This is National Family Caregiver Month! I learned very quickly about caregiving as a child. I was the oldest of three children, and I was often responsible for them. I was also homeschooled and often had to help my mother with her home daycare business. I was raised to not really think much of myself (which is not healthy, by the way), but for me, caregiving was just something I was made to do. However, as I got older and my mother became sick, I really learned how special and difficult it is to be a caregiver. In this post, I would like to share some tips and resources I wish someone had given me when I took care of my mother. If you are a caregiver, I hope this helps and gives you the allowance to take care of yourself.
My caretaking lessons were put to the test at 4 am on September 7th when I got a call from my mother. She had gone to the hospital for some alarming symptoms, and the tests later revealed that she had terminal cancer. She had always been my caregiver. She taught me so much about life, and now was the time I was given to pay her back. I visited often and basically did whatever I could to help her. It was the absolute most difficult 10 months of my life. When she passed away in July of 2009, I knew I gave her my best when I looked back on those times.
All that to say, I know first hand how difficult it can be to be a caregiver.
This month and given everything that’s gone on in the world with this pandemic, I wanted to give back some resources and advice I wish I had heard while being a caretaker. I’m also going to preface this by saying that I often didn’t feel like I was allowed to rest…even when I was advised to take a break, I didn’t feel worthy of it. If you’re reading this, and you are in the place, I once was, PLEASE, know it’s okay to embrace a moment for yourself. You’re not selfish. You’re responsible because you can only care for others as well as you care for yourself. If you lack sleep, or you’re hungry, or wearing dirty clothes, or haven’t showered in days, you can’t possibly show up and be the best the person your taking care of deserves. Please give yourself a moment to read this and really consider how you’re showing up for yourself in this moment of crisis.
1.) It’s okay for you to take some time for yourself: I’m putting this one first because I didn’t. I remember wearing clothes that were dirty because I felt bad going home to my apartment to wash them. I remember getting 5 hours of sleep tops most nights because I was so worried. I was so busy and stressed that I remember when she passed away thinking, “My God….there are so many hours in a day…what am I going to do?”. I felt bad for thinking that, but the truth is I obsessed about my mother’s situation so much I had completely forgotten about myself.
It’s okay to take some time to shower, go home, eat, wash your laundry, get a full night of sleep, watch some TV, play video games, go out with friends or see a therapist. I underlined those last ones because I could understand showering, sleeping, eating, and washing my clothes so that I could fuel another day, but resting or enjoying myself were completely out of the question. I remember feeling so torn when she was sick. I felt bad for being at home, but I was also exhausted! For your own sanity, pick a day, or even dare I say a couple of days, and make it up in your mind that you will enjoy yourself on those days as best as you can. Give yourself something to look forward to, like a bubble bath or a nice meal. Wash your bedsheets, and plan to go to bed early after taking the time to watch some TV, read a book, or play a game. Schedule something fun for yourself and do your best to hold yourself to that scheduled personal time.
2.) Get a Journal: There was so much I didn’t want to remember about this time, but honestly, I needed to get all that I was feeling out. I didn’t really have a support team other than two couples at the church I attended then and my husband. I credit them with 99% of why I didn’t go mad. Outside of them, I didn’t have anyone. I should have gotten a vent journal. A vent journal in my mind is basically a notebook that I could write all that was going on in my mind and burn it later without thinking, “Aw man at was an expensive journal!”. Almost ten years later, I have to say that I have recorded all kinds of tough events in my journals because I have found it comforting to see how hard times have taught me to grow.
Even if it’s a notebook, get something to vent. We all have bad days, and you are no different, and it’s nice to have a safe place to put those emotions!
3.) Don’t be afraid to ask for help and set limits!: Truth is, I could have asked for more help from my dad or other members of my family. I also “attempted” to set limits that were constantly stomped over. Looking back, I should have set strong boundaries. I should have set days that I was unavailable unless it was a life or death emergency. Setting limits is something we all need to learn at one point or another. It can be hard to tell someone “no” or not “fix” someone else’s problem…but it’s necessary. I think I was afraid of being difficult, but the truth is, when it comes to rest or to ask for help, that’s not being manipulative or mean. Asking for help is saying you can’t do it all; you’re a human, and you know your limits.
As a side note, if you have a family member that you’re afraid isn’t being taken care of, you can call Adult Protective Services in your area. They can then take better steps than you ensure the environment is safe.
4.) Research Your Resources!: I wish I had known about things like support groups! I may not have felt so alone. Here are some resources or links you can check out depending on your need:
5.) Check Out MeetUp!: I’ve written about Meetup before. It’s a social app where people can find others of shared interest can “meet up” to enjoy it together. I’ve been to meditation, yoga in the park, and a group for empowering women in business. While there are not many support groups that meet up, it might be nice to have events that you can plan that give you an excuse to get away and have some fun and refuel! You could also host your own meetup if you wanted and make it specifically about caregiver support!
Also, if you’re practicing social distancing during this time, a lot of Meeup’s can be held on Zoom, or Skype.
6.) Don’t Forget the CareGivers You Know!: Ironically, when my mother was healthy, she often cooked and brought meals to those who were going through a rough patch in their lives. If you know someone who is helping care for someone else who might be sick, don’t be afraid to see how you can support them. Asking if they want to go out for coffee and vent, or even picking up some groceries, making a meal for them, or giving them a little care package would probably be more appreciated than you know. I can still remember the late nights I had with the couples that came over and allowed me to talk and cry. I will forever be grateful for those moments.
No matter if it’s long term or short term, being a caregiver will test you. It will make you grow as a person, and you will have good days and bad. Don’t forget that you are also only human, and you have limitations, and deserve to be cared for as well. Please know where ever you are in this process, that you are something special, you are strong (even if you don’t always feel that way) and what you’re doing makes a difference and counts, even if the person you’re caring for doesn’t or isn’t able to express it.
If you’re a caregiver and would like to connect and talk about your experience, shoot me a comment below or feel free to email me. If you’d like to be kept updated on future posts like this one, please SIGN UP HERE. Thank you so much for reading, and have a beautiful day. -Heather Astaneh