It sounds morbid to say that caregivers die first but, while working in the mental health field, I’ve always told family members that have to care for their family members with mental illness, that caregivers die first. The majority of these caregivers are initially quiet then, they breath a sign of relief like thank God someone understands the hardships of caregiving. This would open the door for me to discuss self care, which is essential to any caregivers circumstances.
The National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute previously conducted a study and discovered that around 43.5 million adults in the United States had been a caregiver without pay. Financial stress is always difficult so you can only image the emotional stress that accompanies being a caregiver to an adult or a child.
In my line of work, I’d find families that try and remain positive, and keep doing the work that entails being a caregiver but, often times eventually they start to decompensate. They experience depression, lack of sleep, anxiety, confusion, and self neglect becomes prevalent which is why when I say caregivers die first, I mean it. I think part of the problem is at the root of caregiving, when a person finds a need to take time for themselves, there is a sense of guilt, when really without self nurturing you’re not going to be an effective caregiver. It’s important to take time for yourself. Eat right. Get to the gym. Carve out time for your hobbies and social outlets. Caregiving can be isolating, so making time to maintain relationships with your friend and family is essential to your overall well being.
Caregiving can also cause contentious relationships with your family. You may find one sibling doing all the work while the other one keeps going on with their lives. Or a Mother takes on more weight than a Father. When the burden falls on one individual in the family, it can hinder all other relationships with family members. Why should one family member be responsible for a sick loved one while the other goes on vacation? This presents a problem cause when ideally you’d hope everyone shares time, and works together to manage the situation, often times that is not the case. This causes anger, tension, and resentment. I’ve come across husbands and wives that go as far as to get a divorce cause one spouse may be tired of caregiving, so all the responsibly falls on the other spouse which can break up a marriage.
Truth be told, I couldn’t do it. Maybe I’m too selfish, or feel inadequate, or not skilled enough to take on such a role. Some people are built to be caregivers but, it’s the caregivers that practice self care that are truly able to manage such a challenging role.
When you find yourself exhausted, and fueled with all the array of emotions that accompany being a caregiver, and relationships in your outside circle start to truly suffer, tell yourself, caregivers die first. If you don’t take care of yourself, your loved one won’t have someone healthy and capable to attend to their needs.