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How do we keep our Identity while caring for others? 
Started by NatR
07 Sep 2012, 4:55 PM

I would love to hear from others using this website and forum.  I am a caregiver, I find it overwhelms me on a lot of days.  

How do you push caregiving and your loved one to the back of your mind so you can give yourself a bit of care?

It's easy for us all to say.,..and its important to do...but I am having trouble following the advice that I know is good.  Take care of the Caregiver.

I often feel like I lose who I am...and my Caregiver role and my feeling of being on duty takes over.  I am working on that.  I spend time with friends, make dates to see a new movie, especially a comedy or something that will take me out of the present.  Even time outdoors is great..but often the mind wants to keep rolling that "caregiving" tape...you know, did I remember everything, things like that keep popping up.

Also, when you do family caregiving, there is never an "off-Duty" time...you feel the responsibility over the whole day and evening, even if you are off duty

Would really like to hear others share their experiences.  Thanks and best wishes,
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Reply by Cath1
08 Sep 2012, 1:26 PM

Hi NatR:

Thank you for starting this important thread on Virtual Hospice! I hope others will contribute their ideas and thoughts on this subject as well.

The caregiving role consumes much of a person's life if one has been actively caring for another for any length of time, as have you. For some people, caring for a loved one is an all consuming labour of love and in certain circumstances people naturally begin to feel that being a caregiver is who they are rather than something they do for another.

Unlike you, NatR, I have never in my life been a caregiver in an extraordinary situation, a situation that has absorbed my life 24/7 and that felt never-ending, although I have been a caregiver 24/7 at times, I could always see the light at the end of the tunnel and I knew my role was temporary in the event of a crisis even though the underlying issues were always present and I knew I would be expected to give care again in the future many times over.

I do understand how you worry and how hard it is for you to let go of the caregiving role  you so strongly identify with even when your loved one is not in your presence. You have likely assumed this caregiving role for a very long time, but perhaps with a new perspective you can begin to see yourself again as mainly, NatR and not mostly as a caregiver. Perhaps in the future you will see caregiving as something you do and not as  as the special someone you are. 

My identity is first and foremost, just me. As a very young child I saw myself as simply a girl, a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a niece, a cousin, a friend. I had a strong sense of myself and my own identity from as far back as I can remember. Others cared for me as I was dependent upon them for love and care.

In my later childhood years I morphed by necessity into the carer role for my Mom. Her mental illness required me to take on that responsibility. The caregiving role is a responsibility that someone fulfills for the sake of another's well-being and by its very nature it requires a certain amount of sacrifice on the part of the stronger and more able person. Caregiving can be a short-term or long-term involvement or even a lifetime commitment, but when one is caring for another for a very long period of time I think it is only natural to add "caregiver" to the list of personal identifiers of one's personality and character.

Sometimes life's circumstances simply dictate who will step into the caregiving role, as happened in my case. When I was a young girl, in my family I was the chosen one as there was no one else my Mom trusted to assume the responsibility and I felt very protective of her. I also needed to feel some sort of control in the situation where I know now, I clearly had none. I wanted to help alleviate the suffering of my mother and by doing so I also hoped to help myself and my brothers to feel safe and secure in the world again.

For me, I had no choice but to care for my Mom as I am not able to ignore a loved one's need and I know I could not live with myself if I did. While understandably human, that view borders on martyrdom though and I am not a fan of martyrs!:-) I have worked through my conflicted feelings about caregiving over the years and have rejected any temptation to assume the martyr role. My Mom's dignity depended upon the fact that I never made her feel like I was helping her and I was always sensitive to this possibility. It's a fine line we walk any time we give of ourselves to another and I think its important to acknowledge what we gain as a caregiver along with what we give. For me the consciousness of the give and take element in any relationship allows me to live with a clear conscience. I think it is so important to care genuinely when one does and to give what one truly has at their disposal to give - nothing more, nothing less. 

