Adapting to Caregiving
Adapting to Caregiving is Challenging
Caregivers Start on Shakey Ground
Have you seen sandcastles swept out to sea? Houses built on sand have no anchor in the ground to help them stand against waves. They crumble without that foundation. Adapting to caregiving without the background or skills needed has the same feeling as being swept away by a giant wave. Learning by trial and error creates frustration and guilt, often leading to depression and unavoidable harm from errors in judgment or mistakes made that a professional would have prevented. The unprepared caregiver does their best and deserves much credit, but they have been failed by a healthcare system that has given them little support, a huge burden, and often no respect.
Adapting to Caregiving Requires a Foundation
Caregivers need a sturdy foundation that gives them the strength and confidence to survive life’s storms. Without that preparation, they become overwhelmed and feel unprepared when an emergency arises. Their imagined stability comes crashing around them, washing their confidence out to sea like waves pulling sand out from under their feet.
No Time to Prepare for Role
Caregivers often acquire their roles without warning. Adapting to caregiving slowly overtime is not an option. They cannot mentally prepare or attempt to gain fundamental knowledge or skills in advance. While in a state of emotional shock, they must pull themselves together and make life-changing decisions. Sometimes, the person affected can help make the choices, but they must be made alone other times. Their need for knowledge about their legal rights and how to gain access to essential information becomes critical and time-sensitive.
Adapting to Emotional Loss
An important emotional adjustment for all caregivers to make is learning to accept the loss. Right beside that, one is learning to cope with the fear of the unknown.
We must learn to let go of many of the dreams we had for the future. In adapting to caregiving and chronic health conditions, the adjustment often involves permanent loss and limitations with significant changes in abilities. Most of the time, the result is a change in life plans.
Change Doesn’t Have to Be Bad.
We must allow ourselves to grieve the loss and accept the changes that occur. However, as we work our way through the emotional adjustment, it’s also important to realize that the loss of one dream doesn’t mean other dreams can’t rise.
We are not in control of this world. However, God is, and he can take bad things, turn them around, and help bring good out of them.
Not knowing what is ahead can be a serious fear to overcome. For me, learning to rely on Jesus to carry me through the dark days helped me through those difficult times, especially when Lynn was in ICU and when waiting in the emergency room.
As Time Passes, The World Looks Different
“Right Now “
As a caregiver adapts to caregiving, a change occurs in how they look at their world. The caregiver begins to think about “right now” rather than making plans for the future. No longer can they trust that any plans made today will be relevant for tomorrow or possible due to changes in medical status. We have endured so many potentially life-threatening or life-altering events that we know tomorrow is not guaranteed. Life is too unpredictable.
If you make plans, you make plan A and plan b; maybe even plan c because you can be sure you won’t arrive on time. Furthermore, if you made plans, they will change from what they were initially.
Most caregivers “live in the moment” but “store up” for the future. That means we expect nothing to stay the same, and we keep extra supplies of everything we need on hand to keep from running out. We believe in the need to fight against Murphy’s Law. Otherwise, the next time we do wound care, the following might happen. “We will run out of the one essential thing necessary that no one in the area has in stocked, and it’s on back-order for the next three months.”
Getting Over the Shock
Caregivers Feel Unprepared For Journey
Though caregivers come from different backgrounds with diverse histories, most are unprepared for the journey that lies before them when they become caregivers. At first, they need to get over the shock. Immediately after experiencing shock comes feelings of being overwhelmed. Therefore, caregivers share a common bond of being afraid of failure, making a mistake, or causing harm.
Our current healthcare system (or rather our current medical reimbursement system) asks individuals with no experience to take on a nurse’s role with no training and no reference books to take someone home and be successful. Furthermore, they have no one to call for immediate assistance to ask routine “how to” questions about everyday care. Doctors may answer questions about treatment and medicines but not about turning or sitting someone up in bed, which prevents them from sliding down.
We expect these emotionally drained individuals to take medically fragile family members home with minimal instructions and do the best they can. What can happen as a consequence is that we end up with two patients instead of one. We have the original family member who was ill, in addition to the emotionally traumatized family member who develops guilt and remorse if they cannot successfully heal the one sent home when complications ensure.
The abandoned caregiver complies with expectations and accepts responsibility for their family member’s care. Once home, the caregiver alone must figure out what they are supposed to do. What made sense at the hospital now is confusing, and much of it forgotten. Materials needed are not available, and before the night is over, the frightened caregiver is locked in the bathroom in tears.
Maybe that’s too dramatic. However, coming home can seem like moving into a new house—overwhelming and exhausting. Most of all, coming back is plain scary. The caregiver is on their own and afraid of making a mistake.