P.A.C.E Yourself: An Open Letter to Caregivers

P.A.C.E Yourself:  An Open Letter to Caregivers From the Kansas City Crew!

This week I wanted to devote space to the caregivers of our patients. At McCallum, we work with the patient’s system, meaning we look at a person, the whole person, in the context of their situation. This means that even if we are seeing someone individually in the therapy room, we take into consideration their support system and community, their family and the relating factors that may have an impact on their lives. We also know that sometimes the “relating factors” influence behavior.

This is where caregivers and supporters come in. What a job you have. Also, what an honor. We value you so very much in our work with your loved one. You are often a leading influence in helping your child, sibling, parent, or spouse become comfortable with stability and balance.

In eating disorder care, you are such an important part of the process; you know your family best, and truly are the expert on their inner workings. We provide tools, but you are the one with the history. I know this because of what I don’t know.

We don’t know how your child used eat his hamburger before all of this. We were not there when she laughed so hard at a joke soda came out her nose. We have not tried countless ways to connect with him after being bullied at school. We were not the ones to find her on the floor sobbing. We are not the ones on the other end of a month long silent treatment. We are not the ones crying in the closet out of sheer exhaustion (well, ok it’s 2020, quite a few of us have done this openly by now). We simply know that caregiving is hard and we are so thankful you are doing it.
What we do know is that caring for someone you love is 100% worth it; and it is exhausting even on the best days. It has wonderfully beautiful moments, but for a minute I’d like to acknowledge the part we don’t talk about often.

As therapists, we know that sometimes caregivers experience “blocked care” which means that they have been so stressed-out that their brain goes into survival mode and they are unable to connect to their loved one It is a common reactive state that occur in our brains when we have become so worn down, so tired, and emotionally depleted that we find ourselves working counter to our best intentions. We can become verbally hostile, defensive and at times even harmful to our children in this state. Our intention is to love our people as best and as constantly as we can; and anyone, giving a set of stressful circumstances, can fall into blocked care. No matter your intelligence, desire to be the perfect parent or spouse, or therapeutic knowledge.

You are not alone. This is quite common and it can be reversed. Though it can be isolating, lonely and miserable, and people (therapists included) don’t see the half of it. Please know that rather than blaming you for something like this, we at McCallum want to welcome you with open arms. You continuing in this process is nothing short of incredible. Let us support you, because the journey makes one weary and it takes community.

The heartening news is, there are absolutely ways to remedy “blocked care;” Though the journey is not easy, nor does it happen overnight. I’d also recommend letting a professional help you through this period of caretaking so they can be a support and holder of hope when it is too difficult to find space. Seek your own therapeutic support as your loved one get treatment.
One of these ways to help pull ourselves out of this reactive state is to experience empathy and grace for ourselves. To receive these things, is to eventually be able to share them with others.
Here are four ideas from the creator of Dyadic Developmental Therapy (cousins to attachment therapy, CBT and ACT), Dan Hughes recommends to begin the process: P.A.C.E:

Playfulness – If your heart is too heavy for lightness, we offer space. The antidote for perfectionism is play. Staff at McCallum will help you build bridges of communication with a mix of humor and heart. We offer room for playfulness as a way to find common language for our emotions and for our needs. Find a way to infuse play into your everyday life- when was the last time you did something you thoroughly enjoyed? Rode a bike? Worked on a project in the garage? Wrote a poem? Played a board game? Laughed with a friend?

Acceptance – Acceptance means we can see you as separate from your behaviors or actions. We accept you as a human being, and do not correlate your worth or ability to love based on your behaviors. Acceptance means that while others might not agree with you, we accept that your feelings and experiences are real, and work with you and your loved one to find accountability through acceptance.

Curiosity – We are genuinely interested and excited to help you rediscover unique and connective aspects of yourself and your family. Curious to know you and your loved one before all of this, and cultivate and identity afterwards. We come from a strong knowledge of clinical background, and know enough not to make assumptions about you based on others. Curiosity allows internal tools to present themselves and we are all ears.

Empathy– We are able sit with and are comfortable with any emotion that arises in therapy. We welcome anger, because it shows you care. We welcome sadness and tears as they show you are processing deep emotion. We welcome emotional defenses because it means you protecting yourself, and we’d love to offer you a break. We don’t pretend to know your pain, but will walk alongside you as you wade through the tough stuff.

For those caregivers who are at their wits end, you are not a bad parent, spouse, sibling or friend. You have not failed your loved one. You do the best you can with what you’ve got at any given time, and we see that. All of us are not immune to hardship. See if you can’t find some aspect of grace today. Whether that means turning inward and being curious with yourself, or giving yourself a break from the internal barrage of self-critique, see where you can slow down and find the right P.A.C.E. for you and yours.

Thank you for being such a vital role in your loved one’s treatment.