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Recovering From Caregiver Burnout and THE GREAT BELIEVERS by Rebecca Makkai

Cover of the book The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai used to teach therapy concept and therapy skill of recovering from caregiver burnout.

Fiona’s brother, Nico, was rejected by his parents because he was gay. Rather than discarding Nico, Fiona snuck out to see him, bringing Nico allergy medicine and loving him fiercely. Years later, when Nico was dying of AIDS, Fiona remained by his side.  

Nico wasn’t alone. During the 80s and 90s, Fiona supported an entire community of gay men facing the AIDS epidemic. Fiona sat at hospital bedsides and acted as a medical decision-maker. Friends died around her in staggering numbers. Fiona, the Saint of Boystown, was surrounded by carnage.


Also, she was a young mother. But Fiona was so flooded with grief, fear, and guilt that she was unable to focus on her daughter, creating long-term problems in their relationship.


Fiona was traumatized and constantly helping others without taking care of herself, which led to caregiver burnout.


Caregiving is loving, noble, and important. However, caregivers who don’t care for themselves are susceptible to caregiver burnout, a state of emotional exhaustion caused by the prolonged stress of caring for others. Signs of caregiver burnout include frequent crying, helplessness, anger, frustration, and cynicism about the future.


Here are tips for recovering from caregiver burnout:


Take Care of Yourself: People are increasingly emotionally vulnerable when hungry, lonely, and tired. Eat normally, maintain a social life outside caregiving, and get adequate sleep.


Widen the Team: If someone offers to help with caretaking (or anything else), accept. You can only do so much. Let others take care of you, sometimes, too.


Hobbies Help: Do things that make you happy outside of caretaking. Reframe time spent on things you enjoy as active recovery (not wasted time), fueling you to continue caretaking.


Seek Appreciation: Insufficient appreciation breeds resentment, and ample appreciation leads to emotional health. The person you care for may not show appreciation, but you can be proud of yourself, ask others to validate your efforts, or join a caregiver support group.


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