Things I Wish I Knew When Caring for A Sick Loved One
When caring for a sick loved one, one question always lingers in my mind: who is caring for the caregivers?
When my mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2014, I was hit with the difficulties of caring for a sick loved one that I never knew before. Apart from having to navigate the devastating news, the challenges that come in caring for my sick mother is another. It was a tough time for my whole family and at that time. Each one of us dealt with it in the best way we knew how. Looking back, there were some things we could have done better. So, in light of that, here are a few things I wish I knew when caring for a sick loved one.
1. It’s completely normal to feel challenged emotionally
When my mom got sick, I remember how everyone in the family (including me) were dismissive of our feelings because we wanted to be there for our mom. Because she was the sick one, the rest of us were forced to be strong at that time. Whatever we were feeling, we had to suck it up. It even felt like saying we were tired was a big sin. As a result of dismissing our emotions, we all became angsty and irritated with each other. Looking back at it, I realised that we were all experiencing compassion fatigue.
Compassion fatigue is when we become extremely exhausted as a result of catering to other people. Had I known about this before, I would tell myself to stop feeling guilty and belittling my negative feelings. Just because your loved one is having it hard, doesn’t mean you can’t have a hard time too.
2. Change my perspective on someone’s suffering
Here’s the thing about being an empath. You can’t help but absorb the energy that the people around you gave and make it your own. I learnt the hard way that you can be empathetic without carrying the heavyweight of someone else’s sufferings. Instead of feeling someone’s pain, the correct thing to do is think about how the person is feeling.
Being extremely empathic will take a toll on your mental health. This will then translate to your physical health too. You don’t have to carry their emotions for them to show that you are empathetic. Sometimes, all they need is just a presence by their side and someone to listen.
3. Every little help counts
One thing you should understand is that everyone has a different mental capacity. Some people can afford to offer more help than others, but that does not mean one is greater than the other. Giving help in small little ways is as important as helping in big ways. You are doing the best that you can under the circumstances that you are in. So, stop feeling guilty for not being able to do more! Moreover, don’t let other people guilt trip into thinking that you are not doing enough.
In a tough situation like this, it is important to have compassion and understanding. However, if you feel like you are not helping out as much as you should, reach out to the rest of the caregivers and family members and tell them about your mental capacity. That way, you can discuss and plan a more efficient solution and no one will have to feel guilty.
4. Make sure you have an outlet
Things can get frustrating really quickly. So, make sure you have somewhere to release your frustrations or someone to listen to your feelings. It is okay to vent once in a while, as this will prevent you from keeping your feelings bottled up. Other than venting, creating an outlet also means setting up boundaries. Don’t be afraid to set up personal boundaries or let your loved one know that your boundaries are at their limit.
Discuss your boundaries with your family members and sick loved ones. The person you care for might retaliate for a moment. But sooner or later, they will see that just because you have set up some personal boundaries does not mean you will stop taking care of them.
5. Don’t feel guilty for feeling content
No matter how devastating your situation is, you are still allowed to be happy. Life goes on and you are allowed to live it according to your ways! Don’t feel guilty for trying to embrace life and cope with it in whatever ways you want to. As long as it does not cause harm to yourself or other people, you can be happy. Just because your loved one is sick does not mean your life stops.
So, keep moving on with your life as best as you can. Plus, if there is something good happening in your life, don’t be afraid to celebrate it! Just like how you are not supposed to dismiss your negative feelings, you should not dismiss your positive feelings too. No matter how small it is, if it brings you joy, you are allowed to feel happy about it.
6. Make an effort to explore and connect with the person’s interest
When caring for a sick person, it is easy to get stuck in the roles of caregiver and patient. That is one of the main causes why you will feel exhausted. To combat that, find a common activity that you can do together!
When my mom was sick, she developed an enormous interest in cooking shows (specifically My Kitchen Rules). So, in my free time, I would watch them with her and share in the experience. After watching one of the episodes, she had a craving for chicken rice. She mentioned that based on her “thorough research”, one shop has the best chicken rice. So, I went to the shop and bought some for us to try! We had fun tasting the food together. And just like that, we created one fond memory together that I will never forget for the rest of my life. This also goes to show that even though your loved one is sick, they still want to enjoy life as best as they could.
Feeling burned out while caring for others is normal and it’s okay if you feel so. What’s more important is you find ways to cope with them without feeling guilty. While you are giving compassion to the person you’re caring for, don’t forget about self-compassion.
Learn to understand the importance of forgiving yourself for the mistakes you will make along the way and don’t feel guilty for trying to continue living your life.
Here’s to all the caregivers in the world. You are doing amazing and you are loved.