Health & Wellness

The Circle of Care

Before you drew your first breath, you had caregivers. Your mother may have taken prenatal vitamins to ensure your growth and development, an obstetrician likely monitored your health, and relatives and friends probably contributed clothing and supplies in preparation for your arrival. At a time when they didn’t know you as a person, they all provided some kind of care for you. Why?
It is an innate human trait to provide care. This desire to help others is seen in every human culture, across the world and throughout time. It is reflected in the principles of the world’s major religions, which encourage their followers to support the weak, aid the sick, and feed the poor. In scientific terms, it is referred to as prosocial behavior.
Prosocial behavior is defined as “voluntary behavior for the benefit of others.” It is reflected in actions like sharing, cooperating, volunteering, donating, helping, and providing care. There are many factors that can motivate prosocial behavior, including the way we are raised, the values we hold, our attachment to family, the good feeling it gives us, and the empathy we feel for others.
The factors that motivate prosocial behavior determine how likely we are to help, and how much satisfaction we find in doing so. Providing care – when we aren’t overtaxed by it – can make us feel good about ourselves, improve our confidence in our own abilities, help us grow as individuals, and give us a sense of purpose. Caring for someone can also allow us the ability to see ourselves in a new role – a role that can give added meaning and important responsibilities to our lives. It also requires the people we care for to put a great deal of trust in us – so much so that their very lives may be in our hands.
When you have learned to see yourself in the role of a trusted, responsible caregiver, it can be very difficult to accept care from others. This is a challenge many people with MS face. If you, like the majority of people with MS, were diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, you likely did not expect to need care for many years. In fact, you probably expected to be caring for children or aging parents. You may feel as though this position of trust has been taken from you.
If you find yourself in this situation, keep in mind that you are still the person who gained that trust and there are ways that you can still provide care, no matter what your limitations may be. Help others through whatever means are open to you, even if that’s just being kind to the person providing care for you.
Remember that receiving care is not as new for you as it seems. You have been receiving care throughout your life, but the degree of care you have needed has varied. In all likelihood, family and friends provide care to you regularly, as you do for them. These can be small acts of care, like making dinner or listening to you talk about something that’s troubling you, or  more significant levels of help, such as assisting you with bathing and grooming each day. In either case, the person providing the care is demonstrating their prosocial behavior, and it is likely that the motivations and benefits they have are similar to those that you have experienced as a caregiver.
When you think of how you value that role of the trusted caregiver, don’t you think they value it too? Place the faith in them that others have placed in you, and let them experience what you have experienced. Allow yourself to be both the caregiver and care receiver, as we all are at various stages of life.
In this light, both caregiving and receiving care can be viewed as an essential part of the human experience. Former First Lady Rosalyn Carter once said, “There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.”
From the moment we come into existence to the end of our time on Earth, needs related to our health and well-being are cared for by others. In between those two moments, the privilege to care becomes ours as well. This is the circle of care.