When It Comes to Caregiving, Women Are Already Toast
Slices of toast jumping out of the toaster against yellow background.

In despair, I typed “caregiver” into Google, planning to follow it up with “resources” or “support group.” The first search the autofill suggested, however, was “caregiver burnout.” I sighed and clicked. That morning, I’d cried my way through a miserable appointment with my husband Brad’s oncologist. The news we’d received had been no grimmer than any other development over the preceding 18 months of his treatment for a rare T-cell lymphoma, which had included a debilitating stem cell transplant. But on that hot July day in 2016, I was so exhausted by the caring grind that I could no longer cope.

As I broke down, the oncologist chided me for not taking good enough care of myself. If I didn’t, he said, how could I take care of my husband?

Fragile and overextended, I heard in that question an implication that the only point of me, as a human and not coincidentally as a woman, was to care for another person. What about my own life? Didn’t I deserve care in my own right?

I spent more than two years as Brad’s primary caregiver during the long, intense crisis phase of his illness; in the years since, as he’s endured disability and chronic illness, my responsibilities have ebbed and flowed depending on his health. During the long crisis, I was so overwhelmed, and eventually so burned out, that sometimes I fantasized about simply turning around while driving to the pharmacy or the grocery store, heading to the airport instead, and buying a ticket on any plane going somewhere semitropical.

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