November is National Family Caregiver Month – here is my reflection on my experience as a caregiver…
Taking care of others starts early for me as my mother is chronically ill as I grow up. My time spent playing with paper dolls and my memory card game on the floor next to her bed. I am the one who is available to get food, water and the medicine that she needs while my father is working and my sisters are at school.
My first job is babysitting for the five children next door. This teaches me lessons in first-aid and developing nerves of steel as the typical childhood accidents take place while I am in charge.
It never feels like it is an option or a choice to become a caregiver. It is just what I do, it is who I am. Caregiving is a thread woven within every cell of my body and it feels as natural as breathing.
I don’t know why I always run in without ever contemplating my options. Why is it that when looking around the room I can sense those who are hurting or lonely? Sickness or the darkness of grief to me is not a reason to run, rather it is a sacred journey of sharing one’s life.
Strangers entrusting me with their physical, emotional and spiritual care at a time in their lives when they are struggling and feeling vulnerable, reminds me that caregiving is a “calling.”
Either as a nurse or in my personal life, I take on the world and jump in with two feet to help others, often times finding myself overextended.
Years later, the price I pay for that decision is burnout. Evidence shows in head and neck aches, exhaustion and the frustration that no one else is there to relieve me.
I attempt to step back because I can’t keep this up. I now have to think about the ways in which I need to take care of myself so there is something left to give others. My body is ageing and the chronic stress of being everything to everyone is taking a toll.
So, what can I do?
Reintroduce JOY into my life, using simple, inexpensive ways to take care of ME.
- I begin and end the day in prayer – letting go and letting God.
- Practicing yoga even if that means twenty minutes a few times a week.
- Getting outside everyday even if it’s just to walk the dog.
- I notice the beauty in everyday things, the sunset, and the clouds, the animals that run in the yard, the flowers and trees.
- Listening to my favorite songs and dancing.
- Making time for conversations with friends, spontaneous outings.
- Lighting candles and dimming the lights.
- Sipping a cup of “joy” in the form of a hot chai latte.
- Finding ways to laugh.
- Planning time away from all types of media.
What are the five most important lessons I have learned about caregiving?
- I cannot take the pain and anxiety away from another’s life.
- Doing my best at any given time is all that I can hope to do.
- Guilt wastes time and energy killing your spirit, so silence negative thoughts.
- I do not have to do it alone; there are others that can help. Teaming up distributes the stress as well as the caregiving.
- Sometimes we caregivers enable those we care for – I now ask myself, what can this person do and what is mine to do?
I would love to hear from you as to the ways in which you are learning how to care for yourself as you care for others. What are the lessons that you have learned from being a caregiver?
Kathy, I’d love to know the statistics of family caregivers – how many of us are the youngest in the family? It seems to fall to us more often than not. Maybe because we’re the last ones at home? When both my parents were ill, my siblings all disappeared, knowing I would take care of everyone. The two things I’ve learned from being a caregiver is that you find out who you can, and can’t, count on. And #2, that sometimes the best gift you can give someone is to ask for their help, and give them something specific to do. Some of my dearest friends were afraid to offer help, but when I said “It would really help if you would run to the grocery store for me.” or “Can you come over and throw in a load of laundry while I make dinner for my dad?” they jumped at the chance. Playing the martyr doesn’t work for anyone!
Maybe we are the last ones home (I was 13 when both of my siblings were gone) but maybe we have the most energy because we are the youngest when our parents are the oldest?
Either way your advice to ask for specific ways to help makes it easier for those trying to support us – thanks for that reminder Pam!
Brilliant, as always. I love the ways you’re re-introducing Joy into your life and what you’ve learned. You are a blessing to the world my dear; I’m honored to call you friend.
Jill, Spending time with you and Frank and being in your beautiful gardens are also ways I bring JOY into my life!
I enjoyed your post so much. Looking after ourselves is possibly more important than looking after others. I probably do about 98% of the items on your joy/care list myself. (Nothing beats a good Chai Latte).
Take care. 🙂
So glad to hear that you have found the benefits of self-care…yes, I don’t know if it is the heat, the foam or just the fact that I am doing something just for me that makes chai my favorite drink? EnJOY!