Feeling guilty when one's human limitations affect one's capacity to give care to another is unfair and in my opinion unwise as caregiving requires that we first honour our truest selves and our own needs. One cannot help another if one is empty of compassion and care for oneself. We need to keep the flow going of caring for oursleves and others. We are each and all capable of giving and we are each and all deserving of care.

Caregiving can have a negative aspect to it if we are not careful and aware of the traps. There is something in the nature of one who carries out the caregiving role that seems to dictate the choice. Sometimes it is simply a matter of who is available and willing to do it. Not everyone can or will give care to another as not all people have the same qualities and strengths. 

I have always resisted the limitation of singular labels because we are much more than any one role we happen to assume. Later in my life as an adult I had a husband and we were blessed with four children. As my life progressed I was blessed with my three grandchildren, all of whom I have happily cared for in the past and continue to care for when needed, but I am not needed to actively care for anyone very often these days. I see myself as a woman, a mother, a grandmother, a friend who happens to have been and will be again at times a caregiver. I had never defined myself as solely a caregiver and when I look back on my life I would never have described myself primarily by that term, even when thinking about my late Mom.

Mothering is a part of my innate temperament and as a child I had I mothered my older brothers long before I had kids of my own!:-) Nurturing my children came naturally to me as I suspect it does for most mothers. Caregiving is a part of who I am, but it is not all of who I am all of the time.

I hope you will find a way to be NatR and a caregiver and all the other wonderful aspects of you! Your responsibilities have been and may continue to be immense when caring for your loved ones NatR, but you need to be able to focus only on you at each opportunity that presents itself or you will burn out and you cannot help anyone should that happen. Caring for others begins with caring for you!:-) Give yourself the freedom to care for yourself just as you so compassionately and selflessly care for others and those of whom you especially love. Just do it - and please, do it for you - guilt-free! You need not lose yourself by caring for others as caregiving is a privileged part of who you are and who you will become. It is your gift.

With affection -hugs -xo

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Reply by NatR
10 Sep 2012, 5:17 PM

Thanks so much Cath1 for your input and your experiences.  It really helps to share the stories.  Then I dont feel so alone.  It does make a difference.

I got an email the other day...an item about this very topic so I am going to post the link here in hopes that it will be of help to others.  I did read it also:)


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Reply by Cath1
10 Sep 2012, 7:33 PM

Thanks so much, NatR!

I shared the article in my group and via Twitter. It brings a caregiver message that needs to be heard!

With affection -hugs- xo
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Reply by NatR
31 Oct 2012, 3:19 PM

Hi everyone, time to add another post to this thread.  Keeping your Identity while giving your energy to someone in need - its a balancing act.

Some days you may do better than others.
It might be helpful to keep a log, a journal and not only for your caree, but for yourself.  I am an on again, off again kind of recorder of my life - but it honestly helps to put down on paper...just how many things you do every day for others...then you can really see how effective and important you are to someone in need.

Whether it is your partner, family member or a friend...whether you work in the field or fell into the field because of a diagnosis, a sudden injury or accident, or condition....its the same for us all.

Caregivers do forget about themselves.  At the end of the day they breathe a sigh of relief when their duties are done, their energy is spent.

Unfortunately when you live and breathe caregiving there will come a time when your body and mind says...Enough!

Before that moment hits you, please give yourself a hug and some consideration.

Without YOU, your caree or client is at a loss
Without YOU, your caree has limited mobility, limited quality of life

WITH YOU, your caree has an enlarged world, a bigger piece of the pie, laughter, comfort, affection, warmth, good meals, sharing programs on tv, games at the kitchen table, or even listening to music to warm the heart.  ALL of these things happen because of YOU

So, when you see what a huge impact you have on others you realize, I hope you will, that your energy needs to be restored, your batteries repowered.
Take good care of YOU....your patient, partner, careee, whomever...Loves and Needs YOU.

Please think about this and let other caregivers know just how important they are.

A lesson learned...Balance is important.
PS...Energy is renewable resource, so renew yours today:) plug in to something fun for you - and keep on giving;)

Best wishes to all caregivers who struggle daily ....you are making a difference
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