Archive for November, 2009

Helping the Helper

When I teach classes about counseling or to students who want to be counselors in the future, we talk about “helping the helper.” I make sure they know that being a caregiver of any sort is challenging, emotionally draining, and really truly physically tiring. It’s no joke, I tell them – we talk about health psychology research that tells us that caring for others (or one other) takes mental and physical energy that can cause symptoms in the caregiver themselves. So I tell my students this, not to scare them, but so that they know that self-care is necessary. Therapists and any caregiver in general need self-care. It doesn’t matter if you are a therapist or if you work with terminal children; you need self-care.

Or if you’re a caregiver for a terminal or sick spouse.

Today I came home from work and took a nap, like I do. Mike had gone to the grocery store to get dinner after work, which he hates. When I woke up, it was almost dark and the TV was on, but there were no dogs or humans in the house. The groceries were on the counter. I put on shoes and found Mike and the dogs sitting in the driveway. He was drinking beer(s) and had been chain smoking. I knew he had wanted to do work for his classes, so I knew these behaviors were nonproductive (therapist speak).

I knew he had already cleaned up the kitchen, which before I got pregnant he would not have done. He has completely changed from the lax “relax then do what needs to be done” to “do what needs to be done then relax” person (which is more like me), probably due to the fact that I can’t do these things myself anymore (which he knows bugs the crap out of me). But I also know my husband; he goes rounds with mood disorders sometimes, depression particularly. Drinking a bunch instead of doing schoolwork was not a good sign, to my trained eyes.

As I walked up, he stated, “I already did the dishes.”

“I know,” I responded, standing in front of him. I could see tired, depressed, and frustrated on his face. “Want to come in and get your schoolwork done?”

He snorted. “I’m too drunk for homework.”

“Ok, I’ll make dinner then. Did you work on your PowerPoint at school today?”

“Yeah, I got all the pictures I need, I just have to put it together.” He paused. “It’s tough,” he mumbled, looking away. And I knew he wasn’t just referring to schoolwork. So I went and got him another beer and left him alone on the tailgate of his truck.

Monday he took a Botany test and didn’t do as well as he would have liked, and he had been pretty proud of that grade before this test. The PowerPoint was supposed to bring it back up. He wanted to impress his teacher, but was having trouble with the computer program on OpenOffice. And he had a paper due, but couldn’t get his program to make graphs like he wanted to look cool (and I had no idea how to do them to help). He also has a wife who is sick, tired, can’t breathe, and can’t do anything short of work and sleep. So all the cleaning, cooking, cleaning after cooking, pet care, etc. has fallen to him. And he’s done it all without complaining, even going above and beyond to do things that make me happy.

Typically, drinking by yourself (if you’re my husband) indicates the middle of a spiral of depression. But I’m pretty sure this is his version of helping the helper. And that’s ok. I’ll bring you a beer for that. So tonight I made dinner – granted it took a while because I had to sit down a few times. And he kept asking if I was ok. And I was because whenever I sat down I was putting my feet up on a footstool he bought for me.

Mike’s right; it is tough. No two ways about it. Being there for someone else, hell practically being someone else (doing all the things they normally do) is tough. And if you’re the helper, you need to have that time to deal with it however you deal with it. But I applaud you for doing it, and I’ll let you know that the person you’re helping appreciates it more than you know.


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