I have both personal and professional experience with caregiver burnout.
I work in adult and primarily, geriatric, rehab as an Occupational Therapist. I have worked in this area my entire career, since 1992, when I graduated from Elizabethtown College with my bachelor of science degree in Occupational Therapy.
As I wrote the word career, I had to stop. Yes, I have had a career. It sounded bizarre to me that I have had a career.
Being a mom has always been my desire and passion. Occupational Therapy is something that feels like a part of me, yet since having children, it became a job, one I had to do to earn a living and had to continue doing when my husband’s business was getting started. And over the years, for many reasons, I have been the primary breadwinner most of the time. Don and I are part of a book, our story is one of 60 others in Breadwinner Wives and the Men they Marry.
I don’t think of myself as a “career woman”. I think of myself as a mom who is also an Occupational Therapist. Being a mom is my most challenging and most rewarding “job” and my favorite role.
As an Occupational Therapist, caregiver education is very important. Over the years, I have realized in geriatric rehab and especially when working with people with dementia, that caregiver education is vital. With dementia, caregiver education is not only essential but also needs to be the primary role for an Occupational Therapist.
I see first hand from the people I work with and their caregivers, the impact of caregiver burnout.
I also have been a caregiver for my husband after he suffered a near-fatal, massive heart attack in 2011 and spent 12 days in the hospital and 6 months in recovery.
When he graduated cardiac rehab 6 months after his “event”, I developed bronchitis which was reoccurring for over 6 months and then was in a car accident, ironically, one year after his heart attack. I still had wheezing at the time of the car accident, enough that they x-rayed my lungs. I didn’t have any major injuries and went home from the hospital the day of the accident. Yet, I suffered from that accident for a long time. Physically, I hurt for several months and mentally and emotionally, I suffered for years.
I honestly believe my recurrent bronchitis was a result of caregiver burnout and on a spiritual level, so was my car accident. The other driver was 100% the cause of the accident, or so the police reports and insurance companies said. I have forgiven the driver, never really blamed her per se. I blamed the fact that she wasn’t paying attention fully as she drove with her 2 year old in the car with her. One of my first questions after my accident was, “Are the other people ok?”, as blood ran down my nose after getting myself out of my car through the passenger door because I thought the smoke from the airbags meant the car could be on fire. The driver’s side door could not be opened as she had slammed into me making a left turn into the front corner of my car, pushing me sideways into another car at a stop sign.
“Are the other people ok?”
I am a mother of three, a wife, a healthcare worker, a child of aging parents, a child of a parent with chronic illnesses. Did I mention they called my husband’s heart attack, “a widow makers heart attack”? The medics and ER doctors, brought him back to life.
I am a caregiver.
I am significantly injured in a car accident and my first question to bystanders is, “Are the other people ok?”
As Caregivers, we often put the needs of others ahead of our own needs. Yet, doing this over time, affects our own health. And if we don’t stop and meet our own needs, we can suffer in many ways.
I am the mother of children who suffer with mental illness.
I am diagnosed with Bipolar Depression, Bipolar II. I only discovered my diagnosis because my brother also has this illness. I suffered for years with undiagnosed depression. Undiagnosed because, to me, it didn’t look like significant depression. I knew it was depression but told myself for years that it was “mild depression”. I was still functioning. I didn’t seek help until a friend who was prompted by my husband to convince me to seek help. That was nearly 5 years ago.
I have always known the importance of taking care of myself. I used to think I did a very good job at giving myself “me time”, attending to my own physical, spiritual and emotional health. My favorite metaphor is,
We must first put on our own oxygen mask, before we can help the person next to us with theirs.
Yet, I see now how much of my energy has been invested in caring for others.
I have repeatedly said that my job as an O.T. is mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting and coming home to be a caregiver for others is very taxing. I even joke about how I wish I had become an accountant or gone into a math field, as math was my best subject in school. The thought of sitting alone with numbers all day sounds like a nice change from being a caregiver.
Caregivers care for others because they have to and also many times because it is their nature to do so.
Many people of all ages, need a caregiver. From babies and children of all ages through aging parents, people can have needs that they can not handle alone.
As humans, we all need to care for each other.
Being a primary caregiver to someone demands our time and our energy. Giving energy to others and not refilling our own cup, is what depletes us.
For me, I need to be alone, away from the house and away from immediate responsibilities in order to recharge. After my second child was born, I began a ritual of Monday night out, writing time. I created Charlottehomeschooling.com at that time. I have written thousands of journal entries, for myself and for my children’s journals that I started for all three of them when I was pregnant with each of them. I started my bogs using Monday night writing. First Gina’s Life Journey and them Child-led Learning. I have used that time to both talk with my husband as well as work on my end for our family coaching Business, Focused Health Family.
My writing time started as a hobby, as my passion. I came home refreshed and renewed and re-energized for the other aspects of my life, for caregiving. Then it became “work” and I found myself escaping from writing during my time alone, playing online games and watching movies and TV shows. I escaped because my life was overwhelming and because distracting myself from all my stress was my way of “coping” and I thought it was recharging me.
I am here now, alone at the beach, for 3 days and 2 nights because I finally realized how burned out I had become. I also finally realized that getting away by myself was essential to overcoming my bipolar depression.
Please share your stories about being a caregiver. My blog is intended to spark a community of support for myself and for others. I would love to share others’ stories, either as a guest blogger or anonymously with my help and your permission to share your story. I want to help others through my experience, creating a community and connecting others with similar struggles.
I am a caregiver.
Now it is time for a sunrise walk on the beach.