Taking Care of Yourself First so You CAN Take Care of Others
This week Dr. Gupta texted me and asked if I would write a blog post about caregiver burnout.
As a medical provider, I immediately thought of I am going to write “ways to talk about self-care” and other generic (although helpful) terms we often use to encourage coping skills.
Dr. Gupta said you are the best person to write about this matter. She said, “You are living it”.
That’s when it really hit me.
Wow. Here I am a multigenerational caregiver who struggles daily to care for my widowed mother, myself and my amazingly supportive husband, and my daughters, almost two and five years of age.
Not to mention the 20-30 patients I see and care for daily. I also lost my father two years ago and have become the sole caretaker for my beautiful mother.
Oh, yes….I cannot forget our two dogs (as if I didn’t have enough on my plate).
For years, I dreamed of having this wonderful family and amazing career and I finally have it. All my hard work had paid off! I should have been so happy.
Never did I think that this is when I would reach my breaking point.
All of a sudden I was not feeling the happiness that was supposed to come with all my accomplishments.
Instead depression set in and I started to question everything.
I was working long hours ( the world’s mental health was deteriorating due to Covid). I was caring for my husband and children. I was making sure my mother’s needs were met and she was safe and healthy.
The guilt never stopped. I felt I was always failing in one department or the next.
I felt worthless.
I felt hopeless.
I felt alone.
I was completely overwhelmed.
I had never felt this level of stress. I realize now this is a level, we all reach at some point. A place I had never been before and it was terrifying.
I realized I could not do it all. I began to detach and fear every task that came my way.
Reports show anxiety and depression have more than tripled over the past year. These have increased largely due to the pandemic. Suicidal ideation is skyrocketing in our kids and adult populations.
People are burning out. They are exhausted. It has become too much for all of us to handle at times.
We have to realize this will not change overnight. We need to work on a plan to be able to handle this for the long haul. We need to protect ourselves and our communities from falling apart.
Every day I am blessed to listen to so many different perspectives on life, stress, and emotions from my patients. Many of them are caregivers like me. Many are also spreading themselves way too thin. They are reporting they find they are staying up to late “just to have some down time”.
People are skipping meals ( poor nutrition) and not exercising.
They are multitasking and over extending themselves every day.
People are saying yes every time someone asks for help but forgetting their needs.
So, how do we teach self-care in a time when many of us are just getting by?
I’m slowly learning the answer to this. But I can share what’s helped me the most so far.
First and foremost, PLEASE don’t underplay it and recognize you may be overwhelmed.
Trying to hold it together is commendable, but eventually it will take a toll on you and your loved ones.
If a close friend or loved one asks if you are ok, please allow yourself to say “not really or I need help.”
ALLOW YOURSELF TO SAY YOU ARE STRUGGLING
A good friend won’t dismiss this. They may be thankful they could help and may also be feeling the same way.
Sometimes we need to stop “faking it until we make it.” We need to fall down and take that long nap. Allow the house be a mess and order that pizza. We need to be okay with leaving things for the next day.
We need to say NO to obligations and not feel guilt.
It is okay to not have a perfect life and say it is not perfect.
It is okay to not have perfectly coifed children and perfectly presentable houses.
It is okay to work in our sweatpants and no makeup.
It is okay to be just okay and not perfect.
Secondly, (props to my best friend for pointing this out), ask yourself “would I make this a priority for my children or loved ones?”
If the answer is yes, then what’s stopping you from doing it for yourself?!
Finally, please don’t feel alone.
We are here for you as medical providers, therapists, but also as fellow human beings.
We are not perfect and we understand your struggles more than you can imagine because we are going through this too. This is a shared traumatic experience.
Take it from me as a parent, a wife, a daughter, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, and a friend who lives the struggle along with you every day!
We will get through this!
We will persevere together ONLY with each other’s help.
Mic Drop. Peace. Jenny Out.
Check out these links for more information on burnout relief: