By Brenda Robinson
People who respond to emergencies and disasters, people who work in the field of caring for people with special needs, victims of violence, disabilities and long term support are themselves "special" people. Over and over again, these people put themselves "at risk" for others. They give their time, energy, knowledge, skills and compassion in an ongoing way. Sometimes caregivers fail to recognize the cost of giving. How long can people continue to give without taking something back? When does the giving bank run dry? What happens when we run out of giving? What do we have to do to restore our resources?
Caregivers are victims too! They are affected by many of the same factors which impact victims of emergencies or disasters, special needs and disabilities as well as victims of violence. They hear all the same sounds. They see all the horror, heartache and devastation. They smell the same smells. They observe the emotions. They are sometimes afraid for themselves, their loved ones and co-workers. And they are still expected to carry out a professional job and be caregivers.
In order to do the job, many caregivers create a shell or bubble to protect them. This shell keeps out everything around them and keeps them calm, cool and objective inside this shell also keeps their own feelings inside. They are often like ducks - calm above the surface and paddling ferociously beneath the surface.
Caregivers are in a liaison position. There is a war going on inside and a war going on outside. Only the shell remains intact!
Most caregivers are required to deal with ongoing, short term and long term situations. The shell or bubble goes round and round again. For some caregivers, putting up the shell and tearing it down again becomes cumbersome - some people just choose to leave it up. All anybody sees is a calm, cool objective professional. What happened to the human being?
What happens to the caregiver when the shell doesn't come down? What happens to him/her at work? Can he/she continue to grow, learn and develop? Can they be responsive employees, co-workers, supervisors or managers?
What happens to the "shelled in" caregiver at home and personally? Can they participate in relationships, be interested parents, loving partners and/or good friends?
What are the signals that the shell is still in place? Quite often the signs are in the comments the caregivers make. Have you heard any of these?
"It's just my job."
"They're all the same."
"Nobody cares anymore."
"That's just the way it's always been."
"Why bother - nobody notices anyway."
"It's none of your business."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"You wouldn't understand."
Sometimes, the signs are in morale, job satisfaction, social behaviour, interest or lack of interest in learning, reaction to calls/codes. Behaviour towards supervisors/managers, quality of work and even in self-esteem or self-expression.
Caregivers need to respond to their own needs as well as those of others. What steps can caregivers take to ensure them their own on-going strength and wellness?