by Breeda Miller
Caregivers are the worst at caring for themselves. I know how exhausted, frustrated and guilty we feel. We are told all the time - with a waggly finger pointed right at our nose, that we have to take care of ourselves. Really? And when is that supposed to happen?
Never Ending Days and Nights
The relentless nature of caregiving leaves us feeling extended more than the old Stretch Armstrong toy. We are pulled in every direction and then made to feel guilty when we don't find a way to do all the "right" things. We know we are supposed to sleep well, eat right and exercise regularly. Instead, this just gives us one more thing to feel guilty about. I remember when a well meaning relative told me that caregiving was probably going to take ten years off my life. Gee, thanks so much for sharing that tidbit.
It doesn't have to be this way
When I was my mother's caregiver I was determined to find a way to make the best of a very difficult time. Humor was my saving grace. I needed to find a way to find the humor in days filled with insomnia, incontinence, dementia, and pain. I wasn't always successful, but when I was, it made all the difference in the world. So, I did some research on this business of losing ten years of my life. According to author Gail Sheehy, Passages in Caregiving it is true for about 1/3 of caregivers. Another third found their caregiving experience to be a time of great learning and significance. The other third had no difference in their lives. All I knew was that I wanted to be in the third that had a positive profound outcome.
What I learned
I learned that there were three challenges facing caregivers that I never saw coming. Everyday I faced these monsters and sometimes they got the best of me. Frustration, Exhaustion and Isolation. They were with me everyday. Had I known about them, I might have made better choices and gotten help sooner. But I did the best I could with what I knew. I learned so much I decided I wanted to help other caregivers. I wanted to be a source of support and information. So, that's how the Caregiver Coffeebreak was born. I wrote the book that I wish I'd had when I cared for my mom and I speak all over the country helping both professional and family caregivers find ways to care for themselves, so they are better able to care for others.
A big wet blanket of guilt
Another challenge for caregivers is feeling guilty and selfish about actually taking care of themselves. I remember feeling guilty about going to a movie when my mom couldn't. Or how I felt it was selfish to take a long hot bubble bath, when my family and my mom needed me to do something for them. A quick shower was all that I could manage and anything else would be decadent. I learned the long, slow hard way that I wasn't doing anyone any good when I was tired and cranky. That was cranky with a capitol C. I needed to rest and find ways to replenish my spirit - even if it was just savoring a cup of tea by myself on the porch.
Woman on a mission
Now, I am on a mission. A mission to Help Caregivers Carry On. To offer resources, support, clever ideas and a safe spot to land. Roselynn Carter wisely said, "There are four kinds of people in the world. "Those who were caregivers. Those who are caregivers. Those who will be caregivers and those who will need caregivers. " The need isn't going away. We need to support caregivers and we caregivers need to ask for and accept help. If you are a caregiver - self care isn't selfish. It's survival. The life you save might be your own. Remember to Take a Break, Before You Break.