Illness can affect caring.
People who are ill often expect those around them to care in the same way as they think they would, if they were in the same situation.
It can be difficult to really know what it is like, to be someone else.
How much a person can care for someone else depends on many things, including how much they feel cared for themselves. One of the problems with illness is that it doesn’t stop other people needing to be cared for themselves, even if they are having to care for someone else.
People do not always expect an ill person to care for anyone else, but they usually get better care themselves if they can and do – and can show it.
Being ill can make it harder to care for other people.
- Caring requires energy.
- Caring requires the capacity to put yourself in other’s shoes – and you may have no experience of being in shoes like theirs.
- Caring requires thought, and illness can make it hard to think clearly.
- It is hard to care for someone when you are angry with them, and illness can make people angry with those around them.
- Illness can make you want to withdraw, to hide, to sort out your own mind, your own feelings, your own grief for your own losses , and for a while you may lose awareness of people around you.
- If you have been in a coma for a while, you may be dislocated and unaware of how people around you are feeling. You have simply lost some time, and you may hardly have noticed; they may have gone through a nightmare for weeks, fearing for your life. You may still care for them, but you may not know what they need from you now.
- If you have suffered serious losses, you may for a while need all your energy for your own grieving process, and this may blind you to the losses of others.
- Your own pain may seem so much greater, so much more deserving of sympathy and care than anyone else’s, that you cannot see their pain, their losses, or take them seriously.
- Sometimes people who think they are going to die think their children would be better off if they didn’t love them. They don’t realise that it can be much harder to lose a parent you hate or are angry with than one you love.
If you have lost your ability to care for others, you may feel they no longer care for you.
- Alcohol and some other drugs can drown out feelings of caring for others, and make it hard to feel cared for.
- Illness and pain can drown out feelings of care for anyone, including yourself and everyone around you.
Understanding some of the difficulties of being a carer can help.
Caring for someone who is ill or in pain pr struggling with a health problem may not be easier than being ill. In some ways it can be harder.
People who care may not always show it.
- They may feel overwhelmed.
- Their own needs or someone else’s may have to take precedence.
- They may be angry with the person who is ill, for many reasons.
- They may be feeling abandoned by the person who is ill. If they feel so abandoned that they cannot bear it, they may end up making the person who is ill feel abandoned, by leaving them, perhaps.
- They may – on some level – care so much that cannot bear to see what is happening to the person they love and need desperately, and they have tipped over into rejection of everything and anything to do with their own need, with the illness and with the person who has it.
Some people can be cruel – both people who are ill and those who nurse them
- People who were treated with cruelty in childhood may treat others with cruelty in later life. This applies both to patients and to nurses; to those nursed at home and those in hospital. It applies to children and to parents.
- Power can make some people cruel: like school bullies, if they know nobody can stop them, they can find pleasure in exerting arbitrary power. This, again, may be a result of having previously been treated with cruelty by a power over which they had no control.
- Some people do not have the internal checks and balances which would stop them being cruel to those in their power. These people can be dangerous. They may not be easy to recognise.
- Some very harsh upbringings leave people unable to express a more caring side of themselves. They may have learnt to see it as weakness and vulnerability which they cannot afford. They may not see themselves as cruel, but as just or fair, or trying to maintain strict standards which they see as essential for a correct life. They may pass on to their children a tendency for cruelty or harshness and intolerance of weakness.
- People who are treated with no respect or consideration at work may find it hard to behave respectfully or considerately to those in their power. People often find themselves following the lead of the manager above them in the hierarchy, even when they do not like the way the manager behaves towards them.
- Nurses who are given no opportunity to think about the effect of their work on them may sometimes find it hard not to behave in an uncaring way towards some patients.
- Some patients – perhaps through no fault of their own – can arouse difficult emotions in some nurses. If the nurses are not sufficiently supported in their work, they may ‘pass on’ the distress aroused in them to other patients, without meaning to.
- Bad management, derisory pay, or other external factors can make care staff or nurses feel so bad that they give up trying to do their job properly and spend all their energy trying to survive. Cruelty or lack of caring for a patient may be a side-effect of their lack of concentration, lack of self-respect, lack of hope for their own and their families’ future, and their despair. This is a tragedy for the staff concerned, as well as for those in their care. Individual carers, nurses and patients may be unable to care for each other as a result of financial, political or managerial decisions.