Guilt is an invasive thing. It’s like an emotional cancer that eats through judgment, sensibility and self-esteem all at once. And it’s one of the reasons people who care for others tend to let their own care fall by the wayside.
When I say “care for others,” I don’t necessarily mean in a professional manner – but rather in the way almost every one of us has to do every now and again. Your son breaks his ankle playing softball, your husband has the common cold, or, in more severe circumstances, someone close to you acquires a chronic ailment that needs constant attention. Such ailments can often be severe, even life threatening. And, as it should be, as caregivers we drop everything, focusing laser-like attention on creating comfort and a healing environment for our loved ones.
Depending on the severity of illness, flowers, cards, visitors and calls may flood in for the ailing party – well wishers send thoughts of healing, love and light to help on the road to recovery. Maybe it was back surgery or the physical and emotional devastation from radiation treatment, maybe a diagnosed mental disorder or perhaps the stress of not knowing what is wrong, and the turmoil of constant hospital visits and testing .
In these circumstances, one thing is for sure: it’s important to realize that when someone is hurting or sick, the illness not only affects the person who’s ill, but also those around him or her- especially those who are close.
It is certainly devastating to go through a debilitating illness, but think of those who take care of the ill during those times – a sister, a husband or wife, a friend, child or colleague. Not only do they experience the pain of watching someone they love experience the hurt, but they must also grapple with their own emotions. Not only are caregivers dealing with the situation itself but they’re also taking on the added responsibility that comes with the role: perhaps getting medicine, dealing with mood swings, changing bandages or even dealing with the loneliness caused by the loss of warmth and comfort provided by someone with whom they share a bed. While those good wishes keep coming, they usually don’t focus on the caregivers.
That’s where the feelings of guilt come. We’re human, and the wear of a caregiving on top of normal work, family and home maintenence responsibilities can quickly overwhelm. Consequently, thoughts like “I’d love some time to myself,” “I wish someone would come to visit me,” or “I don’t think I can handle this for another minute!” are likely to arise. Instead of acknowledging the thoughts and letting them dissipate, however, often caregivers feel badly, throttling themselves because they’re “the healthy ones,” and thus, shouldn’t complain. I believe that gratitude for health, well-being, and a good life is positive. Conversely however, feeling guilty because you realize that, from time to time, you need care too is not.
And that’s the message here. Caregivers, remember to give yourself permission to be selfish so you have the strength, the fortitude, and the energy to give back to those you love so much. It’s okay to reach out for support. It’s okay to take some time for yourself, and it’s okay that a little bit of self-pity slips in every once in a while. Just acknowledge the feelings, know that they are there and take steps to alleviate them – whether by creating some daily “me time,” reading a book, getting a massage, going to church or taking a quick drive in the mountains. Those negative thoughts are often just your psyche, and sometimes your body, crying out for some attention and letting you know you need care too.
So ditch the guilt, embrace the love and realize that you can support your loved one’s healing process more efficiently if you’re healthy as well.