Caregiving. Being a caregiver. What does that mean exactly? For each of us, it could mean something different.  Many people do not recognize the role they are in until they are short of breath.

In so many situations caregiving can be called to the table: when a child is born with a handicap, when a parent is ailing, when a friend struggles with addiction, when a brother has a car accident, when a spouse is always the one counted on to do a certain task, when a family member or friend is sick in the hospital-bound to a bed and requires support not just through a physical presence but also emotional support and the list goes on and on.

Through a crisis, over time, or on-the-regular caregiving touches all of us. Some people have caregiving innately running through their veins, while others struggle right from the beginning and have difficulty to know how to do a simple task or to find the proper words. In the end, we all have a sense of caregiving within us and that it comes to the surface in a variety of ways.

Let’s just dive into what caregiving can be in terms of specific tasks or acts of kindness for a person in need and/or a person we care for:

  • A parent giving their toddler a bath
  • Doing the laundry for the family
  • Cutting the grass for an elderly neighbour
  • Staying late at the hospital to consult with medical staff for a friend or family member who can not advocate for themselves, or perhaps they can but being accompanied is the better approach
  • Pushing a wheelchair during a social outing
  • Cutting the food on someone’s plate if they have limited dexterity
  • Helping a friend get home safe after a rough night out
  • Coordinating someone’s calendar with medical appointments as well as social outings
  • Driving and accompanying a loved one to go vote

All the things that life brings on and where there is a challenge or a limitation for someone to complete a task, as someone steps in to help accomplish that task.  If we boil down “caregiving” …showing up in time and space to share or offer an act of kindness through raw love and appreciation for the ones around us.

Caregiving can be fulfilling and quite rewarding, at times it can be very draining and overwhelming and at times it can be debilitating to the point of making us run from it.

The times we often muscle through caregiving is when we see the light at the end of the tunnel or when we know that this is the role we need to do, and we are the one being called to the table to do this. The example of a child who will always need care and has a dependency on the people around them who will never fly with their own wings represents a long-term type of caregiving because it alters a mode of life as the support team navigate through what they must for years.

When caregiving comes with a major change in a relationship, this can cause a lot of ruptures and lots of ambiguous loss.  An example here is when an aging parent faces a loss of autonomy, deals with brain change or faces a new physical limitation. Often our parents, including our selves, have gained a bit of distance from each other since childhood.  Children move do create their own life, as parents age they create their own new bubble as a couple or in their own independence. When change occurs and we wish to accompany during a moment of need this type of caregiving can come in to rattle everyone’s cage. We want to be there for our parents, but they may not know how to let us in, or we might not know exactly how to say or do things. Our inner child may be saddened by the change in our guide or idol who may not be able to provide guidance anymore and on the other hand, our elderly parent may be disappointed in how life has unfolded for them.  If our parents now need help, often we are adding a slice of life to an already full plate.

Here are ways that caregiving can add up over time:

  • Fatigue
  • Loss of knowing how
  • Social isolation
  • Ruptures in families and relationships
  • Loss of income due to absenteeism
  • Change in eating habits as one forgets their owns needs
  • Lack of sleep
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

When help is required it is always hard to put our hand to ask for help, though when a friend or a family in need puts up their hand we usually go to their side. As a caregiver, it becomes hard to see that we need help ourselves. Aspects to pay attention to when caregiving starts to become heavy for you:

  • Your level of patience runs out of its own patience
  • Your humour becomes jagged
  • Your sleep is disturbed
  • Your weight or eating habits fluctuate
  • Your breath is irregular which causes your nervous system to be out of whack where you can not find an inner calm anymore
  • Work is starting to wonder how you are going to make it through
  • When friends share words of kindness towards your wellbeing, they mean it…pay attention to their words and advice because they want good for you as they take on their own role of caregiving towards you!

Caregiving is wide and broad role and touches us all. You are not alone in this because it takes a village to raise all of us — reach out to the people around you when the fog gets too thick for you to handle it by yourself or when you can not see. Word of advice is not to wait too long to use your voice to share how you are feeling and what you are needing.

Helping Seniors specializes in accompanying seniors through challenging times in life. There is often a team of caregivers, like you, offering support. No one said it was easy. You are not alone. Reach out if you want to vent, to help gain a better vision by talking through a situation or simply need a safe space to be heard. Call us. There is no shame in putting your hand up and asking for help.