How can a caregiver remain whole while consumed taking care of a loved one?

My brother is very sick and has become very dependent on me and is extremely negative. I feel the joy and freedom leaving my life but still want to be there for him, I'm sad, anxious and so worried. My husband and children worry about me, but my brother is alone and needs me. He does not want to spend his limited money on professional assistance.
Asked by Bella

Thank you for submitting a question. I am sorry that you are experiencing all of these challenges at this time. And I am sorry to hear that your brother is struggling, too.

Being a caregiver is a truly noble and loving choice. Wanting to be there to assist your brother is a wonderful, remarkable thing. Thank you for committing yourself to helping your family. But that said, yes, it can be incredibly difficult. Being a caretaker is a demanding job. It can cause so much stress and strain for even the most resilient person in the world. What you are experiencing is quite common amongst caregivers. You are not alone in what is happening to you. 

Caregiving tends to cause burnout. It is so easy and quite common to shift the entirety of your focus towards meeting the ever increasing needs of your loved one. In the meantime, your own health and well-being get put aside. There are many signs which indicate you are burnout including:

Constantly feeling overwhelmed

Feeling like you are easily irritated

Occurrence of body aches and pains

Development of physical health issues


Loss or gain of weight

Trouble with sleep – either too much or not enough

Constantly feeling tired and worn down

Feeling worried a lot

No longer interested in things you enjoyed before

Caregiving usually makes large demands on your time. And this often increases as the loved one continues to get sicker. It is common for your relationships with others to be impacted negatively because of this. It is important to take notice when this is happening so that you can refocus on the other relationships in your life which are important to you. Devoting personal time to your spouse and other family needs to become a priority. And good communication is key.

It is hard to watch your loved one go through this. You are watching them deteriorate. Witnessing the decline can naturally contribute to you feeling some levels of anxiety and depression. This can endure for years after you cease to provide care.

Strategies to assist during this challenging time are varied. One thing to consider is seeking and accepting help. You cannot do it all. There might be friends or other relatives who can pitch in. Every little bit can help. Who can help? Ask them to assist and specify what they can do.  

And it could be time to have a loving, yet firm conversation with your brother about the reality of this situation. It is understandable that he would not want to spend money on services. But it doesn’t sound like it’s feasible to continue on this same path. Let him know that you cannot keep doing this because it is taking too much of a toll on you. And that, without some changes, you will potentially be unable to help at all anymore. This is actually a possibility. Discuss with your brother having someone help you, rather than entirely replace you. That will be a more workable solution. Otherwise, the risk is that you cannot help at all anymore and he will be forced to pay for care full-time. It is perhaps a better solution for him to accept your help part-time and bring in someone else to add additional support. You truly are just one person, and you cannot do it all. 

It is important that you are mindful of taking care of yourself. Make sure you have time to spend doing things to ease some stress. Be sure you are eating well, getting outside for fresh air, and getting in some exercise. Force yourself to take a break if you must. If you are not able to take several days off, then settle for a few hours. If that is too much on certain days, take each and every minute you can find. Ask for help. For yourself as well as for with your brother’s care. Find a support group, either locally or online. Seek out others who are going through the same thing as you. They will be able to offer support and likely will have some tips to help you get through this season. It helps to connect with others who are going through the same thing.

Try your best to keep a positive attitude. It won’t always be easy but try to find the humor in things when you can. And try, too, to shrug things off. The grumpy moods? The quirky habits? Commit to shrugging them off. You do get to choose how you will respond to things.

This is absolutely a demanding and difficult time for you. If you feel you need support to help guide you through it all then consider seeking out a therapist. Be patient and be compassionate towards yourself.