Indivisible: A Caregiver’s Fight against Burnout

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “I Pledge Allegiance.”

The phrase, “freedom isn’t free,” suddenly takes on new meaning when someone you love is confined to a wheelchair. For the past few years, I’ve dedicated a good chunk of my life to caring for my disabled mom. She’s worth it, mind you. You’ll never meet someone kinder or more amazing than my mom. Despite the pain and the constant struggle to perform simple tasks, her eyes still sparkle every day. Her laughter is infectious. Her smile warms my heart. But lately, simply keeping her alive is a battle. Getting her the care she needs to live her life freely despite her illnesses has become war.

To be honest, I find myself fighting to not become a causality of that war.

Caregiver burnout is real. For a long time, I dismissed it as something that happens to someone else. I was strong. I could handle it. Burnout wouldn’t happen to me… but then mom’s health got worse.

Suddenly, we were never sleeping through the night. Her health problems just wouldn’t allow it. To make matters worse, we found ourselves in some weird “no man’s land” of help and support. After mom came home after one of her surgeries, our home health aide agency suddenly decided that Mom was in too bad of shape for their non-skilled nursing staff to handle. Ironically, Mom’s insurance didn’t think she was in bad enough shape to pay for any more skilled nursing care, much less inpatient rehab.

Just like that, we were stuck. I was on my own, and every day I became more exhausted. I’d spent too much time on the front lines. Without backup, I found myself fighting off battle fatigue.

I hate the old platitude of “take care of yourself.” I’m so tired of hearing people say, “Make time for you!” All too often, the person saying those words has no idea how hard we’re struggling or any appreciation for the complexities of our situation.

Believe me, I wanted to take time out of myself. I needed to take time out for myself, but I just had no idea how to manage it under the circumstance. Unfortunately, no one else seemed to have any real practical advice either.

One night, after I’d tucked mom into bed, I guided her power wheelchair out into the living room to recharge. With the curtains drawn and the house finally still and silent, I plugged the chair into the wall charger and simply collapsed on the sofa.

How was I going to keep doing this? I looked at the power meter on the chair’s control pad and thought about how nothing is supposed to go without rest. That’s the whole idea of the Sabbath, after all. God knows us better than anyone. He’s our designer and creator. In our user’s guide, the Bible, he expressly says that we can’t keep going unless we take time out to recharge. And he’s right, of course. I could feel my battery indicator dipping into the red, but what was I suppose to do?

Once upon a time, I use to take Sundays off. On the occasions when I couldn’t get around working on a Sunday, I’d substitute some other day of the week and keep that free time holy instead. But the whole idea of taking an entire day off had suddenly become absurd. My mom needed care continually around the clock. There were no days off.

What was I going to do? I was spent. I had no answers, so I just sat on the sofa beside the wheelchair and prayed.

As I looked at Mom’s wheelchair, I began to see similarities between it and me. Mom needs the chair for everything. She’s partially paralyzed from the waist down, so if she’s going to go anywhere or do anything, she needs that chair. The chair never gets a day off, yet out of functionally necessity, it has to have time to recharge. So what do we do? We recharge it while she’s sleeping or resting in bed.

Suddenly, I had my answer.

Life wasn’t going to be normal for a while, at least not until mom had more time to heal and recover from her surgery. I wasn’t going to be taking a day off any time soon. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I realized I had to think differently about rest. I couldn’t take a vacation just yet, but I could take some time off.

Just as Mom could make due without the wheelchair for a few hours at a time, she could potentially do without me for short breaks. While she was napping or watching TV in bed, I could get out of the house and make short snippets of time for me. It was worth a try, and guess what? It worked.

These days, “me time” sometimes goes like this. When Mom’s had everything she needs, is up to date on her medicine, and has been fortified with extra water, snacks, and a cell phone just in case, I can take some time to recharge. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s amazing how rejuvenating the simple things can be. For example, I can take the chore of buying paper towels and Clorox in bulk at our price club and turn it into a mini vacation.

I rock out to Mandisa’s “Overcomer” on the car stereo while taking in the blue sky, the crisp fall air, and vivid foliage of the rolling Pennsylvania hills. Once there, I stop by the club’s bargain priced café. I splurge on pizza and a giant fountain soda. I get two slices of hot juicy three meat pizza piled high with sausage, pepperoni, and bacon bits (sorry vegetarians. That’s just how I roll 😉 ). I savor every bite and enjoy a few moments of peace away from the crush of the normal routine. For a few minutes, I can do something I enjoy without having to worry about anyone else.

It’s simple, it’s inexpensive, and it charges my batteries. Sometimes it’s the little things that matter most.

Changing my approach to taking time off has made all the difference. When I find myself having to make due with less support, I now know I’ll survive. I may not have time to take whole days off, but God always shows me the little ways that I can get away and rest. It’s enough to ensure that I’ll be there for the person who was always there to care for me.

Today, I promise myself that I will not burn out. I pledge to take care of myself, to take my Sabbath rest and keep it holy, so that I’ll have the strength to fight for my mom until the battle is won or Jesus takes her home. We are one family, under God, and indivisible. I’m not going under. Like Mandisa said, I am an overcomer.

God bless you, and never forget, you too are an overcomer!

Audrey Cunningham

P.S. – Do yourself a favor and rock out to the music video below. You won’t regret it. 😉

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12 thoughts on “Indivisible: A Caregiver’s Fight against Burnout

  1. So God answered your prayer – he showed you how to have a time out. You can do it. I enjoyed hearing about the little ways you recharge – eating a pizza, great idea. I don’t know if you have any children but the early years of motherhood are much the same. No time off, no day off. Of course, we were much younger then and could survive on 3 hours sleep a night!. Your attitude inspires me – keep it up You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ah, Audrey How I wish I had been blogging and known you when dad and I were caring for my mom 15 years ago. Maybe we would have learned to take those mini-breaks instead of everyone losing it. Thank you, and may God continue to fill you up with His strength, peace, and love.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Audrey, for sharing these thoughts and this video. I’ve never seen it (though I’ve sang it plenty of times!), and here I am with a smile on my face and tears streaming down my cheeks! So touching! What a great message to enjoy and pass on. Blessings to you!
    Melissa

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad it lifted you up, Melissa. You really are an overcomer. I’ve also been inspired by your blog (It’s “Broken.HEARTED: A Christian’s Path to Divorcing and Healing from a Narcissist and Emotional Abuser” at http://www.divorcinganarcissist.net/ if anyone wants to check it out!). Burnout can come in so many forms, and I personally think emotional abuse is one of the most traumatic. Instead of letting your experience with your abusive husband crush you, you’ve turned it around and are using it to bless others. You truly are amazing! God bless you, and keep being awesome. 🙂
      Audrey

      Like

  4. Oh, Audrey, came back after seeing this pop up on your last post; thinking earlier about my situation but now thinking of hub’s aunt taking care of her husband; she’s reaching this point, thinking she can’t leave him even when his nonskilled aide is there yet she told the social worker that’s what she does and is what she does need to do; she could handle it if something were to happen to him, actually better than she could, so….helped to see this again

    Liked by 1 person

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