The Surreal Lives of Family Caregivers

To observe National Family Caregivers Month, we plan to give our thanks and recognize the efforts of these unsung heroes through a different approach. We’ll try our best to describe how and what most family caregivers go through, for us to get a better understanding of the problems they may be currently experiencing.

And we’ll be doing that through the use of science and fantasy fiction references. After all, caregiving can be a surreal experience that one would normally find in popular media.

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We hope that this approach would be a fresh take on how we should view family caregivers, and for us to better support them. If you are a caregiver, we’d like you to know that we want to see and understand what you’re feeling.

Is this the Real Life? Is this just Fantasy?

Sometimes, being a family caregiver is like living in a sci-fi movie or book. Everything seems unreal, yet logical as well.

After all, waking up to a spouse who would slowly treat you as a stranger is a surreal experience that one would expect to read or watch. Or losing out on work opportunities and personal time, because you need to watch over a loved one is just like living in a different world. It’s something definitely for the books or the silver screen – something that is best left to the imagination.

But it’s as real as it gets. The pain and torment of being there to care for someone is a reality that millions of people go through each day. And what makes it even more extraordinary is that family caregivers wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Because it is the right thing to do.

Waking Life

The truth is being a caregiver means living a messy life. It’s chaotic, figuring out how to properly care for a family member while trying to maintain some semblance of life. In a way, caregivers put on multiple masks to do what needs to be done. But without the proper planning or preparation, the responsibility of having to look after someone does have its toll.

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The life of being a caregiver has been written and shown before on all sorts of media. One poignant example was a post featured on Deadspin, John R. Smith’s “How To Care For A Spouse With Early-Onset Alzheimer’s.” The article didn’t sugarcoat how caregivers live – Smith explained how chaotic it is, that living a person dealing with Alzheimer’s isn’t a walk in the park.

Yet the takeaway from his post was that no matter how hard it is, caregiving is something that one just needs to do. It is hard because a caregiver isn’t just taking care of someone else – he or she is also trying to make some sense out of what he or she has become. A mess indeed, of having to continuously question circumstances, of paving a clear path for a family member.

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As a family caregiver, your waking life is a wasteland, your loved one’s disease/age/condition an abyss. Bleak, but it isn’t like you have no choice (you can always hire professional support or get other members of the family to help). However, would you have it any other way?

That, as surreal as it can be, defines what most family caregivers are. It’s like a dream that you just can’t wake yourself up from; the fear of losing your special someone is too great.

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Live the Dream

Let’s break down the previous point into several caregiving sci-fi and fantasy elements:

Wasteland – can you imagine the Mad Max movies without the wasteland? One of the reasons why this series is memorable is because of its post-apocalyptic setting. The desert wasteland, a dangerous place to be in, also offers wonderful surprises. From communities of survivors working together for a better life to meeting heroes such, as Imperator Furiosa, the wasteland can also be a place where love and hope can be fostered.

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The same applies to your personal wasteland. As dangerous and dark it may be, there are still pockets of hope to look and live for. Cling onto these, no matter how small they may be. These can be fond memories you have with your significant other or even trinkets, pictures, and places that you and a parent have a connection with. These are all significant and may bring some much-needed sunshine in your caregiving life.

Dreams – no matter how hard caregiving is, having a positive mindset will eventually lead to a better way of doing and seeing things. It all starts by having that idea in your head. The movie Inception involves a dream heist, wherein a team of thieves set off to implant an idea in the mind of a business conglomerate leader’s son. From diving into different layers of the sub-consciousness and blurring reality and dreams, the movie showed how adventurous it is just to influence a single thought.

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Which, in a way, is similar to caregiving. There will always be a silver lining, but having to go and look for that positive thought involves risks and committing mistakes. Do not worry if you’re having a hard time; you’re not the only caregiver feeling down. Don’t fret if your loved one is going through a painful situation; even more so for you to step up and be a positive beacon of light for him or her. It is messy, but the dream you cannot wake yourself up from can still be a good one. You just need to will it to make it happen.

Abyss – a famous Friedrich Nietzsche quote, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you” can also apply to caregivers. As devastating any person’s condition or situation may be, caregivers should be careful not to fall into a pit of despair.

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Take it from the word itself: care-giver. One who lives in despair will not be able to “give care.” It is a constant battle that family caregivers face. Yet by clinging onto positivity and hope, even an abyss called is nothing to a connection between a family member and his or her caregiver.

There Will Always Be Hope

Positivity matters. This is why even with the darkest and most confusing days, caregivers live and soldier on. Hope will always prevail. But this goes without saying that one needs also to be ready to approach others for help or find ways to lessen the caregiving burden.

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Think of welcoming help as Frodo bringing the ring to Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings. The hobbit couldn’t have made the journey without the help of the Fellowship. A family caregiver may want to carry the burden for his or her loved one, but he or she should also be ready and willing to look for help. After all, you’d want the best form of care for your loved one, right?

Also, make sure to equip yourself with the right tools of the trade when facing caregiving tasks. When battling White Walkers in The Game of Thrones, Valyrian steel swords are the weapons of choice. Are you ready to face the many hardships of being a caregiver without your own sword?

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Consider this weapon: long term care insurance (LTCI) offers coverage to help counter the many expenses dealing with custodial care. Additionally, it has also been reported in a Genworth report that caregivers experience less stress when their recipients are LTCI policyholders.

There will always be hope for family caregivers. It’s just a question of them making the most out of what they’re in, as surreal as it can be. The point of the matter is that caregivers need to “take care to give care” (which is this year’s National Family Caregivers Month theme).

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Take care, Caregiver

Saga, a recent comic book series that details the story of lovers from two different alien races has an important line about family:

“You have to be brave before you can be good.”

You can do it, caregiver. The journey you are in right now may seem dark and confusing, but you must seek the best out of it. We wish you all the best.

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