When mental illness, physical illness or extreme circumstances hit our families, it is likely that the care of those who suffer will fall on the shoulders of one or a few carers. The role is taken on out of love, and yet it will come as a certain change in direction and identity for the carer.
It can feel that the rest of the world moves on from the incident or tragedy that brought them into the role as carer. And yet, for the carer, the world can feel like it suddenly stopped spinning on its usual axis, and spun out of control or out of usual orbit. That feeling does not necessarily come to a neat resolution. Nor does a sense of normality and control break through.
Many carers will not talk about this, preferring not to burden other people with their “stuff”. They may also have fatigue over telling the story over and over again. Yet alienation, grief and loss for a life anticipated (both for themselves their loved ones), profound physical and emotional exhaustion and the resentment-guilt cycle is a reality for most carers.
If you know someone who is a carer, we can help to ease the pathways to burnout by:
1. Listening without judgement. A carer does not intentionally want to sound negative, helpless or hopeless. It is the reality of not being able to see from moment to moment how things are going to turn out. Just being able to voice this can be a tremendous relief.
2. Ask what they need. We can’t assume to know what a carer may be feeling, and therefore we can’t presume to know what they need. It may not be the right time for a visit, or for providing practical assistance
3. Normalise the normal: Check in as if they were still the person you know, and not the role they perform. A note, a message, a walk, a movie, a tender touch or hug if they ask for it. This helps someone who is caring for others anchor in the knowledge that they are still remembered and seen for who they are.
Valerie Ling, MClin Psych, BA(Hons), MAPS, Clinical Psychologist has a passion for helping people find their voice and continue to write their life’s story. Committed to prevent burnout and empowering individuals to life an effective life, she is the Director and Founder of The Centre For Effective Living.