What’s OK and What’s Not OK When You Are a Caregiver

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Everywhere I travel and meet caregivers, I see a common theme: Most family caregivers are afraid to ask for help. Somehow people think that they should just miraculously know how to care for an aging loved one.

Why would you know this? You did not receive a PhD in Caregiving and your loved one poses challenges that you don't have the answers to. As I'm listening to their challenges, frustrations, fears, sorrows, stress-induced situations and overall feelings of being overwhelmed, I find that many caregivers seem to need permission from a professional to ask for help. So very simply, I reach out and take the person's hand, and give permission. Usually there is an instant look of relief in the person's face. It's incredible that giving someone permission to not be perfect helps relieve the pressure and the stress.

Caregivers frequently suffer from severely stressful emotions that can control and even ruin their lives. Sadly, these are the caregivers who, for whatever reason, have refused to ask for help or seek professional advice either from a medical doctor or a therapist. In order to manage the caregiving journey, you simply must step out of your comfort zone and find alternative methods for dealing with your personal situation.

The only way that family caregivers can sustain all that needs to be done to care for a loved one is to delegate responsibility and ask for help. It's really simple and it changes lives.

Here are some things that I think are okay for caregivers:

  • It's okay to be scared.
  • It's okay to be angry, lost, sad and even depressed.
  • It's okay to lose your patience.
  • It's okay that you don't want to sacrifice your whole life for someone else. And you shouldn't.
  • It's okay that your self-esteem feels damaged.
  • It's okay that you make mistakes.
  • It's okay that you don't know how to do everything.
  • It's okay that you don't have the answers.
  • It's okay that you don't have a cure.
  • It's okay that you're not there all the time.
  • It's okay that you sometimes have extreme feelings towards the person for whom you are caring.
  • It's okay that you lost your temper.
  • It's okay that you had to apologize.
  • It's okay that you're afraid.
  • It's okay that you can't get everything done in a day.
  • It's okay that you have guilt. All caregivers have guilt.
  • It's okay that you have compassion fatigue.
  • It's okay you feel trapped.
  • It's okay that you took a few days for yourself.
  • It's okay that you vented to your spouse or friend.

All of these things are absolutely okay. How you manage them is going to make the difference between becoming an empowered caregiver or staying in a hopeless situation.

Here are some things that are NOT okay.

  • It's not okay that you feel like you have to do everything yourself.
  • It's not okay that you feel like an indentured servant.
  • It's not okay that you are ignoring your personal needs.
  • It's not okay that you are ignoring friends and social activities.
  • It's not okay that asking for help paralyzes you.
  • It's not okay that you don't have a plan in place.
  • It's not okay to feel helpless and hopeless for days on end.
  • It's not okay that you have stopped doing activities you once loved.
  • It's not okay that you are afraid to say "no" or "not now."
  • It's not okay that your siblings don't help you.
  • It's not okay that you don't have boundaries in place.
  • It's not okay that you feel unappreciated by your family.
  • It's not okay that you have lost pride in what you are doing for another human being.
  • It's not okay to sacrifice your financial security.
  • It's not okay that you do everything your loved one wants, especially when the demands can be outrageous.
  • It's not okay that you don't sleep or eat properly.
  • It's not okay that you are constantly exhausted when help is available, if you would only seek it.
  • It's not okay that you are sacrificing your personal health for another.
  • It's not okay that you are constantly trying to fix everything that is wrong.
  • It's not okay that you are living your life in crisis.

If any of the above rings true for you, then decide right now that you will get the help you need. Decide that you will live your life in a better way. Decide that you will take the necessary steps to ask for and get answers to the challenges that you are facing. Decide today that you are worth the time, energy and financial investment to survive, thrive and become an Empowered Caregiver.

Cindy Laverty is a Caregiver Coach and Founder of The Care Company, an online support website for family caregivers. Through programs, coaching and products, Cindy is dedicated to empowering family caregivers.

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58 Comments

i tell you what does not help the situation of caregiving; and it goes wit haveing to give up your life to be a caregiver. some of us in the role of caregiving who has givin up their jobs, their social outlets of all kinds, and have been left out in the cold, would like it if the govt. would do as they say and not keep changing the requirements of the help that the caregiver could quilify for for the person that they are caring for. what i mean in a nut shell and like things is this, i know that there are programs that are out there that i could receive some sort of steipen, for some of the hours i have to spend with mom since i can not find a job that i can drop and go home to get her lunch and other of her needs met in timely manner. everytime i find one, the requirements have changed to the point that my only income is food stamps for me; to which i had to jump throught herdles to get, and cost me money to get them, and meet their requirements. so you think it would are should be easy. if you are not handicapped in some way that you can pay a doctor to help you prove, then you can go to work and we will help you then. go figure.
mom needs more help than she cares to admit due to her risks of falls. so the choices we have are limited by her determination, and other famly member not around to see all, as well as the fact i am just 50 yrs old. we have applied for help and we were told that sure you can have someone you know come in and help and we will quilify them. but you (me) are the primary care giver so you no longer can get money, health care . thank you caregiver for giving up all of your life so we dont need you to do more and you just sit here for the rest of your loved ones life and it will be ok. oh and remember to take care of yourself so you can stay well and fit for them. and we will see your loved one in a month to see if we can find some reason to disqualify them; oh sorry i ment to qualify them, not.
we can get the govt to pay people in facilities to care for others; why not us at home?
we can put the loved one in the crapest nursing home and still you spend all the cost of housing plus health care. oh and if you cant prove that you the caregiving child or spouse can not afford to pay, then you to have to come up with more money somehow. the govt inteties pay with our tax dollars only about 1/4 of the cost of what remains after they (the facility) has sucked you dry. it cost about 8000 dollars a month when my grandma was in a nursing home providing she was well. she received 800 social security per month. they billed my mom 4000 a month who also receives social security of 800 per month. and the govt. was billed 4000 and paid 1500. and still we get bills we cant pay, she has been dead for 5 yrs now.
now i take care of mom and we struggle to survive on her socil sec. the best we can. i wll care for mom til i cant any more due to my health and it would not surprize me if i became to ill to care for her. i guess the gvt might giv us a room together in a nursing home. oh but, i forgot i dont have enough quarters in social security to hav much and i am still only 50.
this subject of caregiving should not be so stressful, when all you want is to do the right thing.
In my opinion, there's no cookie-cutter formula for caregiving. What is acceptable and what isn't; how we should feel and shouldn't; all depends on the ever-changing family dynamics or social fabric we're dealing with on a daily basis.

I always wished caregiving experts would drop by, assess my situation, and formulate a treatment plan that allowed me to keep most of my marbles. Still, I took what I wanted to get what I needed from all those tips floating on cyberspace.

Today, Mom is in a senior citizens residence in the South Bronx. ... And I no longer have to ponder what's okay and what isn't.

I should count my blessings.
My biggest problem with caregiving is, and always has been, that the needs are greater than everyone else's supply. Even those who want to help and are willing have run off. It's too much.. They can't handle it.