“Do not assume that he who seeks to comfort you now, lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good. His life may also have much sadness and difficulty that remains far beyond yours. Were it otherwise, he would never have been able to find these words.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
Are you able to ask for help?
Do you have a support system – someone to talk to?
Are you aware of your stress levels and do you manage them adequately?
Many of us in the caring industry as well as individuals who care for a family member or friend struggling with mental health will have answered ‘no’ to at least one of the above questions and it is probably for this reason that caregivers are at high risk for compassion fatigue and burnout. One of the main reasons for this is that we are most likely innate rescuers. We spend our lives throwing out lifelines, helping, healing and making a difference but often ignore the impact that all of this has on our own lives. Enter burnout.
LifeLine Western Cape’s counselling line receives many calls from caregivers speaking of their feeling of loneliness in caring for someone else but also their feeling of guilt. Guilt triggered by their longing for some alone time or need to focus on themselves instead of the person they are caring for – it’s a sense of being selfish that is so often seen in a negative light by carers and others. However, what happens if we replace the word ‘selfish’ with the term ‘self care’ and we ask “what about you?” or “where are you in all of this?”
Often the term “carer” has a romantic connotation. We are seen as experts, saviours, or people who have all the answers. While these perceptions feed our egos, they are not true – simply, we are wounded healers. But lovers who have no boundaries or the ability to detach and care for themselves will be swallowed up and drown in a sea of hurt that is not theirs. The effective caregiver needs to be self-aware and conscious. We need regular downtime and to have ways of managing our stress – we need to learn how to receive. Someone once said: “We give out what we yearn for the most.”
People react to stress differently, which means that there is no one recipe for self care – it varies from person to person. It is important for caregivers to be aware of and recognise their own warning signs of potential burnout and overload.
Carers come in many forms and it is a taxing vocation. To be effective carers, it is vital that we learn to care for ourselves – to know our own individual needs and have the ability to nurture ourselves be it walking, talking or dancing. Find a support-group, a counsellor or talk to a friend. Make regular compulsory time to enjoy life and for “getting away from it all” to relax.
The people we care for are often our mirrors, affording us self discovery and growth in our own lives – we need to be able to recognise this. To make a difference in someone’s life is the greatest gift of all – we need to be able to be proud of ourselves when this happens!