Most of us are called to care for another who is somehow stricken. Caregiving includes those who give direct care, whether that be in-home care or otherwise, but it also includes emotional care that may be given in-person or offered from a geographic distance.
Whether you are the spouse, a family member, a medical care professional, or an in-home volunteer or paraprofessional caregiver, your call is a very large part of your life right now. Perhaps you’ve never thought of your caring work as a call, but make no mistake that it is. You want to do your very best.
Answering a call is much more than performing a job. A call implies something higher, something more meaningful, and even something spiritual, all folded together into the mix of motivation that brought you to this "place" to undertake this work. Regardless of how you see your call (as strictly human, or one with spiritual dimensions), the result is the same; you are here and tasks need to be accomplished. Yet, how you see your caregiving work makes a vast difference in your mental and emotional state, the manner in which you perform your caregiving tasks, and the degree of "heart" that you place in them.
The path to caregiving is varied; some caregivers choose their caregiving role with a clear intention of helping; others "back into" their caregiver role with no preparation and no intention on their part at all; still others "accept" it because there is no one else to do it. Regardless of your motivation, and regardless of the particular set of circumstances that brought you to this role, the fact is that you are here. By your choice or not… the role is yours.
I’ve been studying caregiving and personally caring for caregivers for some time now. Then I was the Director of Behavioral Sciences at a large teaching medical center. I noticed a continuous flow of patients who came through our ambulatory care centers that were presented with such things as head pain, back pain, gut pain, irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue, spastic colon, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and many other "vague" symptoms. These disorders, and many others, can be described as having a strong component of psycho-social involvement. That means that some factors in the equation of the sickness can be attributed to distress in some area of the patient’s life. I decided to investigate this phenomenon further.
What I found in very short order was that over 90% of these patients had some form of caregiving responsibilities. Could it be that caregiving itself was putting a significant distress on these patients to actually disturb their internal health-balancing mechanisms sufficiently enough to topple them over into sickness? It seemed plausible.
Investigations that I subsequently accomplished on this proved the point that caregiving can cause sickness; furthermore, by almost every parameter of sickness, caregivers as a group exhibit more than non-caregivers. At one time I remember that I had 16 caregivers support groups going to help caregivers be all they could be in the demanding role into which they had been thrust. I learned many, many things about caregiving from those wonderful people.
Because I Care… is my fifth book on caregiving. This book is a bit different than previous ones in that I’ve since learned how much caregiving is an "endeavor of the heart" more than one of the head. In this volume I’m aiming at your heart; I’m trying to provide inspiration rather than simply listing, describing, and showing how to perform caregiving tasks better.
I’ve found that the foundation of caregiving is spiritual, that the best caregiving is done as a "soul endeavor" that involves one’s head, one’s heart, and one’s faith in something bigger than oneself. I can only hope that this small volume helps you be balanced of head, compassionate of heart, and illuminated of soul.
Richard P. Johnson, PhD