The Caregiver’s Burden

One thing I’ve noticed over the last several months—and probably the last many years, though I was not actively observing—is just how many caregivers there are. I define caregiver broadly as those people who almost without fail place the concerns and worries of others above their own, even at their own expense, timewise, financially, and especially energetically. Although the term caregiver probably applies to more females than males in our society, what it means to be a caregiver cuts across gender, race, religion, etc.

Among herbalists and other holistic practitioners, the caregiver bug is endemic. It’s not a bad bug to have unless it imbalances the person. What this can mean is that these folks place the health and well being of others above their own such that they do not take care of themselves. The worst such cases would be ones where the caregiver/practitioner is ungrounded and unable to hold the space for the intake or for follow-up. What this behavior may look like to a client is that the practitioner says one thing, but does another, say tells the client to eat a whole-foods diet, while she herself makes time only for the drive-through at the local fast “food” joint.

Chickweed: Caregiver to earth, others

Chickweed: Caregiver to earth, others

Until very recently, I did not give the caregiver bug much consideration. But since about the end of summer—around the time I stopped posting on this blog—I’ve been logging a lot of time around work on my own caregiving imbalances.

I would love to say that this has meant a lot of time getting massages and going for spa treatments! Alas, I have had neither the time nor the money for that.

What is has meant is a deep, deep review of my own life and how I have lived it. It has meant self-study through a course created by other herbalists who I admire. It has meant work on the space where I do my work—my home office, which, despite its new out-of-this-world-awesome paint job, I’m still reorganizing, trying not to let anything back in until the object has a home there. This work is ongoing, of course, and probably will be lifelong, because there is always room for improvement.

Before September, I had the sense that I needed to make some radical inner changes. Assess and rebuild my foundation, if you will. Already, I am seeing results. It’s easier for me to say “no” to things that will create a physical, emotional, financial, time or energetic burden. Even if saying “no” may mean lost opportunities for business. Sometimes I catch myself feeling as though I’ve been neglecting the business. But on some deep level, when I completed the three-year community herbalist program at Sacred Plant Traditions in late 2011, I knew there was a lot of work I needed to do on my own foundation before I’d be able to really take on the work of an herbalist-practitioner.

Had a cup of nettles today?

Had a cup of nettles today?

My wish for everyone in the coming year is that folks examine this issue for themselves. I mean the caregivers in this audience! For those who take and take and take and are oblivious—well, they have other issues and probably don’t read my blog. But those caregivers—and you don’t need to be a full-on practitioner to carry this label—really look at how your life might be different if you took care of yourself first.

If you are one who right now is caring for an ill family member, exercise the opportunity to ask for help, even if it’s just a couple of hours to get out of the house, to go for a walk, to get a massage.

And if you are a practitioner who consistently puts others above yourself, just stop to consider how much better you might be at what you do if you took better care of yourself.

In a future post, I will offer some ideas of what good self-care looks like. The bottom line is we all need to care for ourselves. And stop associating self-care with selfishness!

Many years ago, a friend made me a cassette tape—back in the day!—and included on it this song by Billy Joel. The song was not familiar to me, and I think at the time its message was lost on me. Today, it isn’t.

Have a listen:

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