I just read an article in Psychology Today by Susanne Babbel, Ph.D. She said, “Since caregivers commonly disassociate, staying connected or reconnecting to one’s identity and physical presence has been rated as very important.”
This made me think about how our stories and identities change as we progress through life. Maybe you identified yourself as a student, and then as a wife and mother. Perhaps you’ve identified yourself by your profession or the volunteer work you’ve done. The fact that you’re reading this blog, may indicate that you now identify yourself as a caregiver.
The danger in identifying as a caregiver and devoting ourselves entirely to helping others through an illness or trauma is that we can get so absorbed in their problems that we lose site of who we are and what we need. (That’s when caregiver burnout and/or compassion fatigue kicks in.)
Dr. Babbel suggested that professional caregivers use some visual and somatic (physical) tools to stay connected to their lives outside of work. She said, “One caregiver expressed that every time she closes the office door she uses the door as a kinesthetic reminder and says, ‘This is my life outside and that’s where I’m entering.’”
Today, I’d like for you to think about who you are outside of your role as a caregiver. Find a picture of yourself doing something you enjoyed or accomplished. Place it where you can look at it often to remind yourself that you are an individual with your own unique qualities, talents and abilities.
Set aside a place in your home that is yours. If you don’t have a spare room, find a corner. Make this your retreat. Go to this spot to write, read, meditate, pray, enjoy music, sew, knit or do whatever brings you pleasure and helps you disconnect from your role as a caregiver and reconnect with who you are as a person.
You were not put on this earth to only serve others. You have your own life. If you honor that and do what you need to do to take care of your body, enrich your mind and nurture your soul, you might find it’s a little easier to maintain the energy and empathy you need to care for others.