Caregiving, LizaMcC

October 18, 2020


I'm WillowjakMama!

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. Now it's my favourite place to be.

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Shy Liza is afraid of tons of things. 

I’m terrified of spiders and bugs. I’m scared of public speaking and confrontation. And fish still fill me with tons of fear. This month’s writing theme is fear, so I started thinking of all the things that scare me in this life. And honestly, spiders were the first thing that came to mind. But, I figured a blog post about my tiny little enemies wouldn’t be the most entertaining. So, I kept thinking. And thinking (you’re welcome). And I landed on care, caring, and caregiving.

Hear me out. 

It’s scary to care about someone who might not care about you. It’s scary to care about someone who might leave. It’s scary to care about something so much it hurts you. It’s scary to care about things that people might disagree with. It’s scary to be vulnerable and receive care. It’s scary to admit we need care. It’s scary to begin caring for ourselves. It’s scary to begin caring for someone else. It’s scary to commit to caring for someone. It’s scary to give up caring for someone. It’s scary to pass on your role as a caregiver to someone else. 

See what I mean?! Caring is SCARY! 

Like you learned if you read my post about almonds, Shy Liza tends to care a lot about people. To the point it often makes her cry. 

And lucky for you I have another example. 

I cried so much when I worked at camp last summer. This camp was dedicated to helping foster language and job skills for disabled campers. Sounds great.  And it was great for so many reasons. But, the care we were expected to provide at this camp was different than anything I had ever experienced. The campers had been coming this camp for many years, so the expectations, methods and consequences on how to reach these goals were pretty set in stone. And included lots of things which the softie in me wasn’t really up for.

All of the areas in the disability world that I have been involved in are about accepting people for all they are and all they offer. Not about changing them. This camp was good at celebrating the idea that anyone, no matter their ability can be a valuable employee. And I love this idea. But the dreamer in me wants a majority non-disabled world to accept disabled people into the work force as they are. Rather than changing disabled people to fit into this world. So, this camp was realistic in acknowledging that maybe my dream is a little huge (for now at least) if we want to see these campers getting jobs soon. This made sense, but it was hard for me to think about changing someone to make them seem ‘non-disabled’ if you know what I mean. Obviously, this wasn’t the camp’s intention, but that’s how people get jobs, they are or seem like non-disabled, productive members of society. They don’t get jobs by making the whole workplace change for them. And as unhappy as this makes me, I had to learn that helping people learn to be quiet in important moments, dress presentably, make eye contact, and sit still, etc. was not meant to devalue who they were as a person, but to set them up for a meaningful and successful life where they are included in something bigger than themselves. (Even though all these things are things that the ableist world just tells us are important, anyways, I digress).

I had to learn how to care in a way I had never experienced care before. But I also had to care for myself by speaking up for myself when I felt really uncomfy with something. I had to care for my campers by challenging the -what seemed to be set in stone- care practices, when I knew it could be done better. I was the fresh blood at this camp, so I was bringing in an outsider’s opinion on the way things had always been done. I started quietly, but then wouldn’t shut up about everything I knew could be done better or differently. I had tough conversations and made some compromises, but this was all in an effort coming from a place of deep care for my campers (and extreme confusion).

All of this to say, I cried a lot. Because my idea of care was being totally thrown out the window. It was hard for me to bring the ideas I held so deeply about acceptance and care and how I was being expected to care together. You know when you just don’t know what to do or how to feel so you like, cry? That was me. All the time.

I remember one night in particular. I was sitting on my bunk bed. The camp director was hanging out in the cabin that night, he was about to leave and passed my bed on the way out. And he asked me how I was doing (because he knew I had been having a super tough time) so of course I cried. You know the feeling, you’re like super not okay, but you’re doing a pretty good job faking it, until someone asks, and then you break down.

And then he told my he was happy I was crying. Huh?!

He was happy that I was crying, in my sleeping bag, on a bunk bed, in the middle of the woods?! It seemed like a pretty low point to me. 

He said, “I always know I’ve got a good staff when they cry. I like it because I know you care. If you didn’t care about your campers and their experience, you wouldn’t be crying.”

This made me feel a lot better. He was reminding me, that it’s nearly impossible to do care perfectly, but all we can do is our best. All we can do is care so deeply that it hurts, and that’s how we know we are giving the best care we can possibly give.

This being said, in those moments I’d always wished I picked a “normal” student job. Like in retail. Or food services.

Care means something different and looks different for every person. Care is impossible to define. Care looks different in every circumstance. When you care about something so much you cry, that’s scary. It’s scary not to be able to detach yourself from your job. But I remind myself that crying because I care is a good thing. It’s really hard when there just isn’t an easy answer and nobody agrees, but it’s teaching me how to be creative, to compromise and ultimately, how to be a better carer and human.

Okay, so what all that means basically is – care is scary because it makes me sad. And happy. And confused. And comforted. All at the same time. 

To ease my fear a little bit, when I care for someone, my rule of thumb is to always, always, always, put myself in their shoes. And I know this sounds super cliché, but it works, in every situation. Would I want my shirt tucked into my underwear after using the washroom? Heck to the no. Would I want someone to force me to go to bed when I’m not finished my movie yet? Yeah right. Would I want my sock to be crooked all day? Absolutely not. These are the small things that can go unnoticed, but I think they are really important. The people we care for are people and not just a receiver of our paid work.

It’s scary to think that one day we might receive subpar care. To think you might not be able to communicate your needs. And I think this is why as a world, we need talk about care (even though it is usually devalued work) and listen. I think when we all admit we will need care one day, and move past our weird fears about being disabled, we can begin to talk about care and how we all need it all of the time.

Care is complicated, conflicting and confusing and that’s why it’s scary. But the more we talk about care we give and care we receive the less scary it will get.

Liza McClelland

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  1. Judy Vanderluit says:

    Love this ❤️

  2. Joanne Klassen says:

    I felt so happy to be wrapped in the words and feelings of your life-altering camp experiencing with being in the role of a care giver in a systems not fully aligned with your values. You so powerfully illustrate the struggle between compassion and preparation for challenges toward greater independence. I was so glad it wasn’t me on that bunk crying. I may have given up. I’m glad you didn’t. I have heard that burnout is the high cost of caring; only those who are on fire can burn out, others fizzle out. May you tend the sacred fire of your awesome talent and passion for caring. The world is richer for you Liza.
    Please keep writing! Thanks.

    • Liza McClelland says:

      Thank you for your kind words Joanne! Yes, caring is never easy but I know it is always worth it and I think that’s what makes it so special.
      Thanks for following along!

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My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. We chat about themes that are often ignored and voices that aren't often given a chance at the mic. Now it's my favourite place to be. 

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