A hospice trainer related to me how the endless hours of care giving, lack of sleep, length of their spouse’s illness and continual demands, led them to become so angry, pissed and frustrated that they shouted, “will you just die already!” Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Yet, if you’ve been in that situation, you can relate and may even have done something similar.
Regardless of your relationship with the individual, or the type or stage of their illness, here are some things to consider when they are “getting on your last nerve:”
• Assess basic and immediate needs -are you/they hungry, tired or need to go to the bathroom? A therapist told me once that about 80% of interpersonal dynamics can be resolved by this assessment and acting to correct it. In the case above, having caregiver relief would have significantly reduced fatigue and frustration.
• Take a minute and put yourself in their shoes. Are they getting sicker? Is this a new behavior that you haven’t seen before? Are they frightened?
• What’s triggering your negative feelings?
- Are you in over your head? Do you feel you have no control over the situation? Do you feel sorry for yourself? If you answer yes to these questions, you are heading towards caregiver burnout. In fact, take a few minutes and do the on-line “Are you heading for Caregiver Burnout Quiz.
While it may seem trite to hear “take care of yourself,” when you don’t have five minutes to yourself, it’s absolutely critical that you do. Caregiver stress can be particularly damaging, since it is typically a chronic, long-term challenge. You may face years or even decades of caregiving responsibilities. It can be particularly disheartening when there’s no hope that your family member will get better. Without adequate help and support, the stress of caregiving leaves you vulnerable to a wide range of physical and emotional problems, ranging from heart disease to depression. Check out Caregiver Stress and Burnout to learn how to ask for help and where to find it.
- Do you feel they are rejecting or ignoring you? If so, honestly assess the situation. How much do you really need to be involved? Some people want to be left alone, so don’t ignore what they’re saying on this score. Check out They need help, but they refuse it or When you see a need for help but they reject it, what can you do?
-In the case above, not only was the person experiencing caregiver fatigue, but they were also grappling with the fact that they accepted the person’s death and wanted it over. This is very hard for people to talk about because it can make you seem uncaring and even callous. I experienced this with a loved one and I finally came to the realization that the only way I was going to get through it was to live as mindfully as I could in the present and to give myself permission to think of other things. If this is something you are dealing with, seek out people that you can talk to and above all, recognize that you are having a very normal reaction to a very abnormal situation.
• Accept them the way they are. If they’ve always whined, complained and made digs at you, being ill may actually make it worse. Remember you can’t change people, only how you respond to them.
• Keep in mind that being ill is not a permission slip for them to be mean or disrespectful. You do want to understand if there is something wrong, but it’s not okay for them to treat you like a doormat and say,” it’s my illness.” There’s a fine line between being understanding and allowing someone to be rude, inappropriate or abusive because they’re having a bad day, don’t feel well etc.
If they are being inappropriate, you need to discuss it with them. Focus on the issue at hand and don’t hit them with a barrage of criticism.
• If it’s a co-worker: This is a lot more common than many realize. While exceptions are needed to help someone with a chronic condition remain in the workplace, if fellow employees feel that the accommodations are above and beyond what’s required, resentment is likely to follow. In such situations, be very clear what the issues are and be prepared to discuss them with your supervisor. Calmly outline the problem, what you have tried and the need to resolve the situation. Be realistic in your expectations so management does not perceive you as the problem.