption that you are a caregiver because, at least in the beginning, you at the very least, cared for this person. I know that over time caregiving goes from being something you are doing as a response or reaction to this big pile of crap that was thrown into your lap. However, over time, it turns into things you do to then things you HAVE to do to things you HATE doing. Right?
The way we look at caregiving shifts over time and it very easily can become something that we dislike doing. It’s the thing that keeps us from living the lives we wanted to live. It breaks the relationship that you had with that person before they needed you to care for them. It makes you angry. So now, going forward, everything feels difficult.
Now think of all of that anger, frustration, and overwhelm and then think of the last time you felt good about taking care of that person. How long ago was that?
You see caring for someone benefits them in every way. If we see our caregiving as only benefitting the person on the receiving end then we’re really missing out on an opportunity to find a way to enjoy life as a caregiver.
That might be difficult to hear. You do so much for this person. You have given up so much of your life for them and you don’t feel like they appreciate it and you definitely don’t get the recognition you feel you should from the people in your world. So the last thing you want to do is find a way to be happy about making them their 500th dinner! I know that anger and I can tell you that the alternative feels much better.
We have no control over how the person we care for accepts and acknowledges the things we do for them. We can’t control if other people think being a caregiver is important. What we can control is how we view caregiving. The reasons why we do things are under our control.
Changing your perspective could be the key to making an important change in your life especially if you have grown to dislike parts or all of caregiving.
Let’s get to it…
There are studies that show that helping another person can help you. (and I’ll add the links to them in the show notes for this episode on the website) Researchers have found that when someone does something for another person to help them it makes them feel good. There are positive effects to a person’s mind and body when they help. It can give that person a sense of purpose and satisfaction and people report that they feel happier. The key to this is - their perspective.
If you wash your loved one's clothes or help them take a bath you can do it with the mindset of a person who has to or a person who does it to help them. It’s not about wanting to do it exactly. It’s about wanting to help them. The focus is on what you can do to help them. Now if you listened to Episode 73. You know there are moments when you have to set boundaries around the things you do for a person who is able to do them for themselves. We aren’t talking about those things. We are talking about the things you really need to do or the things you chose to do because it’s helpful even though they could do it for themselves.
Can you do your caregiving tasks without being annoyed about doing them? Is it possible for you to shift your perspective so you can see things that you do a different way? Can you do these things focused on how you are helping that person?
Now I’m not asking you to be that rose-colored glasses type of person I mentioned in the beginning. Believe me, I can be in the middle of making my husband’s breakfast happy that I can because he just came home from surgery and have something happen that pisses me off. Like having a raw egg drop through that crack in between the counter and stove and spend 15 minutes cursing at it while I figure out how to clean it up if I can’t reach it. Then I finish the breakfast and, with a happy heart, take it to him. I’m not saying not to have emotions.
What I’m suggesting is for you to try to take something that really puts you in a bad mood or angry that you have to do it and find a way to see the good you are doing for that person. For example, changing diapers for any human is not a fun task. But have you noticed the different perspective between a parent changing a babies’ diaper and that of a person who needs to change an adult one? Both humans need a diaper change. Soiling the diaper is a basic human function. Let’s assume they both can’t change the diaper on their own. Now a parent will change the diaper. Complain maybe about how much of a crap show it was and then move on to the next thing. Most times it doesn’t make them bitter. They do it because it’s a task they have to do and most times they interact with the child in a positive way while doing it. So if you had to change your loved one’s adult diaper, and maybe you already do, can you do that out of love the same way? I’m not asking you to take time to address the fact that this is not the role you agreed to when you came into this world or into this relationship with the person you care for. I’m not asking you to acknowledge the emotional reasons why it is so hard to do it. I’m asking if it is possible or would it be possible for you to do it out of the love you have for that person despite the fact that it is difficult for you to do? Changing your perspective doesn’t change that something can be difficult for you to do.
Can you change your mind about how you think of the things you do as a caregiver? Can you be open to this one way that has the potential to allow you to enjoy your life a little bit more even though you do things as a caregiver that you don’t necessarily like to do?
Now don’t go too far over to the other side either. I’m not asking you to embrace being a martyr. That actually will make things worse because in that situation you do things out of obligation or guilt and in the process you sacrifice your well-being. You also aren’t doing things so that other people will think highly of you. This is just you and your mind trying to find a positive way to go forward as a caregiver so you can enjoy living it.
Being open to this mental shift can begin to help you see that human as a person you love. We so often fall into the doing of caregiving that we lose sight of the human we care for. It also creates the possibility of making your connection with this person stronger. You might find you enjoy being around them more or have more to talk about. As you begin seeing caregiving as a way you can help the person you love, you are also enhancing your life. You are showing up for not only them but for you as well.
So try it… take one thing you do as a caregiver that really annoys you. Now think of how you doing that one thing helps the other person. Imagine how you would feel if you were that person and not able to handle doing that one thing. Now imagine in your head that you do that task but out of love. Not obligation. Not because that’s what you’ve always had to do. Just because you love them and want to help them. Notice how it makes you feel to imagine doing it this way. If it warms your heart even just a little bit, then practice doing that one thing with that frame of mind. If you don’t then let that task go and go through the same process with something that annoys you less. You might have to pick something that is hardly troublesome and work your way up.
I promise you that as difficult as this might be you will benefit so much from making this shift in how you look at caregiving. Finding an alternative to the anger, frustration, and overwhelm is the best way to care for yourself as well. It’s also a good way to show up every day as the best caregiver you can be.
Let me know how that works out for you. If you don’t already get the newsletter you can find the link to send me an email in the show notes of the episode along with relevant links and ways to have access to more caregiving support with me - either through the caregiver coaching program, newsletters, or the Facebook group. So find me there, the website address is www.loveyourcaregivinglife.com
Thank you for listening.
Download "Top 5 Tools Every Spousal Caregiver Must Have"
Links for research that show helping can make you happy
Post S. It’s Good To Be Good: 2014 Biennial Scientific Report on Health, Happiness, Longevity, and Helping Others. Int J Pers Cent Med. 2014;2:1–53.
Curry OS, Rowland LA, Van Lissa CJ, Zlotowitz S, McAlaney J, Whitehouse H. Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. J Exp Soc Psychol. 2018;76:320–9.
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