I buy scratchcards, I drink whiskey and I smoke cigarettes, just a small selection of my many flaws. I'm far from perfect, but I'm also the Caregiver of my thirty-one-year-old sister who has a severe Learning Disability and Epilepsy. I think that I can be both of these things — flawed and caring — without them contradicting one another. Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn said it well enough:
“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an un-uprooted small corner of evil”
I’m not saying that my efforts to be a Caregiver in spite of my proclivity towards cigarettes and gambling is comparable to a battle between good and evil, but rather that my heart is a grey area made up of a variety of instincts, some less admirable than others and that this is not something I should be ashamed of so much as it is a fact that I need to accept.
Being at peace with myself as a flawed human being has helped me to give my sister the love and care that she needs. By accepting my flaws I’m not hiding from them, which means that I am aware of when they are causing me problems regarding my caring duties and I can try to do something about it.
In my day to day life, I try to be mindful of when my flaws are causing me to drift away from the loving nature that I need to be a Caregiver, once I am aware of this drift I have found two methods that can help get me back on track which I will explain in this article. Briefly, they are:
- Spend some time searching my soul for the love that I’ve lost contact with.
- Give myself a break from my caring duties and practice some self-care.
In my efforts to be a caring person despite my flaws this is what has worked for me, maybe my methods could similarly help you. You might not be a full-time Caregiver like me, but that doesn’t mean that you are exempt from the potential benefits that a caring nature could bring to both you and the people who you care for, it could be family members or friends, the benefits are still there to be had for anyone who chooses to pursue them.
Battling my flaws: soul-searching
As part of my Care-giving duties today I’m taking my sister into town to pick up some shopping that she needs. I’m telling myself that this overt display of caring is a sign that I’m doing my job properly — how caring of me! However, if I stop my mind long enough to examine my true intentions then I am confronted with the cold hard facts; I just want to get to a coffee shop and distract my sister for long enough with a cappuccino so that I can work on my laptop, try to inflate my ego in the process and smoke some cigarettes along the way.
When I stop and think about my true intentions today, I feel ashamed. I feel like a pretty bad Caregiver. What can I do with this shame? I could try to ignore it because I don’t like what it reveals about me, or I could accept it and try to change myself in a way that makes me more proud of who I am. The latter option requires me to do some ‘soul-searching’, which perhaps sounds more enigmatic than it actually is — it is simply a period of deep reflection on myself and my values. I’ll give you an example:
A few days ago I was sitting in Starbucks with my sister (yes, we like to go for coffees) my sister was sipping her mocha latte and I was trying to do some work on my laptop. My sister kept trying to ask me questions as she drank, I would try to palm her off with a quick reply, but she was persistent — I was getting annoyed. As time progressed, she kept asking more questions and I wasn’t getting my work done, something was blocking my mind from flowing freely — I was saturated in negativity, the basis of which was a resentment of my sister.
At this point, I stopped typing and reflected. That feeling of shame began to creep up on me.
I was confronted with the choice that I mentioned above. I could ignore my feelings and carry on my selfish path regardless, or could I try to change things, more specifically I could try to change the nature of my heart in that moment. I chose the latter: I got myself ready for a deep dive into my soul, with the aim of making my heart less selfish and resentful, and more loving and caring.
Firstly, I stopped typing and telling myself that I needed to do my work. I stopped listening to all of my thoughts that were directing me away from my sister and towards myself. I guess you could call these thoughts ‘ego motivated’ thoughts — I stopped listening to them.
I replaced these thoughts with the real presence of my sister sitting opposite me and I tried with all my heart to put myself in her shoes. I was striving to see the world from a perspective outside of my own, I needed to let something new in, something that could replace all of those flawed and self-centered instincts that I had been relying on previously. My sister was that something.
Having cleared my mind of the loud noise of my ego, I began to notice the coffee shop around me, it was bubbling with conversations like a busy school canteen. Then I looked in front of me; my sister was so quiet. Her eyes drifted anxiously around the tables that surrounded us, then quickly back to the cup in front of her, she rubbed a tissue in her hands incessantly. She looked lonely and anxious, she seemed to be calling out for human connection. So, I started talking to her.
We talked about anything, the most inconsequential of things, what groceries we needed to buy, what we were talking about didn’t matter, it’s the fact that we were talking that was important and that the effort that I was putting into the conversation was authentic. Superficial conversation, spoken like a robot, wouldn't have sufficed, it wouldn’t have created a real connection. Whereas this simple conversation about groceries did just that, it bridged the gap between us.
