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Caregiver burnout: finding empathy

I’ve lived with depression in my household for almost 20 years. There have been times when the illness was fairly well controlled, and times when the “black dog” took over every minute of every day. We’ve been in one of the down times for the last year or so, and I’ve found my reserve of empathy is decreasing. Certainly I grieve for what my husband is struggling through. At the same time, though, I’m weighed down by how worn out I am, and how the illness affects me.

Van Gough's Sorrowing Old Man

Van Gough’s Sorrowing Old Man

So yesterday when I read the post (excerpts below) from raventaylorauthor at http://meandmydepression.wordpress.com/, I was thankful for her simple and honest description of what it feels like to be depressed. Yes, I need a break from caregiving and a break from depression, but I also needed the reminder…

I’ll use a really basic comparison to try and explain how each day feels during a ‘down’ spell. Imagine you have broke your leg. You’re feeling pretty crap. Little things you found so easy the week before, like walking up the stairs or even just standing, are suddenly impossible. But no one would expect you to do these things. You wouldn’t have to get up each day and walk up stairs or drive a car. You’d be given time to feel better again. With ‘depression’ it’s like getting up everyday with a broken leg and being asked to stand and walk as normal while creating the illusion for everyone looking on that you are ok. For that is what people expect. You get up, you got to work, and you put on a fake smile and pretend everything is fine because to do anything less is unacceptable. It becomes exhausting. It’s harder than I can explain. It’s so tiring and by the time you get home at night you’ve nothing left to give, and you break. Then your family suffer because you have no more fight left in you.

The other thing I get asked a lot is ‘well, you seemed happy enough when you were on that day trip/out for that meal etc the other day. How is it an illness if you don’t have it at these times?’ That’s not true. I always have it. So again we go back to the broken leg analogy to try and explain. So you break your leg. It hurts. You are in a hell of a lot of pain, but you get given some painkillers. The pain goes away when you take them. You feel a little better. Doesn’t mean you don’t still have the broken leg. You do, of course. Time with family, holidays and days and days out are like pain killers to me. Take me away to the country for a day and for a while I’ll feel a bit better. It’ll still be there, but the symptoms are some what relieved. Take away my days out and my family time and you take away my medicine. It’s no different from taking away painkillers from a person with a broken leg.

I’m thankful for these words, as well as for the writings of so many other bloggers who offer comfort, perspective, and insight.


5 Responses

  1. Random question: Why does WordPress always suggest that I add the tags “aviation” and “gaming” to my posts? Both tags would be fairly misleading, though amusing. 🙂

  2. I understand this post so well. My heart goes out to you. May you find rest and healing and everything you need to take care of yourself.

    My invisible broken leg was caused by unprocessed childhood trauma. It pained me day and night for 3 decades. I never thought it would heal; I was wrong. It has healed, but I will never forget the pain, and especially those who still suffer.

    Never give up hope.

  3. I like the broken leg analogy, which helps people understand. A broken leg is so concrete, so visible. You can see what is causing the pain. Not so with depression, but we need to remember it is just as real as a broken leg.

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