It’s no secret that caregiving requires a certain type of toughness. We often discuss the toll that the physical, mental and emotional stress of this career puts on our bodies. It’s not an easy gig and to consistently do our job well requires strength, fortitude, and willingness to sacrifice. Our patience is often tested on every level by everyone and still, we must carry on. So yes, though it may not be listed in the job requirements, toughness is a skill that is needed to perform our duties.
On the flip side of that is vulnerability. I have discovered that one of my most useful assets in this field has been a willingness to remain in touch with my own personal vulnerabilities in order to better relate and connect with my residents.
It’s not a comfortable feeling for me, vulnerability. Outside of work, I adhere to a never-let-them-see-you-sweat-pick-yourself-up-by-the-boot-straps-and-look-at-the-bright-side philosophy of life. I like to take action! After all, it’s hard to hit a moving target.
There is a certain level of denial in constantly trying to maintain such a mentality because the truth of it is, we are ALL vulnerable. It comes with the territory of being humans. For me, one of the greatest lessons of this career is that I’ve had to get past that intrinsic need to be a Pollyanna in order to truly reach some of my most challenging residents.
Lonely, sick, hurting, scared people do not WANT to “look on the bright side”. They do not want to “smile”. They DEFINITELY don’t want to be told that all things happen for a reason and that people are praying for them. As well-meaning as such sentiments are, they lack the substance to cut through the fog of depression and fear that most feel upon losing their sense of independence and, in a very real way, their freedom through no fault of their own.
I do not know what it is like to live with cerebral palsy. I do not know what it’s like to have suffered a traumatic brain injury, or cancer, or severe mental illness. I would never tell any of my folks that I know what they are going through, because I do not. That DOESN’T mean that I’ve never felt the emotions that they may be feeling. THAT is where the gift of vulnerability comes in handy.
When I dig within the deep wells of my own personal experiences, painful though that may be, I find a wealth of emotions, good and bad, that I use to empathize with my residents. I know all too well what it’s like to feel alone, powerless, scared, hopeless, lost, stigmatized and like an outcast. I know what it’s like to feel anger at situations over which I had no control and I know what it feels like to lose your dignity. I know this through my OWN life experiences and I know the tools that have helped me to get through it.
This in no way qualifies me to “fix” my folks. I can’t fix anyone. What I CAN do is relate on a deeper level. I can share my experiences when appropriate and I can be open to being emotionally vulnerable to those who, by necessity, are forced to be vulnerable with me.