The Caretakers Curse

I often say the two hardest and thankless jobs many of us experience are begin step parents and care takers. They both offer no play book and are most often two critical roles to families.

Care taking comes in many forms and for me personally it came in the form of helping my father after he had several strokes which left him unable to care for himself and live alone. I moved my Dad to an assisted living facility in the state I was living and for 6 years saw him almost every other day assuming management of his day to day needs.

This was one of the hardest jobs of my life to date becoming my parents parent. A role no one ever imagines happening until it does.

  • Most care takers love deeply those they are caring for.
  • Most care takers have no advanced warning of their job.
  • Most care takers make huge life sacrifices in their own lives when taking care of another.

I remember after my Dad had passed and been gone for several weeks and my family was heading to a Sunday afternoon movie when I announced I better call my Dad after the movie because he is probably worried about me and where I have been. My family looked at me with concern reminding me that he had passed weeks ago.

I literally was almost shocked for a second that I did not even remember. All I could think of is all I needed to do for him. I was overwhelmed at that moment how much the stress of care taking had played in my life.

It literally took me 6 full years to heal from my role as a caretaker. I was forced due to my fathers death, but many of us are lucky enough to have this role change due to healing.

When healing happens many caretakers struggle to heal.

It is actually exactly the opposite reality of what you would think would happen. Of course every caretaker wants their loved one to heal. However when it happens they often experience emotions that they never saw coming. This happens on both sides of the equation and often is the hardest part of healing.

Imagine finally healing and yet your caretaker holding you back from living your life.

Truth be told this happens all too often and is another form of a Cultural Collision which I shared in my TEDx talk. The collision happens when the caretaker identifies so strongly with their role and the sickness that defined this outcome they can no longer see the individual for who they are. They only see what brought about the care taking role.

I remember when I started healing from the effects of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) on my body and suddenly did not have at least 9 hours weekly of appointments with my healthcare team. I did not know what to do with myself. For almost 3 decades this was my life and all of a sudden my body no longer needed all of these appointments as my miracle status grew. In addition I realized my social life was somehow tied to my healthcare team too.

It sounds ridiculous, but when I started to heal from MS I lost my identity. I didn't know who I was anymore.

I had grown to identify with my disease and all that it took from my life to live with MS. The same held true for my relationship with my role as my Dad's caretaker. Once he was gone I was still holding on to the role of care taking and somehow forgot my role as his daughter.

This dilemma is one that many who are chronically ill and heal face and it is one of the hardest outcomes of healing. Believe it or not both the caretaker and the healed struggle with letting go. The only difference is when I caretaker does not let the person who heals go back to identifying outside of their illness it creates an almost abusive outcome.

When you are living a caretakers role it is all consuming and often takes everything you have mentally and physically. Little to no down time happens and life becomes all about the sick. Even when healing happens it often comes about slowly with subtle victories until one day BAM a new day appears with hope realized.

I remember the morning I woke up and asked myself if I thought I could live independently for the 1st time. I was healing from the debilitating symptoms from MS and still had a long way to go, but thought I was close enough to be able to care for myself. At my PT appointment that day I asked my PT what she thought.

I remember her initial response was less than favorable. She paused and suddenly began to rattle off all the things I would struggle with doing like cleaning, laundry, lifting, shopping and the list went on. It felt like a knife in my heart. She ignored all the progress I had made and simply focused on what I could not do.

At this time I realized that if I wanted to move and live alone I was going to have to decide and do this on my own 100%. Those who took care of me only saw me as someone with MS and not me as the person I was outside of MS.

The caretakers role removed my person from the equation and this was a huge shock to me and a difficult lesson to learn. No matter what I knew I had to overcome it and begin to live my life.

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So how do you transition from being a caretaker to being free from this role? The truth is the same steps one takes to heal are what the caretaker needs to do.

  • Start loving yourself by giving yourself time to do things that bring YOU joy.
  • Start reminding yourself of your dreams and life goals.
  • Start to begin to transition and have alone time that is not defined as a break from care taking, but a beginning to freedom from this role.
  • Start to believe that hope realized is happening and it is a good thing.
  • Start to take credit for this amazing outcome that created a dream come true.
  • Start to believe in yourself and your loved one.
  • Start to fake it until you make it.

Sadly no one seems to give credit to the role of the caretaker. Most often others cannot see past the healed to those who contributed to this outcome making this job often feel thankless. When this aspect of healing becomes a weight I recommend spending time with a therapist to help you begin to put this into a prospective that does not diminish your role and helps to re-establish your worth outside of care taking.

For those who have healed and struggle growing with your caretaker I ask you to be strong, be bold and be grateful when expressing your desire to move past your sickness and to begin living. These actions are not only necessary for you, but they are critical to the caretakers road to healing as well. Set them free leading by example and making them proud.

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