Too tired to care

When I took on my two adopted girls 7 and 5 years ago, I knew they had challenges that most children do not face. But, perhaps out of a sense of naïve omnipotence or an unshakable belief in the power of love, or both, I developed this fantasy of what life would be like raising them. It seemed somehow wrong to admit that raising children with special needs is sometimes just really hard. But, as I found out, keeping up the pretence is not a strategy that works in the long term.

Most primary carers face an enormous amount of stress - be this emotional, physical, logistical or financial. These are significant contributors to burnout, but do not necessarily always lead to burnout. And while you can recognise and manage stressors, burnout is often not expected and requires active recovery.

Are you burnt out?

Facing carer burnout can be terrifying and the longer it is ignored, the more intense the experience becomes – to the point of becoming plain dangerous. You’ll know you need to seek help sooner rather than later when...
  • the tasks you have always done feel overwhelming
  • it feels like nothing you do makes a difference
  • you feel exhausted all the time, detached from what you are doing, or like a robot
  • you feel you’ve lost your vision, motivation or hope
  • you feel helpless or trapped and
  • you start seeing yourself as a failure.

One main sign is an overwhelming feeling that you just can’t go on, or don’t know how to, that persists over a period of time. But burnout has its physical symptoms too: you may get sick more often, have headaches, back pain, body aches and disturbed sleeping and eating patterns.

Help for carers

Often the hardest part of recovering from carer burnout is seeking help – and it’s the one thing you need to do most. To make it a little easier, here are some suggested professional resources that can help you to recapture your self, your hope and your joy in caring:
  • Family doctors can advise you on returning to health and make referrals to other professionals.
  • Social workers (whether in a private practice, an NPO or a government institution) can direct you to support services in the community and provide counselling for carers and their families.
  • Psychologists can help you to identify and manage your stressors and deal with issues around grief, seeking help, feeling inadequate, social isolation and family dynamics.
  • A psychiatrist may be necessary if anxiety and depression are limiting your ability to function.
  • Family, friends and even colleagues can be a great source of support and generally want to help. Make use of them by asking for help with specific things like babysitting, sleeping over, helping you at home or running errands. Don’t be afraid to ask.
  • Respite care might be necessary so you can rest and catch up on sleep.

The most important element in all this is finding people you can be honest with and rely on to support you, without fear of judgement. And remember, recovering from burnout does not mean the end of caring. It is what enables us to continue caring. It does not mean failure. It means ensuring long-term success. And as the saying goes, you can’t give of yourself if you haven’t got a self to give.    

Have you cared for a child with special needs? Share your experience in the comment box below or on our forum.

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