Suffering from Caregiver Burnout? My Story

Suffering from Caregiver Burnout? My Story

Are you a caregiver to aging parents?
So am I.

Do you have a passion for helping others?
So, do I.

Have you ever wished it would get easier?
So, have I.

You ever wonder what you would do if an emergency struck
I did.

Have you ever found yourself lying in bed, paralyzed, unable to move?
I have.

Caregiver Burn-Out, it’s Real

Avoid it at all cost. Period. Easier said than done. You and I know that caring for aging parents is demanding. At least that’s what I found, and I discovered that taking on too much responsibility is taxing both physically and emotionally. I mean something must give: work, children, wife, career, you…. something.

We have all heard the statistics about caregivers in Canada. Many of us Canadians are taking on the responsibilities of caregiving:

  • 8 million informal caregivers in Canada, representing 25% of all Canadians.
  • 2 million informal caregivers provide heavy care (20+ hours/week.
  • 6 million of these provide care to a senior (75% of all informal caregivers.
  • 70% of all care to seniors in the community are provided by informal caregivers.
  • Majority of the caregivers is female (54%) and aged 45-64 (44%)

Caring for someone we love can lead to a lot of extra stress. Although we have responsibilities to our loved one, it’s especially important for us to remember not to neglect ourselves. If left unchecked, the stress can lead to depression.

So, what is caregiver burnout?

Caregiver burnout has been described as –a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that may be accompanied by a change in attitude from positive and caring to negative and unconcerned.

Yeah, that sounds about right. After a long journey I finally hit the wall in 2016. After years of doing the back and forth between Europe and Montreal, fighting one emergency after the other, I found myself in a twelve-month nightmare. Mom in palliative Long Term Care, Dad in assistive care, driving back and forth for 10 months.

We all react differently, but we all get affected! Burnout can occur when, as caregivers, we don’t get the help we need, or if we try to do more than we are able to either physically or financially. Many caregivers also feel guilty if they spend time on themselves rather than on their ill or elderly loved ones. Caregivers who are “burned out” may experience fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression.

I felt it all! I had even checked myself into emergency. I thought that I was suffering a heart attack. Only after I scored 95 percent on the treadmill and all my ultrasounds were clean, did I finally accept my daughter’s advice (and many others including my ER doctor) to seek therapy.

Burnout can manifest itself as depression. As caregivers we are so busy caring for others that we tend to neglect their own emotional, physical, and spiritual health. The demands on a caregiver’s body, mind, and emotions can easily seem overwhelming, leading to fatigue and hopelessness — and, ultimately, burnout.

Many people with symptoms of depression don’t describe themselves as feeling depressed. I never did! Some people don’t even recognize the symptoms in themselves, while others may have a hard time admitting they feel depressed. I found it embarrassing to talk about it. After years of being insensitive and unaware of how depression can manifest itself, someone who would (regretfully) say “get a life” when a friend said they were depressed found myself in a state of depression.

An individual may feel like a failure or that people will judge them. But here’s what you need to know: for caregivers, depression is more common than you might think, and it’s a normal response to a difficult situation. It is not unusual for caregivers to develop mild or more serious depression as a result of the constant demands they face while providing care.

Feelings of overwhelm, agitation, anxiety, distress, pessimism, isolation, exhaustion—and sometimes guilt for having these feelings—can exact a heavy toll. Everyone has negative thoughts or feelings that come and go over time, but when these feelings become more intense and leave you drained of energy, tearful or irritable towards a loved one, it may well be a warning sign of depression. Concerns about depression arise when the emptiness and crying don’t go away, or when those negative feelings are unrelenting.

I recently watched The Caregivers’ Club, a touching documentary of three families and their struggles with caregiving. My favourite quote from the documentary is ‘loving someone does not make it easier, it what makes you stay’.

“Relatives of dementia victims call themselves members of ‘the club no one wants to join’. The Caregivers’ Club follows three families — their heartbreak, humour and frustration. It’s thousands of families will be forced to take as Canada ages”.

No matter how difficult it has been, my mom’s end of life journey re-established my faith in true love. The love and tenderness that one person shows to another. After years of hearing my parents nagging each other, at the end they exhibited a tender love that I did not expect. My dad’s inability to visit my mother and my mothers’ loss of her only pillar of support was hard. However, when I took my father to visit my mother, they showed a need to touch and an expression of love that always triggers a smile.

iStatistics Canada. 2012. “Portrait of Caregivers”

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