Self Caring

Know Your Caregiver Limits

Last updated: Sep 29, 2010

frog in a pot 1

Caregiver Quote of the Week: "A caregiver is like a frog in slowly boiling water"¦You don't always recognize what's happening to you."

The speaker is a New York City caregiver whose husband has Alzheimer's disease. She's talking about how the demands of caregiving sneak up on you.

She's right. At the same time, though, we're not frogs: We have the power to pay attention to the [red flags a caregiver needs a break] ( and find ways to lower the water temperature. Or we can hop out of the hot seat every once in awhile by finding relief (respite) care before we boil alive.

More ways to avoid burnout? Remember these few other things a caregiver is not:

I am not a robot.

I need to eat, drink, bathe, sleep!! I also need to have time alone to think/plan/dream/cry. My schedule can't be entirely about the other person or I will soon be in need of a caregiver myself. (So I need to help the people in my life understand this.)

I am not an octopus.

I can do one or two things at a time, but not six or eight. Even if it sometimes looks like I can. That is a temporary illusion, usually in a crisis. (It can't be kept up indefinitely because no, I'm not a magician, either.)

I am not a visitor from another time dimension.

I only have the same number of hours in my day as everybody else. If I "burn the candle at both ends," I burnout.

I am not a professional caregiver.

Most of us aren't, and yet we're doing jobs for which we have no training or preparation. No wonder it's stressful. And yes "“ even the "professionals" I know "“ nurses, care managers, home health aides, physicians "“ who are caring for a loved one will tell you their training and experience can feel different when applied to a family member. I can learn fast and be proud of what I manage -- but if even the pros flail and worry about their own loved ones, then of course it's natural the rest of us should.

I am not God.

My decisions aren't the ultimate determinants of my loved one's fate. I can only do so much"¦and then it's out of my hands. I can't blame myself for the outcome if I fail to do one small thing or another"¦or don't consult one more super specialist...or pick a "wrong" care decision"¦or let someone else step in for me. I'm not "jinxing" anything by calling in palliative services or hospice care if it's recommended. Despite doing my best, I'm just a team player here.