Changing roles: when the care-giver needs to be cared for

Caring about people is, by far, the strongest thing that comes to my mind when I think about what makes people human. If I’d be asked what makes us human, in the way that most people understand this term, I’d definitely say that it is the ability of caring for others, for their well-being.

Somehow, things are not that simple, as there are at least two types of people in the world: the caregivers and the caretakers. Of course, things have more shades than these two, but for now they’re the only shades we need.

As a caregiver, I can tell that I’m also an empath, and that I love to share. I love helping people, sharing information, resources, time, everything that I feel that could be helpful for them. But there are also our buddies, the caretakers. They’re usually two types, as well: those who are vulnerable and need to be taken care of, while they get through the difficult times they have to face. And there are the pretenders, the ones who don’t really need your help or resources, but they want your constant attention.

And there comes the big challenge, not solely in identifying correctly who is the person worth investing into, but also taking care of yourself in the process as well. As a caregiver, I can state for sure two things: caregivers need to receive some care as well, and that having boundaries won’t make you less human.

Of course, being a selfless person might seem like a wonderful thing, but be careful, as emotional burnout is more than just a tale. The magic word that helps you prevent that from happening is boundaries. You have to get some, if you don’t want to lose yourself in the process.

Because helping others is a thing that, as pretty as it seems, takes a lot from you, because, it needs to create a bond strong enough to let you actually help them. Every person one helps is taking a piece from their soul. This is why we should learn to choose our people wisely.

In my journey of emotional recovery, I’ve discovered a lot about a multitude of things, but especially about my patterns as a caregiver. I’ve discovered that I tend to let myself get drained by letting anyone to take from me whatever they  need, how much they  need. I’ve also noticed that I don’t tend to ask for support as often as I’m offering mine. And, even if everything I’ve stated here sounds just pretty and cute, the truth is that it is the way I’ve been toxic for myself. By constantly denying myself the support I was needing.

And this is how things went till…well, till I got my cup empty, to say so. And you cannot pour from an empty cup, right? That was the moment when it became clear that I have to change my way of doing things, so I’ve chosen the easiest path: I’ve isolated myself for a while.

I’ve obviously felt really bad about it, and the guilt tripping was nothing I’d like to remember. But, as the tale goes, I had no other choice left. I was already at a point where I reached numbness, and I was feeling like I have nothing left to give to other people, no matter how close we were at the time. So I’ve started to reevaluate my relationships with the people around me. I was surprised to finally observe how many people were coming my way only when they needed something, and how many people were only looking for attention and some spotlights, not real help. It amazed me, but it has also convinced me that I’ve made the right choice.

Because, even if there are caregivers and caretakers into this world, the reality is that there’s nothing fixed. You can always switch places, as life is not linear. Becoming a caretaker, as a native caregiver, feels initially wrong on so many levels  that you can’t even count them. But there are times in one’s life when becoming a caretaker is a necessary measure. And you have to accept and respect them, with everything they’re bringing to the table.

So did I. I took a deep breath, and reached for support. This is how I’ve found out that there are people out there which are doing this the ping-pong way: I’ll help you now, you’ll help me later. That there are people that I can learn from now, and I will repay them when they will need, the way they need to be supported.

That no is not a bad word, but it is, for sure, a word making a huge difference in one’s life. Like the difference between an empty cup, and a cup filled up and ready to pour some into other’s cups, as well. Like the difference between a good day, spent at peace with myself, and a day filled up with others’ drama.

And the thing that I believe is the hardest to learn when you’re a caregiver: that a refusal won’t transform you into a monster. No, you’re not becoming Hitler if you choose to take control over the people with whom you’ll share your resources with. Actually, this will only benefit the people which really need what you have to offer, as well as your mental health.

And, no. Asking for help won’t make you a weak person, as most of the people that try to take advantage of you will try to say. It just proves that you’re mature enough to understand that no one can do all by themselves. There are times when you’ll need help, and asking for it is the best proof that you understand that being human comes with limitations as well.

It doesn’t mean that you try to avoid anything if you’ll refuse to help  whenever you’ll be asked to. It only means that you’re aware of the fact that no one can save every person they  met along the road, so you only pick the battles which you feel like are yours.

Of course, receiving help is a beautiful thing, and we tend, once we get used to a certain person constantly helping us, to put more and more pressure on them.  We’re only humans, after all, even if this means that our helper will, eventually, step back and take care of himself as well. Being mature and being grateful for the help we’ve received means also the understanding of this fact, that our caregiver is only a human, not a hybrid of Mother Theresa and Superman.

At the end of the day, being a caregiver means that you will take some time on your own, at least from time to time. Because caring begins with the person looking at us from the other side of the mirror, everyday. Only like that we will be able to offer real, authentic, valuable help to the people we care about. By taking time of our own, to explore freely the inner and outer world, to discover new things, to learn. Even if that could mean, at a certain point, some broken ties. Even if it will feel uncomfortable and it will hurt, that’s also part of life. Ironically, it is the part that marks the beginning of the growth process, so embrace it and stay curious. There are so many things to come, things that you would’ve never even tried to think about, just stay brave, patient, awake and curious. No bad period will last forever, only the lessons brought by it.