By Jack Cumming
The pandemic dealt us a rough hand. Care workers, especially those serving the oldest and frailest among us, were impacted in their workplaces. While other workers outside senior living had to cope with job loss, the Federal government was there to help them with extended unemployment benefits and other cash distributions. Meanwhile, care workers were scrambling to find personal protective equipment.
The pandemic was everywhere. It’s a dread disease. Many fell into its grip. COVID was on the daily news. Burnout, too, is everywhere. It, too, is a devastating disease. Many have fallen into its grip. Yet, it gets far less attention than COVID.
Care workers were largely forgotten in the midst of COVID devastation. Providers tried to counter that. Many providers heralded their staff with signs declaring that “Heroes Work Here.” Crisis creates heroes. In a time of challenge, many ordinary people rise to the common threat and act heroically in their response. You may be one of them. You may not think of yourself as extraordinary, but you are.
Rising to daily challenges to our compassion and our energy takes a toll. In our military now, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is given credence. Gone are the years when afflicted soldiers were told to tough it out and keep a stiff upper lip.
We have yet, however, to extend that same kind of understanding to those who were savagely afflicted by the necessity to confront the deadly specter of COVID day after day, as though it were just a normal part of work.
No wonder many people are now burned out. You may be one of them.
Treat Yourself First.
That’s not to say that COVID PTSD is totally ignored. There are many who counsel meditation, timeout, chicken soup, exercise, and more as antidotes to the pandemic of burnout. Those are all good ideas and well-intentioned. Yet, they may not be sufficient.
Some of those afflicted by burnout turn to self-medication as alcoholism and drug abuse are on the rise. For the severely afflicted, though, it can seem like happy thoughts and happy talk are hopeless and that self-medication flat out fails to numb the pain.
Remember when coming to work was a joy? There was a good feeling in knowing that what you did to earn a living helped people to have better lives. Businesses that cater to indulgent consumerism couldn’t say the same. Those who worked in senior living took joy-filled satisfaction from the self-evident human-helping importance of their daily work.
Thoughtless Finger Pointing.
The pandemic, and its companion, burnout, took that away. Insensitive journalists and their publications pounced. Wanting someone to blame for the devastation of the COVID epidemic, as it morphed into pandemic and then into the perplexing normality of endemic, journalists found easy prey in nursing homes.
Moreover, in their naïveté few journalists distinguished nursing homes for the frailest and dying from senior living in general. That journalistic ignorance produced injustice and unfair finger-pointing. It misled many of your neighbors as well. Irresponsible journalism is harmful.
No wonder your prior joy was sapped just as your work became more critical and you were asked to do more and more with less and less.
Bring Back the Joy.
The antidote must be to restore the joy and pride in work that was once so self-evident. Consider the alternative of stepping aside and taking a conventional job in the outside world. Perhaps, you would enjoy table-waiting in a restaurant. After all, experienced care workers are usually giving, and nurturing people. Caring for tables is a natural next step, and the instant reward of an outsized tip can be nourishment for the soul.
Imagine how that would be. Could you ever consider serving diners as satisfying as caring for the helpless? Even when those nearing life’s end are at their most demanding, there’s still something lovable about them. And, you can know that they love you back.
Find Your Passion.
My belief is that work that you love is the best antidote to work-related burnout. For that, you have to know that your work is congruent with your passion. Meaningful work elevates the spirit. There are many things that can break one’s spirit. Work shouldn’t be one of them.
The great strength of working in senior living is knowing that what you do is uplifting for others. Caregiving sustains life. Many other jobs are destructive. Assembling guns for street sale comes to mind. Those jobs should lead to burnout just as helping those who are frail should fuel the soul.
You may just find on reflection that you’ve lived your passion all along. Sure, the pandemic made the job almost impossibly difficult. And then, to reap journalistic scorn was just wrong. Still, you know in your heart that the journalists are wrong. That’s on them.
A Life in Service.
You are serving the meek and lowly. As faith teaches us, “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last for many are called, but few are chosen.” Take pride and comfort in knowing that you are chosen.
What’s your passion? What is making you feel downhearted? If you can find a path to give your life meaning, follow it. You matter and you always will.