Recently, an exhausted caregiver came into my office wanting desperately to understand what well-meaning friends and family meant when they urged her to look after herself. She said that she was confused because, if she looked after herself she was not looking after her loved one, abandoning her role as caregiver and, in her own mind at least, not caring for him. She simply could not do that.
Similarly, she found herself unable to delegate. She said, “If I ask for help, and someone steps in for me, I will not be there for him. I have to be there for him”. She teared up, at a total loss.
Caregivers cannot just set aside their dependents without ceasing to be who they are. They are attendants to someone else’s needs, other-centered, not self-centered. For a caregiver to care for himself is… an oxymoron. He cannot focus on himself. It may not be for a lifetime, but it may well be for the duration of someone else’s life.
Our conversation reminded of what my old mentor, Robert Misrahi, said about responsibility; that it comes from the word respond, to answer. When one answers with one’s heart, it is a complete, whole person kind of experience. It is an embodied gift, not the dry, robotic and rather empty offering which comes from a sense of duty or impersonal obligation.
If you are a caregiver and a friend asks you to look after yourself, explain that you cannot do that right now but maybe your friend can look after you a little so you can continue to be there for someone else.