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Caregiver, Do You Have Super-Hero Syndrome? Do You Like Caregiving a Bit Too Much?

Posted Nov 03 2010 8:57pm

If you’re a nurse or a doctor you care for the sick. It’s something people admire. You get told you made their pain go away. Every once in a while when something goes right you get to be a medical super-hero–praised by all. Caregivers, whether professionals or family members also don the cape and tights. We care for people in need. We’re told how self-sacrificing we are, how much we help. And if we’re honest, at times, we derive another kind of satisfaction out of caregiving that’s hard to admit.

I admit it. I can’t point my finger at someone else and not fess up. It feels good to be in charge, to be needed, to make a difference.

When our husband, wife or child or parent is sick, it means they need us.

That makes us important.

We dole out the meds.

We drive them to the doc.

We sit by the hospital bed.

We (oftentimes) talk to the doc on their behalf.

They tell us they appreciate us.

We feel close to them–perhaps closer than we’ve felt in quite some time.

It keeps them at home–with us.

When they get well, they move out of our circle. They go back to work, back to their friends, back to not appreciating us. I could always tell when my mom was getting better–she got fussy, opinionated, and stopped telling me what a sweet daughter I was.

It’s a little bit of a let down.

WE get left with the tissues, the dirty sheets and covers, the used cups and dishes, the videos to return to the store. Our house is in disarray–and hearts are empty–again.

Yes, we want them well. We want the crisis to pass. We know that we’re not the center of their universe, but secretly, yeah, it felt good to feel needed, to be in charge, and to be told we’re such a good spouse, mom, daughter or son.

Rationally, I didn’t want to be my mother’s all in all. I didn’t want her to depend on me for everything. I knew that wasn’t healthy for either one of us–but I also had to admit that it felt good to hear those words, “where would I be without you?” It’s hard for that to not go to your head–or heart.

We’d much, much rather they be well–it’s just tough when that’s not the option. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, certain types of cancer–our loved ones aren’t going to get better.

Most of us let go when the time is right and our loved one has recovered with only a twinge of missing the “good parts” and remembering the “not so good parts” all too vividly. 

We peel off the mask, roll up the tights, and sigh as we hang up our super-hero caregiving cape.

If you’re caregiving long-term, the vicious cycle of you’re the best, I need you, what would I do without you, can begin to mess with your sense of self. And letting go of all this gets to be a bit harder.

You want them well, but what if getting well isn’t really going to happen? What if the only sense of purpose you derive these days does come from caregiving? How do you stay mentally and emotionally healthy and balanced?

How do you avoid your own hype–the super-hero syndrome?

I don’t have a definitive one size fixes all answer.

I do know it’s crucial to keep at least one aspect of your life going–outside of caregiving.

Do at least one thing a week–away from home–that is unrelated to caregiving or that other person. Remember who you are outside of this one role. For me, I enrolled in college and took one adult-ed class a week. A four-hour night class. It seemed crazy to even think I could stay awake or do the homework–but it got me back out with the masses.

It showed me that other people aren’t caregiving at least not all the time–that I could use my brain and skills in another way. I took one class at a time. I took psychology, painting, glass blowing, history…I poured myself into my books and took pride in writing papers. I even tried to imagine myself after caregiving–as scary and painful as that was to say.

Keeping that one thing going just for me helped me inch my way toward balance. While caregiving is truly needed and important–there are other important things too. Even super-heroes have day jobs/alter identities that make them far more mysterious, powerful, and even add another dimension to their brave and daring lives.


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