Alarm bells are going off, pointing to an imbalance in my life. Work at hospice has become the reason why I get up in the morning and go to sleep at night. Ninety-five percent of the time when I’m with patients, their families, and coworkers I feel equanimous–at ease and untroubled by ego-needs. I often stay beyond my scheduled hours, saying “I’m off the clock” when someone asks why I haven’t gone home. Within minutes of leaving the hospital, however, uncertainty and loneliness set in. Not always, but more and more frequently.
The topic of self-care comes up frequently among caregivers. I realize that I’m not very good at looking after myself. I notice increasing fatigue and flagging optimism. When I first felt exhausted after work, I’d simply sleep for a couple of hours and wake up refreshed. Then, at a recent staff meeting, I heard myself making cynical remarks, feeling excluded and under-appreciated. Add to that the constant fear of losing my employment and a picture of instability emerges.
A Public Health Canada site describes typical reactions to poor self-care among care-givers; from them I gather that I’m not alone, that this work is hazardous. Of the many symptoms given, the following ring true for me.
Physical and behavioural reactions: fatigue, difficulty falling asleep, restlessness, headaches, changes in sleeping, increased blood pressure, changes in eating habits, increased susceptibility to colds and flu.
Emotional reactions: feeling helpless, overwhelmed, inadequate, fragile, vulnerable, mood swings, decreased motivation, isolation, changes in communication patterns, withdrawal.
Cognitive reactions: confusion, difficulty problem solving, memory blanks, having ambiguous feelings, difficulty concentrating or paying attention.
p.s. As if anticipating today’s post, one of my nursing coworkers sent these words: “… we often neglect or forget that we mean something very special to those around us. We are busy with our day and work – forgetting about our own needs and extended to help others. How very special to know in your heart that you are genuinely appreciated and supported.”