”I wanted to sit down and cry and curl up in the corner. I am so scared if I breakdown, I might never recover. Been up 5 times last night with dad, now I have to put on a smile and go to work – so tired and drained of energy.” Part of my diary entry for 10th May, 2007.
So Many Suffer
However, that was not unusual, caregiving is emotionally, physically and psychologically debilitating. I, like so many others, solider on, family needs and financially I had to keep the household going, for all of us.
Working as a criminal psychologist you would think, I would have known about all the drawbacks and dangers of burnout, of course, intellectually I did – emotionally, “I am different, I am OK.” When clearly, I was far from OK. By the 1st of February, 2008 when my father died, I was in pieces, in all areas of my life. I had totally isolated myself even from people I liked. I hardly cried, I carried on doing all the practical things, certificates, notifying people and companies, arranging the funeral, going through his belongings; all on autopilot (though I would not have admitted it at the time), I had all the logical answers, “it was a kind release,” “he is not suffering anymore,” “I am fine, we have been expecting it for a while now,” and many more.
Burnout is so much more than stress
We do not think of this as part of burnout, but it is; numbing feelings good or bad, lack of empathy for yourself and others, devaluation of our own needs and wants, helps us to function on an outward way, but not engage with yourself or others. Building a brick wall, with stainless steel reinforcements around yourself does not happen overnight, nor can it come down quickly either. Not only had I let myself get lost psychologically, I had lost myself physically, gaining a huge amount of weight and finding comfort inside a large chocolate bar, or packet of biscuits. I was quite lucky in this respect, many others resort to alcohol or drugs, which can have even more disastrous consequences.
Nobody is safe
As caregivers, whether professional, voluntary or home-based, we are still human, not a superhero, we need care too. Being kind to yourself, without feelings of guilt is not a luxury, or a weakness, it is a necessity. You cannot do everything, you can only do your best and to be able to do your best for others, you need to do the best for yourself as well.
One of the biggest issues we have as humans is to live without denial, we try to con ourselves and others, but first, we have to be honest and accept we cannot do everything on our own. Be vigilant for changes in you –
Signs to be looking for:
Changes in your moods
Changes in sleep patterns
Changes in your eating (more/less)
Change of your consumption of alcohol, or off the shelf remedies
Changes in your living conditions
Changes in your relationships
Start with the use of prescripted medication or illegal drugs
There are many combinations in this signs increases and decreases, isolating yourself, finding more fault with things and people, awfulizing; when small things get blown up into big grievances, like somebody getting into your parking place at the supermarket, ring any bells?
Burnout takes time
Burnout does not happen overnight, it is a slow creeping process and it can be beaten, if you are aware of what you are looking for; prevention is always preferable to recovery.
It took me over 6 years to talk to anyone about being involved in psychology and 11.5 years to walk into a prison again, not to mention all the pain and heartache of recovery. I am one of the fortunate ones and have made a comeback, many don’t.
Be kind to yourself, look for help and support, I bet you would be the first to give it to somebody else, this time – it is your time.
Take care of yourself, you are worth it.
To know more about Linda Sage and how she can help you https://www.lindasage.com/