By Aaron Yukich on behalf of the CSL Team
My partner’s care needs are increasing and I’m starting to feel overwhelmed. We are currently eligible for home care support two days a week but the rest of the time we’re on our own. Currently, I help with my partner’s care needs, cook all the meals, drive to appointments, do the shopping and the list goes on. I’m tired and frustrated and I feel like I’m coming up short. Is it really meant to be this hard? Is there anything I can do?
Feeling Tired and Overwhelmed
Dear Feeling Tired and Overwhelmed,
For many caregivers, feelings of being overwhelmed, frustrated, and alone in the caregiving experience are all too common. Our current healthcare system is yet to reach a place of being able to address and coordinate the wide range of supports needed by care recipients and caregivers alike. Treating a medical condition is one thing but providing whole-person care to an individual as well as the accompanying needs of their caregiver(s) is something else altogether. The good news is that with a bit of planning, it is more than possible to create a well-rounded support network that can transform a frustrating and draining caregiving experience into a much more sustainable and meaningful one.
At FCBC we encourage caregivers to create a ‘circle of care for caregivers’, an informal support team made up of caring friends, family, and community members that come together to provide for the wide range of support needs experienced by care recipients and their primary caregiver(s). We are social beings, and our need for supportive relationships becomes that much more important when we are faced with challenges in our lives. This is especially true for people who feel isolated or experiencing their own health concerns. While friends and family may be our natural go-to when building a circle of care for caregivers, we also encourage caregivers to expand their circle by seeking support from any other community members they may engage with. This could include co-workers, members of our faith-based congregation, or people you may know through a club or association.
Circles of care aren’t a new concept and have existed as integral parts of indigenous cultures for millennia. Built-in support systems occur naturally within close-knit communities and multigenerational family households, however in Western modern culture, most people live within small nuclear family units, as couples, or on their own. Most of us no longer live in households with an integrated support system, and so we must now invite a circle to be formed around us. It is an intentional process, and one that draws on our intrinsic nature as human beings to support one another in times of need.
Our approach at FCBC is that a circle of care for caregivers is built around a multi-dimensional concept of wellness, providing for the physical, social, environmental, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual dimensions of health. The caregiver is positioned in the center of the circle and determines who gets invited in. Each member of the circle takes on a set of responsibilities that can range from preparing meals to driving to appointments, to providing companionship and/or respite support.
For caregivers who may have fewer friends or family members nearby, they can still call on support from a distance for things like providing a friendly phone call to the care recipient or assisting with scheduling appointments. Every minute of the caregiver’s time that is freed up provides an opportunity for them to look after their own needs, be it connecting with a friend, doing an activity they enjoy, or simply taking the time to rest.
When creating a circle of care for caregivers, it can be helpful to assign one member to be the coordinator of the group. The coordinator can take charge of scheduling regular meetings and keeping track of who is doing what and when. This can save a tremendous amount of the caregiver’s energy as information and updates can be channeled through one individual rather than many. We recognize that many people’s circles may be smaller and that individual caregiver preferences may vary, so assigning someone else as the coordinator may not always be the way to go.
Caregiving is very personal, especially when it is happening in your own home, so it is normal to have some initial resistance to asking for help. However, when we gather the courage to share our experience and allow others to get involved, we not only open our homes to much-needed support, but we also open our hearts to meaningful connections and a sense of community. We all know the saying it takes a village to raise a child, and it’s important that we consider extending this concept to all caregiving situations, regardless of age.
If you’d like to learn more about creating a circle of care for caregivers, or to talk to someone about your unique situation and the resources that may be available to you, please call our B.C. caregiver support line at 1-877-520-3267.
Caregiver Support Team
References: Roscoe, L.J. (2011). Wellness: A Review of Theory and Measurement for Counselors.