Maria set the two-foot pile of papers down on her desk, threw a cursory glance at her computer screen as she grabbed her purse, and she hurried to the elevator. Mia, Maria’s youngest, had another fever and could not attend physical therapy this morning. Maria exited the elevator. Luis wanted to practice driving tonight after baseball practice. Maria got into her vehicle. Calling on Maria for chaperone duties, Rosa wanted to have her one true love over to watch a movie tonight and, at the age of fourteen, missing such a date would totally ruin her life. Maria turned right onto Peachtree road and started battling traffic. Before Luis could use the car, Maria had to get her father, Carlos, to his chemotherapy, a necessary evil secondary to prostate cancer. After being cut off in traffic, Maria laid on her horn and swore. Andrew, Maria’s husband, would already be on the baseball field managing a team of eighteen teenage boys. This left her mother, Lucia, at home alone with a disgruntled toddler. Including Maria’s parents, the family of seven lives together in a small three bed, two bath home in the suburbs. The rest of the drive home was a blur, with Maria operating on autopilot.
This was Maria’s post-work routine: worry, drive, think more and drive faster. As a second-generation immigrant, she felt an intangible pull between honoring her heritage, and her Americanized husband and kids. It was something that greatly concerned Maria’s parents, who wanted the third-generation immigrants to not disregard their ancestry. As such, both of her teenagers spoke Spanish and regularly attended family gatherings. Mia would learn Spanish, but she would have different challenges than her older siblings. Born with spina bifida, Maria’s youngest would have to handle a life-long spinal cord condition which included paralysis. Lucia was able to watch Mia in the afternoon, but the child’s grandmother dealt with anxiety and could not be responsible for the little one for more than an hour or two. With her parents aging and kids coming up, Maria certainly understood what the sandwich was like.
Each morning started at 5:30AM as she readied the children for school or daycare, she kissed Andrew good-bye as he left for work, and she hurried to the office, arriving no later than 7:30AM daily because she had to leave by 3:30PM to address family concerns. At work, Maria was swamped, but she was dedicated and stayed on schedule with her tasks, partially because she took work home on the weekends. Her boss was understanding, but Maria was constantly consumed by her job stability. This pattern was mentally, emotionally, and physically taxing. Every evening, Maria was exhausted, and, after putting the children to bed, catching up on work, and not seeing Andrew until nearly midnight. She was completely drained. She generally fell asleep after her husband got home, and Maria would be up early in the morning again to help Mia stretch, dress, and assist with other personal care needs. Andrew would transport Mia to the Shepherd Center for therapy before dropping the young girl off at daycare. Maria would help Rosa pick out her outfit and assist Luis with last minute homework remembrances. On her lunch break, she had to take her mother to therapy and, directly after work, Maria was scheduled to take her father for a follow-up with his oncologist. Then dinner, kid’s bedtime, work, Andrew, sleep…wash, rinse, repeat. But Maria is not truly cleansing.
In these responsibilities and concerns, there seems to be little space for Maria. She appears consumed with caring for family, from supporting her parents to wrangling her children. Additionally, Maria is on the verge of overwhelm concerning her job and the number of hours and weekends away from her family. Maria operates as the primary caregiver in her family, but this role left her isolated and, eventually, resentful. Being overloaded can lead to caregiver fatigue. This type of weariness can occur when the person doing the assisting needs to help themselves after being worn down with no repass. Going down this road can not only affect the caregiver, but her family and work as well. Maria could benefit from space, more autonomy, and, importantly, self-care. She needs space so that she can breathe, collect herself in between responsibilities. Further, more autonomy may allow to accomplish her own ambitions. Finally, self-care for Maria might involve time away from family, not working weekends, or trying to find time to spend with her partner.
Caregiver fatigue is a completely natural deterioration of motivation to provide care. After time and depending on the level of care provided, caregivers can get overwhelmed, even downtrodden. Sometimes caregivers are forced or choose to subvert their own needs in deference to aiding others. There is no specific amount of caregiving or predetermined duration of care which may indicate potential for burnout or fatigue. At some point, every caregiver, regardless of how nurturing the person’s disposition, has the potential to experience fatigue. This in no way reflects the love or caring genuinely felt by the caregiver. However, when called upon to providee more and more over time, individuals can begin to feel less enthusiastic, and more anger or apathy.
At this point of burnout, the caregiver needs to employ self-care, or the entire family could be impacted.
Self-care is important for everyone, but especially for someone experiencing high stress, anxiety, or fatigue. Without self-care, and with repeated exposure to draining circumstances, tension mounts both within and without a person. Caregiver fatigue can create rifts in relationships, further resentment, or perpetuate strife in the family unit. Discovering how to relax and unwind is critical. Dedicate time for mindfulness exercises, purposeful breathing, or just time to appreciate nature or exercise. While obviously not an exhaustive list of possible self-care practices, activities like these can reduce stress. Caring for yourself is meant to recharge not only your energy, but also empathy. So, the mentality of “I love you to death” is too close to “I’ll sacrifice my well-being for yours”. This frame of mind is self-less, giving, and kind. However, it is not sustainable. “I love us enough to care for you and me,” may be a healthier mindset.
Are you battling burnout? Click HERE to learn more about the Wellview services available to you. We are here to support you!
– Richard DeBord
M.S. Clinical Rehabilitation Counselor, Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC), Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC)
Mental Health Specialist | Email Richard