HAVE you ever had that feeling of “I’ve had enough!” and “I don’t want to do this anymore?”
This is quite common among caregivers who’ve been doing this for years. It’s also known as the caregiver burnout — when caregivers are exhausted, cranky and not in the best of health because they forgot to take care of themselves.
Burnout also happens to caregivers who’ve done this for a few people, and they’re not keen to do it anymore unless it is for someone who means the world to them.
When I was younger, a lot fitter and had a higher tolerance for challenges, I could take care of my eldest son (who has special needs), along with his three younger siblings, work, keep my household and later on, add my ageing, ailing parents to the list.
Eventually over the years, something had to give — and that was my career. It was a difficult choice to make but I could make it because my spouse whole-heartedly supported it.
I was also blessed with a wonderful support system that could fill in the blanks when necessary.
As I navigated through the perils of taking care of more than one person who needed medical attention, along with other needs, I also learnt to prioritise and think on my feet. You must keep your wits about you because the unexpected has a knack of just happening.
A lot of this has to do with managing situations and expectations — yours as well as others’. This doesn’t happen overnight. It can be a long bumpy road and you learn through trial and error.
It starts with assumptions. People usually assume that you’re the best person for the job because you’ve done it before. And because you did it so well (or so they think), you become their best choice! This track record may be great and much needed if you’re a professional caregiver and you get paid for it.
Unfortunately, most caregivers are family members who do it out of love and/or a deep sense of responsibility. There’s usually no monetary remuneration to it. Sadly, it’s also a thankless job for many. In addition, they bear the brunt of the family’s dissatisfaction too.
The complaints can vary from one spectrum to the other. It can be as basic as the menu for the day to minute details of how eye drops should be administered. No doubt everything should be done properly but surely there are days for flexibility and creativity.
For example, your loved one does not have any appetite to eat anything.
Rather than letting her starve, you entice her with her favourite food. That favourite food is most likely on the banned food list.
You get caught for doing this. You get criticised and scolded. To you, it was a choice between your loved one not eating and thus not being able to take her medications, or getting some nutrition in followed by meds. You just hope that the next meal won’t be so difficult.
When the going gets tough, we always hear people telling us to ask for help. While there are people who’ll do their best to help you, you must also accept that sometimes no one seems to hear your pleas.
There are many reasons for this. Some may not have the time; others may not be able to cope with your issues because they’re coping with their own.
Some people believe they should stay away from the sick so that they don’t get infected; others want to help but don’t know how. They feel awkward because they don’t know how to show they care, so they shy away.
Some people don’t realise how hard things are for you, so they don’t understand what you need unless you tell them directly instead of hinting or asking them to guess. The key factor here is the caregiver’s ability to communicate well — that includes being able to say “no”.
Caregivers need to break the silence by talking about their problems to people they can trust. This takes a lot of skill and practice. It also becomes an art form when you can do this without causing offence or major family disasters.
The communication needs to be a two-way street. Don’t assume anything. People have a knack of saying the most incredible things to you without thought or care. Just because they think you’re capable, it doesn’t mean they can add to your burden without asking you first.
People would always tell you that you have choices and that you could actually walk away from things that don’t please you anymore. This is easier said than done. But when you know such a decision doesn’t sit well with your conscience, you just grit your teeth, bear it and dive in to the situation whole-heartedly — hopefully this time a bit wiser.
Putri Juneita Johari volunteers for the Special Children Society of Ampang. She can be reached at [email protected].