A New Year Reflection on Caregiver Identity

It’s almost New Year’s Eve – that day when lots of folks make resolutions for positive change.  Gyms and health clubs are usually busy in January, full of people with good intentions for healthy living.  Today and tomorrow, many will ponder how to set a new course for 2014.

For caregivers, change is not so easy.  We want our imaginations to drift into the dream territory of “who would I like to be?”, but we are pulled back quickly to, “who MUST I be?”  Even the question of “who am I?” for caregivers is tricky and complicated.  Perhaps the only answer to that query is found in another question, “Who WAS I?”

For caregivers, the dance of competing identities is refereed by personal freedom or the lack of it.  Ideas of spontaneity, whimsical choice, time wasted, hobbies enjoyed – these are foreign to most caregivers.  And yet, our true selves are most evident in such deeply personal activities.  Unfettered by the concerns of others, do I prefer solitude or company?  Would I choose to knit or to dance?  Taken together, these choices tell us about ourselves and give us a clear sense of who we are, or who we used to be.

Time and time again, caregiving counsellors wag their fingers at us, “Take time for yourself”, they say.  But sometimes, carving out space and time is not so easy, especially if that muscle isn’t exercised regularly.  I remember once, sitting at home when Jim took the children to the park.  I didn’t know what to do – I tried to read a magazine, but the pictures and writing were meaningless to me.  I had lost my sense of self.  I was given a sliver of freedom,  but I didn’t know what to do with it.

Sometimes layering on architecture for action helps.  A thought or idea can perform this function.  Something like, “I can’t go outside today, but I am here in this room.  What freedom for choices do I have here?”  Taking time to look around and choose to wash the dishes instead of baking a cake can be revealing.  Pondering the meaning of small choices can help to answer the question, “Who am I now that I am a caregiver?”  Choosing to wash the dishes may provoke a realisation that warm, soapy water is soothing, or that there is satisfaction in a tidy sink.  Perhaps baking a cake is an act that is infused with love and the memory of birthdays past.  Perhaps these choices echo back a message that the caregiver identity is a nurturing one.  Meanings that can be discerned about personhood from small choices in daily living will fuel a sense of power and self-knowledge.

Perhaps a worthy caregiver New Year’s resolution would be to reconcile past and present identities.  “Who would I like to be?” is more difficult, but not impossible to ponder.  Maybe the way toward that tricky territory is to change the question to, “Who would I like to be today?”  The answer could form a worthy resolution for 2014.

To all Caregivers everywhere, Happy New Year.