Paper Bags and Caregiver Isolation

Paper Bags and Caregiving Isolation

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There is a good reason why all caregivers need their paper bags… For caregivers, there is a different weight that comes with knowing you are responsible for another person’s health and wellbeing, which can result in feelings of stress and isolation.

It is important for caregivers to care for themselves to fulfill their caregiving responsibilities while being able to care for themselves also. Oftentimes, however, caregivers put themselves and their mental health in the back burner simply because there isn’t enough time around the clock. Feelings of isolation seep in.

Lily is 70 years old and works as a caregiver in California. She has been a caregiver since 2001 and has cared for a lot of people over the years. Caregiving has always been a fulfilling journey for her, but as of late, she has been feeling burnt out from caregiving due to feelings of isolation.

As soon as she gets home, she starts caring for her sister who recently got diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Lily and her sister both live in Oxnard, California and have limited support system. Most of their family are either out of state, or live a few hours away, leaving Lily the primary caregiver for her sister.

Lily voiced out how she started to feel physically exhausted from having to work as a caregiver by profession and being the primary caregiver for her ailing sister. She expressed how isolating it felt.

Eventually, she got sick and was hospitalized for more than a week.

Another family caregiver, Laura, shared with me why family caregivers end up feeling isolated. Aside from lack of support, they refuse to seek help from other people because they feel like they would be the best at caring for a family member.

Laura became a caregiver for her niece who suffered a stroke. She shared she felt isolated because becoming a caregiver was overnight.

“I feel that the reason why caregivers are isolated are for various reasons. For one, they don’t want to ask for help because caregivers want to show they can do it on their own. Caregivers are afraid of getting judged when it comes to how they care for a family member,” Laura shares.

Laura advises caregivers to not be afraid of what people think and not to isolate themselves. Instead, to work on expanding a support system and to ask for support even if that means asking for help. Expanding your support system is key to avoiding caregiver isolation.

Her advice for people like Lily is to make things easier on her end when it comes to caregiving. For example, asking someone to cover for her an hour a week, or perhaps order food once a week to give herself some reprieve.

Laura also advises caregivers to try to do something fun each day, no matter how small it is.  

“Laugh, make phone calls to friends and family. And if you don’t get things right all the time, don’t beat yourselves up and don’t be afraid of getting judged. Ask and accept help even if that is through blogs, or a quick search on the Internet.”

Laura also stresses the importance of expanding your support system so that you can take turns with caring for your family member.

Laura shared that over the years, she would share a paper bag to fellow caregivers, the caregivers stress relief bag. The paper bag could contain anything that makes them smile and relax.

“I would give all caregivers a simple paper bag and ask them to put in the paper bag whatever helps them relax. I would then tell caregivers to keep their paper bags handy whenever they need time to themselves.” 

If you don’t have any family or friends close by, you can always attend support groups and meet other family caregivers for support. Perhaps share with them your paper bag.  

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Interview conducted by:
Luiza Benisano 

Special Thanks:
Lily Martinelli and Laura Coger

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