You Need Recognition Too!
It’s one of those experiences that will happen, no matter how much we don’t want it to occur or how much we think it won’t happen to us. Even though it’s seldom talked about, anyone who gives care to another eventually experiences burnout. Burnout is the inescapable side effect of caring for another who is ill and won’t necessarily recover. One reason why we, as caregivers, are so prone to experiencing burnout is because of the 24-hour, 7-day a week cycle of care that too often unfolds without a sense of accomplishment to mark one day from the next, one week from the next, let alone one hour from the next.
In almost every other aspect of our lives, we give ourselves the luxury of having measurable goals of daily accomplishment and definable objectives. Marking work goals and accomplishments allows people to make sense of their day —“I did great today” or “Wow, I really worked hard today” or “I’m almost done with the project” or “It sure is nice to know that I can cross that off my list now that it’s completed.”
Having definable goals and objectives also motivates us. It pushes us to get up extra early or stay later at work. Goals and measures also help us pace ourselves. We tell ourselves, if I can only get through this day and fulfill today’s objectives, then I know that I can take a deep breath and pat myself on the back for a job well done.
So why is it that as caregivers, we don’t allow ourselves the benefit of acknowledging our daily accomplishments? We rarely allow ourselves to talk or think in terms of tangible goals because we convince ourselves that having goals and measures of accomplishment would seem so strange to outsiders. “How could you ever think of goals”, most people would say, “when your loved one isn’t going to recover?” “How can you have any measure of your performance when care can’t be measured—it’s just something you do?” “How can you have a goal when your care won’t make your loved one any better?” “How can you reward yourself for your work when your loved one is still ill?”
But what these people fail to realize is that someone who cares for another without goals will inevitably feel worn out if they feel like their unending, daily efforts are meaningless. And anyone who feels like their efforts are unworthy of acknowledgement will inevitably feel more exhausted, have less patience, be more prone to depression, and be less likely to spend time in the company of others, let alone engage in social activities that might recharge them.
As caregivers, if we don’t give ourselves permission to mark our daily accomplishments, then we are like runners who run endlessly, without mile markers, with no watch to pace our efforts and energy, and no destination to propel our bodies forward even when we feel like stopping.
You’re right, caregiving is different than most jobs. And yes, you’re right, there is no objective measure that will let us close our eyes at night knowing with complete confidence that we “did a good job.” And no, unfortunately (and tragically) few people will tell us that we are doing a good job because care is too often thought of as something that is private—something to be done behind closed doors that is not talked about in public. Caregiving is something that saints do, people tell us. Caregiving is something that some people are simply better at than others, others remind us. Caregiving is just something that you do when you love someone, we remind ourselves.
But they are wrong. And we are wrong too. We need to measure our daily caregiving accomplishments. We need to reward ourselves for what we do from one day to the next, from one hour to the next, that no one else will (can) notice. We don’t need to recognize ourselves to simply pat ourselves on the back. No, we need to recognize our efforts and our momentary triumphs because if we don’t, we are leading ourselves down the road to burnout. And when we feel burned out, we can’t care for another, let alone for ourselves.
Care and physical exhaustion are synonymous, but sometimes, our thoughts can make us even more exhausted by deluding us into believing that the care we give in the darkness of the night and in the privacy of our homes isn’t worthy of recognition. It is. It should be. It can be. It must be.