Over the past two years my Dad has experienced a wave of poor health. These unfortunate circumstances have equated to weekly hospital visits, a series of scary diagnoses, a pacemaker/defibrillator being attached to his heart, and copious amounts of medications stacking up. In addition, he has been hit with a tidal wave of associated stress and anxiety.
And beyond all to all of this, I’ve felt something that I’ve had a difficult time coming to terms with: the idea that my father’s health, had somewhat, off-handedly been affecting my own health. Or at least, I had been allowing it to do so.
I’d felt the parental roles shift at the start of this, as I’m the only person on my Dad’s side of the family that was able to help him for the most part. Almost all of his close relatives live between 50 and 1500 miles away, except for me.
As everything progressed, I’d started to not take care of myself in a multitude of ways. Which had channeled into something that I started to grasp: the concept of compassion fatigue was lurking in my shadow, and it was hitting me hard.
An article by Maryville University’s Nursing Program gives a spot on definition of what compassion fatigue looks and feels like:
“Compassion fatigue, also sometimes referred to as burnout, is when a person gives so much of themselves, to the point of taking the stress into their personal lives, generally not taking care of their own needs, and ultimately leading to the burned-out state of no longer caring.”
This type of mental and physical fatigue occurs is when your own levels of self-care start to dwindle away because you are so focused on taking care of someone you love. It’s important to not ignore the signs of this phenomenon because compassion fatigue can eventually lead to a lack of empathy for the person you care most about, which is exactly what most people would not want to happen.
I have been lacking balance within all of this. Specifically, I’ve been lacking in a way that balances my Father’s need for support with being aware of my own needs. I know that it’s not selfish of me to address my own levels of self-care, but I still struggled with keeping myself healthy.
I had hit some personal barriers because someone who I love immensely is not well.
While I know that these hurdles exist, it doesn’t make them easy to jump, or rather, comprehend and address. So, I recently decided to do some personal research on all of this. Which eventually led me to a resource on the Family Caregiver Alliance website. The helpful article titled, Taking Care of YOU: Self-Care for Family Caregivers made me realize what backtracking byproducts I was creating by not giving myself the care I needed.
I had been losing too much sleep, and not eating enough. I also wasn’t drinking enough water, and at times, was drinking too much alcohol at night. I had stopped exercising. I was even getting physically ill at times, and not staying in bed or taking off work to get better.
Furthermore, a section of the same article titled Identifying Personal Barriers, helped me understand the specific questions I needed to ask myself in order to get over some brick walls I was faced with:
● Do I think I’m being selfish by putting my needs first?
● Is it frightening to think of my own needs? Where is this fear coming from?
● Am I having trouble asking for what I need? Do I feel inadequate for asking?
● Do I feel that I need to prove that I’m worthy taking care of myself right now? Am I doing too much as a result?
These were all difficult questions to ask myself, but they are crucially important to ask. After much reflection on everything that was going on, things started to get better for me.
I started being much more cognizant of my owns basic needs, and learned to accept asking other family members for help and support. I no longer needed to be the sole person helping my Dad. Although his family members live far away, I began to reach out to members of my Mom’s side of the family, thus creating a small network of care for both myself and my Father.
Another lesson I learned through this was that while my parents are divorced, my disconnected family still has a massive amount of love for everyone that’s ever been a part of it. My parents splitting up hadn’t changed this, especially in situations regarding serious health problems.
Taking care of myself actually made me more well-equipped to be there for my Dad. It seems somewhat obvious to me now and even a little bit ironic, but this was truly all an important learning experience for me.
I cannot nurture or help when my own well has run dry. This has been one of the most prolific life lessons I’ve learned and has equated to myself being healthier while simultaneously allowing me to give more care to those I love.