Caregiver Survival Tips
There is all kinds of advice and survival tips for caregivers on the internet, in pamphlets from doctors offices, community health services and on it goes however, it has been my experience that the well intended advice is not so easy to follow given the circumstances you can find yourself in and the effects those circumstances have on your own spiritual, mental and emotional well-being. First of all, whatever game or games that you were playing at in life and any wins you were having and any futures you were creating for yourself have all collapsed in on themselves and the life you knew and had before is in a crumpled heap. It is difficult to not follow your broken dreams and forsaken goals into the same crumpled state. Most of the advice is aimed at you, the caregiver, taking care of themselves physically and from my own experience looking after myself physically at times amounted to nothing more than another body to look after. I had to pull myself out of my spiritual, mental, and emotional collapses before I had a hope of looking after and meeting my physical needs.
Caregiver - You Are Not Alone
While the role of family caregiver is too often a lonely one, you are not alone. Currently, in Canada there are over two million people who have taken on or been thrust into the role of caring for a chronically ill or disabled loved one. Seventy-seven percent of these caregivers are women. In the United States it is estimated that one in every four households requires a family member to take on the role of caregiver. That translates into roughly twenty-two million people. Of those approximately forty percent of them are also raising children. These numbers in North America are expected to increase as our society ages. It is a weighty role to take on but a necessary one that can last from a few months to a number of years. I have personally, while raising my family, been cast in the role of caregiver twice. Once when my youngest was seven months old and again when she was thirteen. I have been caring for my chronically ill and disabled husband for the past seven years and at times it has been a daunting task.
Look After Yourself?
If I had the proverbial nickel for every time some well meaning party counseled me to "Look after yourself" I would have added significantly to my savings account with money left over to treat myself to a weekly "day at the spa". Quite frankly there have been times when I didn't even know what looking after myself looked like and others when I felt that looking after myself was just one more body to look after. Even though there are so many of us in a caregiving role we are often removed from the society we were once an integral part of. We no longer feel real to ourselves or others. The purpose of this writing is to share with you, my fellow caregivers some survival tips I have learned along the way.
Describe Your Mood Level
What I really needed to look after was my mood level as it often dropped out the bottoms of my shoes. I would find myself fearful, or angry, or resentful and everything became an effort. One day, well standing at my kitchen sink I made the decision that I could not go through the rest of this experience feeling resentful. I did not want to end up with a face that was sour and unhappy looking - it was not my natural state. As I stood at the kitchen sink I began to play a game - Describe my mood level. When you describe your mood level - out loud - you are no longer in that mood level as you cannot be in it and describe it at the same time. The mood moves off of YOU as you describe it and you keep describing it until your mood level is raised significantly. The lighter you feel, the higher your mood level, the better your attitude the easier it is to go about doing that which needs doing. Now I catch myself before my mood level hits my shoes and I play "Describe your mood level" before I hit the skids!
Being out of harmony with your true nature and your environment is painful and debilitating. When I find myself out of sorts with my environment or worse yet, fighting my environment I stop whatever it is that I am doing and take a moment to play the Harmony Game. First, I look around the room and find two things that I like. I then chose from those two things the one that I like best. I follow that by describing the thing or item out loud including it's purpose or function. I repeat this process choosing another two items and continue doing so until I am back in balance and no longer at odds with my environment.
Having a gratitude attitude is of vital importance regardless of where you are and what you are doing in life. When you are out and about in life there are many opportunities to thank another and to be thanked but when you are a caregiver those opportunities seem few and far between as your interactions with others dwindles due to your circumstances. One way that you can improve your gratitude attitude is to simply list the the people and things in your life that you are grateful for. The little things count because they do add up and it raises your self esteem and self confidence when you note them. You can even go so far as to be grateful for yourself!
Express gratitude to others every chance you get - it brings your all important mood level up and you will raise the mood level of the other up in the process.
As a caregiver it often seems to me that I have been able to find bomb proof excuses for almost anything that makes any demand on my time, attention or energy other than the care of my "charge". There are times when I have had so much time, attention and energy devoted to that end that I can barely see or hear anything else. For me music helps me to refocus and to feel better. I now find excuses to do things rather than to not do them. Even if that means setting the timer on the microwave for five minutes less than I think it will take me to clean up the kitchen and then trying to beat that time. Or, seeing how much I can get done before the kettle boils for tea or coffee. One of the best excuses I have found is an excuse to get away. In our own home I have carved out a corner of it just for me. I have turned an unoccupied bedroom into my own personal haven and surrounded myself there with things that I love. I have a pager with me so that if my husband needs something I can attend to it. I have considered and probably will invest in a baby monitor so that on those days when he is bedridden I can go about my own pursuits without fear that I will be out of earshot and therefore unresponsive should an emergency arise.
It is only when I have followed the above processes that I find myself able to take the advice meted out by health professionals and well meaning others. I can eat, rest, exercise, and relax as suggested. I can take the time to educate myself both about my role, what is available to us in the way of assistance and information about my husband's condition. I can reach out to others for support and I can spot when depression begins to roll its nasty clouds my way and head it off before it swallows me up and takes me down. I can pursue some of the things that I love doing, not all, but some and that is a vast improvement over where I have been.
I sincerely hope that my caregiving tips will provide some benefit to you. I welcome your comments. I would love to hear your stories and some of the ways of coping and surviving and living your best life that you have come up with. I appreciate the role that you have taken on. My hat is off to you and my heart goes out to you!
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