Recently, I had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop for caregivers. I began the session by having each participant introduce themselves and list their various caregiving roles. I was deeply moved as each individual shared the family, friends, and pets that they provided support to in their day to day lives on top of their volunteer and work caregiving responsibilities. So many people relying on the 15 women that were assembled in the room! I felt honoured and humbled to be amongst such giving individuals.
The workshop focused on becoming mindful of the symptoms of caregiving fatigue so that we can respond with self-compassion; learning to comfort and care of ourselves in response to our suffering. One vibrant woman, I’ll call Betty, identified herself as someone who had very few caregiving responsibilities. Betty said that as a great-grandmother she felt lucky that most of the responsibility and the inherent stressors related to caregiving were behind her. Following the workshop, Betty approached me and let me know that her adult daughter was gravely ill. Betty said “I don’t know why I didn’t even think of this when you asked us at the beginning. I think I compartmentalize my feelings as a way to cope”.
Betty is not alone in “locking away” her suffering as a method of coping and at times it can be an effective short-term strategy. Compartmentalizing our suffering can allow us to get things done and not be overwhelmed with emotion when we need to perform. The problem is that as we continue to push our difficult feelings out of our awareness we become disconnected and less able to even recognize our suffering. The more we practice turning away from pain, the less likely we are to be mindful of the warning signals that our bodies are giving us as an alert that we are getting into trouble. When we fail to recognize our suffering we will even reject the compassion that is offered to us by others. Mindfulness is essential to enable us to respond to our suffering in a compassionate and caring way.
It’s never too late to learn to be more self-compassionate in response to suffering. Betty became mindful of the burden of her sadness related to her daughter’s illness during our workshop. With practice, Betty can try to respond more kindly when her feelings arise rather than stuffing them away in a dark and remote compartment. As the saying goes, what we can feel - we can heal. Mindfulness can be the key to unlock the door to the suffering compartment.
With Kindness, Patricia