When Family Care and Carers NZ offered a free hour of life coaching with Richard Blakeborough, he was swamped with requests, mainly from women providing care and support for others. What did he discover in hours of conversations via telephone, email, and Skype?
This is a story about heroes or, to be exact, heroines: everyday New Zealand women who support some of our country’s most vulnerable citizens. Our story begins when Carers NZ and Family Care magazine asked me to coach 50 readers.
One hour of free 'me' time for those in caring situations to talk about anything they were concerned about or wanted to change or just get off their chests: that was our offer.
After a flood of inquiries, we upped our commitment from 50 coaching slots to 80, then to more than 100. In the next few months, I learned a lot about family carers!
Something I soon discovered is that these women are indeed heroines.
They don’t like to be thought of as martyrs or saints, but they have courage, they achieve a lot, and they have noble qualities. They also push themselves to do everything they can for others, but often take no rest for themselves.
In many cases they are providing care alone, while others juggle major caring commitments with paid employment to keep their households afloat financially.
I am using the term heroine because only 10% of those who responded to our offer were men, and of those none actually followed through with a coaching session.
I’m not sure what this means, but hope that men reading this article will, after doing so, feel better able to reach out to talk to somebody!
What is clear from the heroines is that family carers are working themselves hard and fast and long, and they are not taking care of themselves. They feel frustrated, guilty, unworthy, and lost.
Is this true for you? If so you’re not alone!
Many carers said the simple act of talking for an hour to someone who would not judge their dreams and goals (or concerns, dislikes, or fears) was a moving, powerful experience. Just by releasing thoughts and feelings they had buried, often for years, many felt inspired to breathe life into goals and dreams they gave up on long ago.
Isn't it amazing that just one hour of supportive connection with another human being could have this impact?
It's food for thought!
We all have goals and dreams, fears and concerns, but it’s not always easy to express them to other people. Is this because we are afraid of being seen as weak, or a daydreamer, or selfish to focus on ourselves rather than those who rely on us?
Being judged by others was a frequent topic of discussion with family carers, as was the guilt they often feel if they do something for themselves, be it having a holiday, a respite break, or even sitting down for 15 minutes with a cup of tea.
Yet as every carer knows in their heart of hearts (even if no one else tells them), it's important to nurture ourselves, too; to make time for thinking, relaxing, just being.
‘Me’ time isn't a luxury but a basic need for heroines who have so much to do, but can struggle to stay in top condition and thus continue to support others.
Money, work, time
What other issues did our heroines share that we can all learn from? Many of those I spoke to had low self esteem, felt tired, said they lacked motivation, and were not looking after their own health and wellbeing.
They felt in a rut and wanted to do more with their lives, but had no idea where to start. Some had feelings of loneliness and a concern that they would not be able to meet a life partner because of their caring responsibilities. Often this perception was based on how they felt about themselves and their personal circumstances. They had put a loved one's needs above their own and felt this limited other areas of life.
Family carers are working themselves hard and Fast and long, and they are not taking care of themselves. They feel frustrated, guilty, unworthy, and lost.
Many family carers also worried about their limited earning opportunities. Linked to money was a feeling of being a drain on society because they accepted money from the Government (via a benefit), and anger at being treated as a 'bludger' by those providing the funding.
Some felt a lack of certainty about whether they were receiving all available help, and how to check if they were missing out on money or support they might be eligible for.
Most of the carers I spoke to (even those also working full-time) had clearly made their support for others their main priority. They were less certain about whether it was healthy to sacrifice their own goals and dreams to provide this support.
Often working carers were also tolerating workplace stress and bullying from colleagues, which makes their participation in paid work unpleasant.
Many of those I spoke to felt less worthy than those around them. One of the reasons they had never voiced their goals and dreams was because they felt that people ‘like them’ would never be able to achieve 'those sorts of dreams’. Indeed, they had often been told that they were ‘dreaming’ if they thought they could! These comments, usually by siblings, parents, and spouses, were not intended to be cruel. The message that you shouldn't have dreams as you will never achieve them was really given from love. As surprising as this seems, the deliverer was trying to protect the receiver from what they called 'life's realities'.
But what then happened, mainly inadvertently, was that the receiver developed a self-limiting belief: a strong sense of being less worthy to pursue work, travel, life, fitness, or other goals.
Indeed, a major issue for many carers was a wish to be fitter, rather than tired, unmotivated, unhealthy, overweight, and lacking the time or will to do any exercise.
Despite this common barrier, carers know that if they care better for themselves, they will be healthier, happier, and better able to support someone else.
In many of my chats, we spent the whole hour overcoming reasons why carers aren’t looking after their own wellbeing, and how to reduce feelings of guilt if they do more to care better for themselves.
I should point out that as well as family carers, some of the heroines I spoke to are women self-managing their own health and disability needs, and those supporting others in their paid jobs.
What all of the heroines have in common is a wish to live happier, richer, healthier lives. I will leave you with some questions to help you consider whether, like our heroines, you have developed any self- limiting beliefs over the years that hold you back from living life as fully as you could.
- Who do you share your innermost thoughts with? Is there someone who will listen and not judge? Someone in a similar situation to yours who will understand how you feel? If not, do you think having someone like this to talk to would be useful? How can you make this happen?
- Do you plan for ‘me’ time? Do you organise breaks or activities that refresh your heart and soul? Or do you feel, like so many, that you aren't worthy of having that time; that to want it is selfish? In what ways could you care better for yourself (and thus give the best support to others you care about).
Richard Blakeborough is a life coach and regular Family Care NZ contributor. One day Richard was a fit and healthy man, then his cardiologist told him he had heart disease and needed a triple bypass.
His e-books, Life After A Bypass and That’s A Big Fat Lie Richard, chronicle his journey following heart surgery and subsequent departure from the corporate world to become a life coach.