Originally published on Medium
There’s this thing where people call caregivers “angels” and such and that can be this over-hyped putting-people-on-a-pedestal thing is problematic in a lot of ways because we all need to be caregivers. Don’t immortalize someone for thinking or caring about another human being because we should all be doing that. It’s also mundane, hard work, it’s not heroism.
Checking yourself, introspection and self-awareness are a huge piece of doing this as well. Check in with your gut; are you helping or hurting this situation?
The Bodily Tasks of Caregiving
We are back to this idea that caregivers are “angels.” Well, they’re actually just human beings. You get to be grossed out, you get to not want to do it, and you also get to have help if you need it.
This is a big thing that keeps folks from really getting into caregiving, oftentimes it’s seeing someone else go through all this brings up their own fears about illness or death, so there can be a lot to process and a lot to work through.
We have to get over this idea that “normal” people are independent and invulnerable and only those poor pitiful sick people need help. We all need help, all the time and this is natural. This is normal.
But just because helping someone or needing help is natural and normal doesn’t mean it’s not also hard or disgusting sometimes. There is nothing wrong with being grossed out. The trick is to try to find a way to stay. If you can’t stay, maybe you just need to find a way to get help.
If you’re on the receiving end of caregiving, it can become a little demoralizing at some point. The times I’ve been a patient, it’s good for me when I know my friends, family, doctors, nurses, or anyone else is learning something or gaining something from my situation. So, look out for lessons learned and anything that can add enrichment to your own life to go along with the hard stuff.
You care for your person and you care for yourself and you care for the good of humans. I wish more people had this idea to just be a good neighbor.
There is an activism to caregiving. There can be some pride and a lot of importance in it too. Life can be incredibly unfair, right up until love comes in at the end in the form of caregiving. There’s a sense of justice until the end and can make sense of a life that would have otherwise been so hard.
For more from BJ, check out the video series The Mechanics of Caregiving with BJ Miller
Dr. BJ Miller is a longtime hospice & palliative medicine physician and educator who has worked in all settings of care: hospital, clinic, residential facility, and home. He has been profiled in The New York Times Magazine, and interviewed on Super Soul Sunday, The Tim Ferriss Show, On Being with Krista Tippett, and has spoken at the Aspen Ideas Festival and around the world. BJ’s latest project, Mettle Health, aims to provide personalized, holistic consultations for any patient, caregiver or clinician who need help navigating the practical, emotional and existential issues that come with serious illness and disability. He also co-authored the book, A Beginner’s Guide to the End, which was released in 2019.
Republished with permission of the copyright.