Your health may be suffering, or you may feel yourself smoldering before burnout. The bottom line is: you need help. So, folks might ask, why don’t you take a break?
Well, it’s obviously not that simple. The implication that you could just take a break whenever you need one? It’s sort of insultingly short-sighted.
Whether you can balance outside work with your caregiving duties or not, it’s extremely difficult to build a financial cushion. Plus — if you were to take a break, what would happen to the person in your care? At best, you might be able to pay someone else to help out in your absence. And at worst…? Well, that’s why taking a break, a vacation, or even just a few hours off feels so unrealistic.
So, as an unpaid caregiver, what are you supposed to do when you desperately need help of your own?
Self-assess the intensity of your situation
In your bones, you know how you’re doing. You’re the expert on how thin your ice is, on how few threads are keeping you hanging. You might be in dire straits, but communicating your distress feels out of the question.
Often, we discount our own struggles, or worry that communicating our stress makes us seem entitled or selfish. It happens to the best of us–especially to caregivers.
So what if you had an objective way to quantify the intensity of your struggles? What if you had a research-backed shorthand, so that neither you nor anyone else could second-guess the validity of your experience?
ARCHANGELS, a movement and platform celebrating and supporting caregivers, asked these questions, and decided it was important to find an answer. They created a tool to assess the intensity of caregivers’ experience, and to help caregivers both communicate their needs and find solutions. This tool is called the Caregiver Intensity Index (CII for short).
The Caregiver Intensity Index (CII)
Alexandra Drane, ARCHANGELS’ Co-Founder, describes the CII and its utility for caregivers: “We were able to create a tool that’s literally 24 questions. Those 24 questions take you 2.5 minutes to answer, and that answer gives you a score. You can almost think of going through those 24 questions as a therapy session in and of itself.”
Let’s say you score an 82 on the CII. Out of green, yellow, and red, that would put you in the red. So what does that mean for you, and what can you do with that information?
Drane explains: “35% of the country right now is in the red. You’re not alone–just knowing that one thing can make a huge difference.” She also details how the CII goes beyond a simple score. In addition to providing a score, the CII also uses a person’s answers to say: “Here are the top 2 things driving your intensity, and the top 2 things alleviating it. So do more of this, less of that.”
“It helps create a language for you to use in communicating with your loved ones. If you are in the red, it’s highly effective to say to your partner, children, person you’re caring for, you know what, I’m in the red right now.” Your score on the CII can also help to explain any unintended behaviors to those you love: “If I come across as short and cranky, I am so sorry; I’m in the red.”
Designate your “red phone“
When people suggest that you should take a break, your blood might understandably boil. It’s unrealistic for most people to just take a vacation or secure respite care on a whim.
But, shares Alexandra Drane, “what you can do is give yourself little breaks. You can give yourself 5 minutes to call your ‘red phone,’ a best friend you’ve put on alert. You’ve told them: ‘If I call you, and all you hear is 5 minutes of me swearing, every single swear I know, your job is just to listen to me and love on me. You are my red phone.’ That is a form of respite.”
Most people would be honored to be your red phone–to know that you trust them, and to know that you feel such a sense of closeness. All you have to do is ask.
Find targeted resources, specific to your situation
Supportiv’s Caregiver article collection provides a series of step-by-step tools for the emotional struggles of caregiving.
- If you’re unsure whether you’re a caregiver, find out.
- If you’re an unpaid caregiver, uncover solutions.
- If you know this is impacting your health, learn exactly how.
- If the person you care for is vocally ungrateful, get clarity.
- If suggesting professional help feels awkward, here’s how to frame it.
- If you’re burned out to a crisp, redefine respite.
- If setting boundaries makes you feel guilty, look at it this way.
- If your parents are aging, navigate uncharted territory.
- If you’re feeling things you “shouldn’t,” hear what others have to say.
- If you’re young and a caregiver, know you can be both.
Various other resources exist, specifically to help caregivers continue being the BAMFs they are. Consider exploring:
- Archangels.me (ARCHANGELS) for zip-code specific verified social services, practical planning tools, and peer stories.
- Caregiver.org (Family Caregiver Alliance) for multi-lingual phone support.
- Caregiving.org (National Alliance for Caregiving) for information on policies and legislation that impacts you.
We hope you will choose YOU and take action to honor your needs. It’s not easy to ask for help, and everyone knows that you wouldn’t ask unless you needed it. Check your shame at the door, so you can get the tangible assistance you deserve.