My sister’s demeanor began to change, a smile broke across her face and our eyes met meaningfully — I felt a deep sense of joy. I was in a completely different world to that which I had been only moments before when resentment was plaguing me. We hadn’t, physically, moved an inch, but my heart and soul had moved light-years. In that moment I had managed to overcome my flaws for at least a bit.
As a Caregiver, the purpose of my job is to try to love and care for another human being, but I find it very hard to be a constant source of such pure motivations. I have learned that I have to accept my failings in this regard and be at peace with them if I want to stand any chance of making myself a better person. Replacing shame with acceptance — this has been key for me.
However, despite good intentions, sometimes my efforts to change myself don’t always go as smoothly as was portrayed in the above example. Sometimes no amount of soul-searching will help me to become reacquainted with my caring nature and my flaws just stick to me like glue. At such times, I have found a different approach to be helpful; I take a step back and make sure that I’m looking after myself, a process that I will explain next.
Battling my flaws: practicing self-care
There are times in my role as a Caregiver when I am confronted with a situation like that which I referenced above — when I try to overcome my failures at providing care through a conscious effort to re-connect with my sister — only it doesn’t work out.
At such times, no matter how hard I try to be there for my sister, it doesn’t happen, I can’t seem to grasp a hold of that magical power that bridges the infinite gap between two people; love. Instead, I just feel sad, empty and exhausted, like a pretty useless human being to be honest.
When this happens I am tempted to completely forget about anything remotely altruistic and, instead, throw myself headfirst into egoistic hedonism; maybe pour myself a double bourbon and watch Logan Paul count M&M’s on YouTube. But I know from experience that trying to lose myself through mindless distraction at such times doesn't help matters, it only increases my self-loathing. I have learned that what I actually need to do is practice some ‘self-care’. Drinking bourbon and watching Logan Paul wouldn’t suffice here, because how is that really going to care for any part of me that matters? No, I need to do things that are truly directed at improving my well-being. After all, what good am I to anyone, my sister included, if I haven’t been properly looking after myself?
For me, self-care doesn’t have to be anything all that complicated or profound for it to have a big impact on my well-being. I will take some time alone and do things that put no pressure on me to be a certain way, loving or otherwise. Maybe I’ll watch some Netflix, eat a nice meal, go for a run, have a long soak in the bath or even just sleep. More often than not, after I have given myself this period of rest, my heart feels completely renewed, it no longer feels so impossible and exhausting a prospect to try and love and care for another human being.
Accepting my flawed nature has helped me to not feel shame or guilt for allowing myself these breaks from my Care-giving duties. I guess I am especially liable to feel this way because I live with, and I am a relative of, the person I’m caring for — it’s easy for me to get into the mindset that my Caring duties should never stop because the person I am caring for is nearly always around me.
In the past, when I have stubbornly refused to take give myself this kind of break, it always ends badly. I tend to end up having something that I call a ‘mini break-down’; I shut myself into my bedroom, draw the curtains and curl up in my bed, wallowing in tears and self-pity, an empty pint of Ben and Jerry’s usually lying at my feet. I think that these ‘break-downs’ are my body’s way of forcing me to shut down because I haven’t allowed it to. I have learned to accept my limitations and listen to my mind and body when they are telling me to rest.
Being a Caregiver has made me acutely aware of my shortcomings as a human being and for this, I am thankful, because it has allowed me to work on these flaws and become a more caring person in the process. However, being a caring person is of course not a skill reserved solely for people working in jobs such a mine, irrespective of your job you can tap into this altruistic trait. It is through fostering our ability to care for others that we can all develop meaningful relationships with the people who are important to us in our lives.
Through the course of caring for someone who is vulnerable and in need of help, I have discovered what love truly is and what a meaningful connection with another human being genuinely feels like. No amount of flaws in my nature will ever let me forget these things. If you ever find yourself doubting your ability to care deeply for another human being because you think you’re just “too flawed”, pause and remember that you are only human, that it’s OK to be flawed and that no flaw is too big to be overcome.
Perfect or not, I will go on trying my utmost to be a caring person for the rest of my days, I can’t imagine a more worthwhile way to spend my life. I hope that reading this article might have inspired you to do something similar in your own life.
Thank you for reading,