Episode 55: Caregiver Happiness

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I find that happiness can be a tough subject for caregivers. 

Let’s face it, a lot of the time we wish we could be happier and that our loved one could find happiness. When the person we care for is having a hard time, we wish we could do something to bring happiness to their lives. When we are spiraling on a bad day we feel we aren’t meant to be happy. 

Maybe happiness is an issue when it shows up. When you do notice you are enjoying a moment, when happiness is allowed to creep in, you notice it and it makes you sad. Have you ever had that? Let’s say you and your husband are laughing at something and everything feels good in that moment and you are happy. But then you realize you… are… HAPPY and that makes you sad because you wish you could be that happy more often.

Or you notice your wife having fun, maybe talking to a friend or playing with the kids and even though she’s had a hard time with treatments that week she looked really happy. Instead of enjoying her happiness you find your self sad that she couldn’t be that way more often. 

I find it hard to be happy when there is an issue with me accepting myself. Let me explain.

At times in my life I have not accepted my role of caregiver. I tried to be a non caregiver person but still do caregiver things. In my mind I was a mom, a wife and a yoga teacher who just happened to have to strip her husband’s drains after surgery. Somehow I had become a caregiver without realizing it and once I realized it I still tried not to accept it. 

We’ve all been there in some form. Maybe you found yourself frustrated at the beginning of caregiving because you were trying to be as productive as you always were at your job. And then you had to start taking time off for doctor’s visits or hospital stays. Since you identified with your job at the time and didn’t make room to add on caregiving you were frustrated by your inability to work just as hard as you had. You felt like you were being pulled from different angles and couldn’t keep up. Maybe you still feel that way.

I realized that I had to decide what type of caregiver I was going to be. I had to figure out what that role looked like and then I had to work on accepting that. 

Once that happened I felt less frustration and stressed. Of course those feelings are always around but it doesn’t usually feel overwhelming anymore. I sat down and thought out how caregiving would look like in my life. Once I knew what my values and priorities were, it was easier to make decisions. If I wasn’t taking a teaching job it wasn’t because I couldn’t ,due to my husband’s health at the time, I wasn’t because it would take energy that I didn’t have a lot left and that I would like to spend with my family instead. Just that simple shift in perspective helped me not only make better decisions but it also allowed me to own what I chose to do. I was no longer not able to do something because of my husband’s health but in fact I chose not to do it because it didn’t fit in with what I valued most in my life at the time.

I didn’t compare my life with anyone else’s because I accepted that I was a caregiver and there were certain things that were really important to me. That’s why staying at home during this pandemic hasn’t been as hard as it otherwise could have. We all knew from the start that we would have to be extra careful to not get sick because we knew, at the beginning of it, that he would need surgery that year. We also knew that he couldn’t afford to get sick since we have no idea how well his immune system is working. I accepted that as a caregiver my role was to keep him safe and healthy so when we made decisions on what was safe for us to do it wasn’t about what we couldn’t do it was about what we could do and the goal tied to that. 

When I fully accepted my caregiving role I found it easier to take care of myself. I’m not saying it isn’t ever a battle but I’m able to have things I do for myself daily and I know what to do if I feel that I need a time out. I don’t need to make excuses to do them either. It’s all part of the job. If I wake up multiple times a night to help with medicine after surgery I don’t have to explain why I’m taking a nap in the middle of the day.

I’m not saying that my life is easy. Being happy does not mean you have an easy life. What I can tell you is… 

I congratulate myself when I do something. Let’s say I got my daughter to the school bus on time. That’s a high five right there. That way whenever something goes wrong I’m not so hard on myself, and I’m better able to brush it off instead of engaging in negative self talk. Never have I said to myself - you suck who burns boiled eggs? What’s wrong with you? You can’t ever do anything right! Those words never enter my brain because I also refuse to say to myself things that I wouldn’t allow from another person or things I would never say to someone else. Believe me if I heard those sentences come out of the mouth of another person we’d have a real interesting conversation!

You begin to find it much easier to set boundaries when you accept your role of caregiver. You start to see that you deserve to be treated well, that you don’t have to say yes to everything and you don’t have to care so much about other people liking you. You can feel when your care for your spouse has crossed the line into you enabling them to not do things and have no problem allowing them to start to do things for themselves. 

You need to start with understanding what you’d like caregiving to look like.

In order to define caregiving for yourself you need to first figure out what you do as a caregiver right now. Take a moment to write down what you do over the course of a week. Don’t forget the things that might only happen every few months like follow up visits and don’t leave out the big things you might not have happening right now like chemo or other treatments. 

At the end put all of those tasks into categories and then go through them again and notice everything that you do. You most likely will have a long list of things and in just seeing that list you should really be proud of how much of yourself you put into caregiving. Starting to see it all on paper and noticing the importance of what you do is a great way to start accepting it and understanding what caregiving means for you. I think it’s an easy thing to say but not an easy thing to actually accept until you sit down and look at it. 

When you make this list it’s also a great time to write down what your values are. Things like - spending time with family, working a paid job to support your household, being able to take the person you care for to doctor’s visits and be able to be with them during treatments. Write down what is most important for you and that will help you start to set up boundaries in your life so that you can easily make decisions that are best for you. 

Start to really see yourself as the caregiver you are and you will begin to find that happiness isn’t as far away as it seems. 

If you find that you’d really like to work through this with me send me an email and I’ll get you started on defining your caregiving role. 

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