Since I was a child I have taken on the role of a caregiver, and ingrained it into my identity. I was taught from an early age to care for others, to be aware of their needs, and volunteer. These things come natural to me, and instead of a place of obligation, it comes from a place of love. Caring for others became as common a task as doing laundry or going grocery shopping. I usually wanted to spend my time with aging relatives or sick friends; I genuinely wanted to be with them. As time continued I realized that these traits weren’t altogether common, and in a group of people I may be the most available and unburdened to sit in a hospice room or help someone eat. I didn’t seek out tasks, but naturally situations arose and I stayed busy.
What’s difficult about enjoying caring for others is the complications of caring for yourself. It seems ingrained that we cannot help others if we are not healthy and taken care of, but when every moment feels like a crisis it feels as if few choices are available. This is when it is easy for codependency to develop, because there is not time to be a separate entity. Should I rest or help someone who is in need? Not jumping to help someone is much harder when you realize how it felt to be in need. I had been diagnosed with a terminal illness when I was young, and I had needed almost constant care at several points in my life. Although this empathy came in handy at knowing what to do in situations most people don’t understand, it also made it difficult for me to say no and to create healthy boundaries.
I did not learn my lessons easily, and I often got burnt out. Through time and necessity I learned some valuable lessons about caring for others. Saying “no” is not about turning someone away. As I have grown, as an adult and a friend, I have learned that “no” is often even more caring. I don’t volunteer at every chance I get, because I have to see beyond myself, that I am not the only person able of caring or volunteering. I can show that I care without carrying the burdens of someone’s entire recovery or life. Caring, with genuine empathy and love should be treated as a bond, not as a task. Learning to love those in your life while allowing them to get professional care in an important step, and learning that the fast you help someone get real help, instead of trying to juggle it yourself, the faster their true recovery can begin.