You Need Recognition Too!

2015 December 22

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 provides care to another eventually experiences burnout.  Burnout is the inescapable side effect of caring for someone we love.  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 differentiate 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.  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 can you talk about accomplishments when your loved one is still ill?”  

“How can you measure your performance when care shouldn’t be measured—it’s just something you do?” 

“How can you reward yourself when your work has no end date?”

But what others fail to realize is that if we don’t mark our daily triumphs, we are more likely to feel like our unending, daily efforts are meaningless. And if we feel like our efforts are unworthy of self-acknowledgement, we will inevitably feel more exhausted, have less patience, be more prone to depression, be less likely to spend time in the company of others, let alone give ourselves permission to engage in activities that might recharge us.

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 shouldn’t be 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 create our own measure for 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 (or can) fully appreciate. 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.

Our measures shouldn’t be designed to impress others nor do they have to be about outcomes, they should be designed to help remind us of why we caring for someone we love:

I smiled today.

I allowed myself the luxury of enjoying my coffee next to my loved one.

I picked up the medication before the pharmacy closed. 

I  paid bills that I had been putting off because I hadn’t had time before.

I answered a phone call from a friend whom I hadn’t talked to in a while, and I gave myself permission to allow her to bring food over next week. 

Care and physical exhaustion are often 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. Let’s start now…

5 Responses leave one →
  1. December 23, 2015

    This is beautiful. Thank you so much! Sharing on my facebook page The Caregivers’ Living Room and on twitter @thomsod. Let’s keep in touch – we think alike! Merry Christmas 🙂

  2. December 24, 2015

    Thank you for sharing!!

  3. Ann permalink
    December 28, 2015

    I cannot thank you enough for this website.

  4. December 28, 2015

    Thanks so much for the support and participation in the Unprepared Caregiver community.

  5. December 28, 2015

    Thanks again for the support, Donna. I very much appreciate your work and contributions. Best.

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