The Real Reason Caregivers Burn Out

The Real Reason Caregivers Burn Out

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to care for Charles anymore. The simple fact was that she no longer could. Her mental state, her exhaustion, her ability to think and make decisions was so far gone that she was no longer an effective caregiver and advocate for her husband. If she killed herself, someone would be appointed who could take appropriate care of the man she’d loved for over 50 years. It was the only option she could find.

Diane Akerman makes an interesting point in discussing her work with a suicide hotline.

Choice is a signature of our species. We choose to live, sometimes we choose our own death, but most of the time we make choices just to prove choice is possible. Above all else, we value the right to choose one’s destiny.

I considered this idea in relation to the caregiver-recipient dynamic.

As a caregiver, I tried to do everything my mother requested. Without naming it, I was acting on the belief that it was my responsibility to share with her my mental capacity so she could maintain her right to make choices.

While manageable in the short term, this philosophy wasn’t sustainable over time.

Sacrificial giving is appropriate on an occasional basis. Ongoing giving must be done out of our abundance.

Stress is defined as the state in which demand exceeds resources.

Without support in maintaining a balanced focus, a tipping point will come in the caregiver/recipient relationship where all choice has been given to the recipient, and the caregiver no longer has energy or ability to assess whether ‘no’ is an appropriate response. The caregiver has lost choice in her own life, and now is as vulnerable as the one she cares for, perhaps even more so.

Yes, caregivers need rest, need breaks, need services. But more importantly, they need choice.

Ask a caregiver, “What are your options?” If they cite barriers to every possible change, they’re not being difficult. They’ve lost the ability to choose.  it’s time to step in.
photo credit: neonow via photopin cc

When the Bough Breaks

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  • Janet

    ‘Ongoing giving must be done out of our abundance’.
    Love it. Clearly sums it up… Well said bobbi !

  • Tare

    Beautifully written. Great message! What resonates with me most is this; “above all else we value the right to chose one’s destiny”. That quote is timely for me. Love it!

  • Sally Devereux

    Bobbi, I agree that the ability to choose is something that caregivers might lose sight of in their willingness to help. “Love they neighbour as thyself” is a good principle. However, often it is ‘thyself’, the caregiver, who is abandoned. The caregiver often knows what they need – day program, nursing home, respite bed – but what is offered and available falls short or has to be waited for – sometimes for years. I think that this is when caregivers feel that there is no choice available to them. When I have been offered suitable care for my husband, I have jumped at the opportunity for him and for me, the caregiver.

    It is a horrible feeling to be burning out and ‘help’ that is offered does not feel like help. We need to broaden the options for those who need care while still in their homes with a family caregiver. I am so grateful for the CHOICE program which fits our needs well. It took a long time to even hear about this program and it is by medical referral only.

    I no longer feel burnt out, though my own health has suffered. Now that I am able to take better care of myself, the caregiver, I am happy to help ‘my neighbour’, my husband.

  • LOIS

    Very insightful, Bobbi.

  • Mrs Janette Faulkner

    Yes, you have hit the nail on the head Bobbi, there does come that tipping point where the caregiver has given all choice to the recipient and has lost their strength and ability to choose to say no. “Love thy neighbour as thyself” implies a constant balance. The less we have for ourselves the less we have for our neighbour. We must fill up before we can empty ourselves. If we do not decide to fill up in a healthy way then we will start taking from those who do not have anything to give. If we cannot give cheerfully then we must be empty and need time to take care of ourselves. It seems so selfish to say “No, I am sorry, but my well is dry; I must take the time to fill up.” But it is the crucial half of God’s Command. And that brings us to your question, ‘What options do I have?’ The answer has to be community. We are not in this alone although it might feel like it. I find this helpful Bobbi even in my own small world of giving and taking. As long as I am taking from Jesus and His infinite supply of love and grace then I am giving to others what they need. And taking from Jesus involves spending time with Him and engaging in creative activity and discerning which resources that He flows through.

  • Bobbi

    Thank you everyone for your thoughtful comments. I find myself speaking more and more on this subject, and your input is expanding my understanding. You’re willingness to share is greatly appreciated.