Burnout with Care-taking

Following the death of my father in November 2007, we brought Mom home to stay with us for awhile. Here’s a journal entry from that time 10 years ago.Grave Stone Mom 1

January 8, 2008. The Christmas holidays have done me in, and I’m trying to recover from burnout. It’s not a pleasant place to be when others are depending on you. But I must practice what I preach and take care of myself before I can successfully care for others.

In my self-righteousness, I criticize others for allowing themselves to get into this position, but now I find myself wallowing in the same mire.

Interesting that I just recently attended a seminar on being a caretaker for the elderly. The first thing that was emphasized was to take breaks and take care of yourself. And I failed to do that. I failed in the first rule of thumb, and now I’m paying for it.

Can I give myself permission to recuperate without feeling guilty? Without accepting the accusing fingers that I’m not giving others the time they need? How does a counselor maintain distance? Once you become the counselee’s only lifeline, you get accused of abandoning, neglecting, ignoring, being selfish, and blamed if their needs aren’t being met by you.

Where does my responsibility to myself, my family, my friends and my counselees begin and end? Balance and priority. It’s easy enough to tell someone else what to do and how to do it. Harder to practice what you preach.

The key? Listen to Jesus and listen to yourself. Obey God no matter what. And then find out what it is that you’re feeling, what’s driving you to this point. I failed to do that during the seven weeks Mom came to live with us. And so, belatedly, I’m going to try to work through this.

First, I’ve noticed some similarities and differences between child-care and elder-care.

  1. You can tell/train a toddler. You must give dignity and respect to the elder.
  2. A child may not understand. An elder can (if she has all her faculties).
  3. Both are driven by emotion.
  4. A child needs more supervision. My mom needed more diversion.

And that, I think, is where I felt the push-pull. I became Mom’s sole source of diversion. Mom is an out-loud thinker and therefore, by default, I became her primary target. Because I’m an inside thinker for the most part, I can’t function too well with the distractions of chatter that expect a response. I have a hard time focusing and thinking about my task at hand. I spent much of my time reading to her, playing games together (Scrabble and Rook), or doing crossword puzzles.

Mom could not enjoy the TV or movies because of her macular degeneration. She missed her independence at home with her CCTV (a device that enlarges print). And so I became very attentive to her need to be listened to. Her one and only diversion was to listen to books on tape—her default if I was preoccupied.

I love my mother, and I’d do anything for her. I felt sorry for her loss of her husband, her home in California, her forced move to Florida. I felt bad leaving her alone or not including her in all the family activities, and so I isolated myself with her sometimes while the family watched TV.

Where did this feeling of responsibility or obligation come from? Because she is a guest in my home? Because she’s the weakest link right now in our family? Because I feel sorry for her that she’s trapped in an old person’s body with poor eyesight, in someone else’s home? Funny. . . Mom never complained or criticized me. So what was driving my behavior and emotions?

Visual:  I’m carrying Mom on my back. I get tired and have to put her down to rest. I keep carrying her past the point of my exhaustion. And I shouldn’t have because then, if I fall, we both get hurt.

Today I lay my burden down—not a burden in a negative sense, but as in a load. From off my shoulders, I set down my mother, my children, my husband, cooking and house cleaning, friends, counselees, and my entire to-do list. Today I give myself permission to rest.

January 9. I feel 100% better after resting yesterday. I have my energy and drive back. Sometimes mental rest is as important as the physical.

5 thoughts on “Burnout with Care-taking

  1. I so identified with this one not been that long since I cared for my mom. It is almost that they gave up their life for us as a child and now it is our turn to care for them even if it takes much of our life during that time. I am grateful mom didn’t loose her faculties until the last month of her life.

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    • This is a great struggle that I did not feel. Maybe because I did not have the experience of a “family” and all the responsibilities you faced. My mom was able to do for herself up until the week before she passed, and then she had friends from her church who gladly signed up to come and spend time that week with her and attend to her (which turned out to be minimal) while I had to work. She was able to visit with friends she had not otherwise been able to see due to feeling too weak to get ready to go to church, and it was quality time which I think was her love language. Looking back, it was God blessing her with the way she got the greatest joy those last few days here. Thank you for causing me to reflect on that.

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  2. It is a wonderful piece on caregiving. It is nice that you have it to remind yourself of everything that you did. I still have feelings that I wish I could have done more for my mom.

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  3. After several months of critical care for my sister and now caring for my dad, thank you for the visual of “a burden”; it’s “a load”. It is multifaceted with caring for the emotions and confusion of the person(s) themselves, making important decisions, answering to the family – sisters, cousins, Aunts/Uncle- about the care and health of the individual(s)…..
    Administering care for the absent family. It keeps going on and on!!

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    • This topic seems to have struck a chord with our generation. One book that really made me think was Being mortal: medicine and what matters in the end by Atul Gawande. Though not written from a Christian viewpoint, he has some challenging and helpful suggestions. I’ve summarized and quoted what I thought was significant and plan to give this list to my girls when I reach the end of my life . . . if I remember.

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