Caregiving for your loved one can be an emotionally and physically exhausting experience. For many families, the need for care comes on suddenly, and without the time and resources to adequately prepare for the circumstances. Throughout my career, I have counseled families as they make difficult and emotional decisions about the next steps for their aging family members. As a care provider, I found much comfort in the experiences and stories of individuals who have managed a care plan and hearing how they navigated the caregiving road. In this week’s column, I’d like to introduce you to Jill Gafner Livingston. Jill unexpectedly became a caregiver at a young age and has shared her inspiring story to help others know they are not alone. Below is an article Jill authored which outlines her story and I think many of you will relate.
Caregivers are Only Human
By Jill Gafner Livingston
Before I was a caregiver, I forgave myself for human errors. I set reasonable, but reachable, expectations for myself and I laughed at my imperfections because most of the time my flaws didn’t matter to anyone other than myself. THEN, OVERNIGHT I BECAME MY HUSBAND’S CAREGIVER, and everything changed… and I mean everything!
I experienced guilt, jealousy, anger, frustration, occasional joy, hope, resentment, fear, sadness all at the same time!! The crazy part was that I did this with a fake smile on my face. The emotional conflict can be overwhelming!
As caregivers, we often judge ourselves on an angelic level. A level that is so unreasonable that we can “almost” never meet the expectations that we set. We are placed in a position of decision-making that is unfamiliar to us. We are consistently disappointing someone, whether it is our patient, our family, our employer, ourselves, our children, or perfect strangers who feel that they can judge us, without ever spending a day in our lives. We forget… we are not angelic; we are only human!
Eight years into my caregiving journey, I recognized the destruction of myself. The good ole days were never coming back. The world had given me lemons and if I was going to survive, I’d best start by tackling the emotional roller coaster that I had been living with.
Guilt – it was always there! But I couldn’t put my finger on why I was always feeling guilty until I started to write down the list of what “I believed” I was responsible for. Turns out, I was holding myself accountable for things that I had no control over. Making a list of the things I did control and the things I didn’t control helped to alleviate some of the guilt.
Jealousy – Anger – Frustration – turns out these emotions didn’t last long. One of the best parts of these emotions is they were a moment in time, unlike guilt which was always there. They say you can’t be angry forever. I allowed these emotions to pass through.
Joy – Hope – These are the emotions that I longed for. There came a time that I wasn’t sure I’d get these emotions back. Re-training my thoughts took time. A good caregiver needs to be flexible, that’s a fact. Flexible in our agenda and in our mindset. I prayed…. Dear Lord, today was so hard, but I know that no two days are alike, with any luck, you’ll give me a better day tomorrow.
There are no easy answers to surviving a caregiver’s life. It can be lonely – so reach out to get support from friends, family, and other caregivers. Don’t go silent!! Caregiver stress is dangerous and one of the best things we can do is let it out.
After all, we are only human!
To learn more about Jill, please visit her website by clicking here.