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If you’ve been a caregiver for more than a couple of years, you may have noticed the toll that caregiving can take on your body and mind. When you’re dealing with long-term chronic conditions, caregiving often doesn’t get easier over time. In fact, it’s likely that you and the person you’re caring for are fighting a battle against time.
We all age, and as we age, more effort is required to keep ourselves fit and our minds fresh. Our tendency as caregivers is to put our patient first, often neglecting ourselves in the process. Aside from the obvious things such as exercising, eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, etc., there are a few other simple things that we can do to help reduce the strain on our bodies and minds.
When I first started caring for my wife, I remember regularly feeling as though her doctors, nurses and therapists just didn’t care about me. Everything was all about her and rarely would anyone ask about me. It all came to a head when a visiting nurse totally ignored the fact I was very ill with a bronchial infection. That’s when I realized that my wellbeing mattered as much – if not more – than my wife’s, since without me she’d be helpless.
If you think this sounds selfish then you’d be right, because it is! While I’m not suggesting regularly putting your own needs above those of the person you’re caring for, it’s important to recognize your own needs. This will go a long way if you want to change your behavior. The next step is to become more assertive in reaching out for help.
When my wife first came home from the hospital, an occupational therapist came to our house and recommended what could be done to better accommodate my wife’s new needs. I did my best to use the suggestions by adding grab bars, widening doorways, removing rugs, adding a stair lift, and more.
After about six months, I realized that while the modifications were useful, they didn’t take any of my needs into consideration. For example, the standard placement of grab bars in the bath/shower are good for the person in the tub, but not always in the best position for the person trying to give the bath. I’ve since added additional bars to help me maintain my balance when transferring and showering my wife. I’ve also added rubber-backed rugs to make it easier to hold my footing when doing transfers.
Although my goal is to help my wife be more independent, I’m always looking for devices that will remove some of my burden too (a robot that will feed her would be great!).
I think the hardest thing about being a caregiver is finding time for yourself. I’ve given up most of the activities I did prior to my wife’s stroke, partly because I don’t have someone to cover for me if I’m not around, and partly because of the cost of the activities. More unsettling is the loss of personal time during the day – especially the past few months during the pandemic. Between my wife, my daughter, and my dog, I’m busy all day long and rarely find time to be by myself. Just finding time to write this article is a challenge.
Again, the answer is to be a bit selfish. For example, after I get my wife to bed around 8 p.m., I spend some time with her and then get my daughter to bed around 10 p.m. Once she’s in bed, I consider the next 90 minutes or so to be my time. My wife isn’t happy that I stay up late as she wishes I’d come back to bed, but I need that time to unwind. 90 minutes of quiet without any demands goes a long way to restoring me for the next day.
The world is a bit crazy right now, with health, environmental, political, societal, and financial issues bombarding us each day. If you’re a caring for a loved one it’s likely you’ll be layering your personal issues on top of all this, making it difficult to focus on anything else except surviving. I see other caregivers who are focused on the present and potentially sacrificing their future… which is something I am trying not to do.
My goal is that my wife and I can retire comfortably and be able to afford the care we require. To do that, I’m minimizing my use of expensive care services now and maximizing my own personal involvement instead. I’ve also started a long-term plan of finding a location for us to build an accessible house that will meet our retirement needs. This doesn’t sound like a simple suggestion, and believe me it’s not, but I’ve already noticed a lessening of the pressure by having this long-term objective.
I can envision a day where we can both relax and spend time together and that just makes me smile. Having this plan, which may take years to execute, shifts my focus from the day to day turmoil to a more pleasing vision of the future.
I believe there are stages in the development of a caregiver, and one of them is “enlightenment”. This occurs when you break out of the everyday rut and reinsert your own needs and wellbeing back into the equation. This shift in perspective will help you see that there is an end game and hope for the future. I urge every caregiver to take a step back and actively seek out this perspective. Ultimately, this will not only make things better now, but also in the long run.