So what do you do when the caregiver needs care?
Caregiving is difficult. Informal caregiving, where you are taking care of your loved one without pay, is even more trying.
It isn’t that you aren’t being paid for the work that you do that’s the problem. It’s that caregiving often keeps you from doing other work for pay that often creates the hardships.
Then there’s the emotional attachment that is so draining. There is no end to your shift. It’s a 24/7/365 day job.
Caregiver.org states that 17-35 % of informal caregivers report their health as being poor, while 40-70% have clinical signs of depression, with about half of those meeting the major depression requirements.
Those statistics don’t tell the story of what it’s like to be a caregiver though.
What Being a Caregiver is Like
I have two children with health issues. My son was born with congenital heart defects, but it wasn’t until he was 16 years old that he needed open-heart surgery. At about the same time, his health began deteriorating in other areas.
With both my children, we spent countless trips to their PCP, specialists, labs, Urgent Care, etc. There were numerous hospital stays, as well.
With my daughter, we’ve had several diagnoses and then had them stripped away. She had one doctor tell her, “I don’t know what you want me to do about it, I can’t help you.”
Several male doctors also told her it’s all psychosomatic and that she needed to see a psychiatrist instead.
The psychiatrist assured us that all of her symptoms were very real and that she needed practical physical solutions. So now, we’re back to looking for answers and trying to find a new health team out of state.
That’s the steps of going through the trauma of our healthcare system. So many hoops to jump through. Then there’s the cost and time, not to mention being emotionally invested because they are my children is also draining.
Doing that on top of trying to bring in income on the side, is tough.
Then trying to keep up with all the chores, just stick a freaking fork in me because I’m done. Seriously.
But this isn’t just my story. While the specifics might be mine, the steps are similar to many, many caregivers all across America.
Personally, I didn’t realize I was depressed for the longest time. I thought I was still pretty positive in light of everything. I still laughed and made jokes. I even got up every day and did what my family needed me to do with a smile.
But I stopped taking care of myself. I stopped taking care of the house. My home used to be a sense of pride for me and was always so clean and tidy, and I no longer seemed to care because I was tired. I was always so utterly exhausted.
When my husband had a stroke last month, I came undone. It broke me. I cried for two days straight.
Part of it was relief that his strokes weren’t worse, and part of it was fear he’d have another one, and it WOULD be worse, that I wouldn’t be able to manage taking care of everybody. And there was no one to take care of me. I would be all alone.
And that’s what it feels like sometimes with caregivers. Lonely.
You’re giving so much of yourself there seems to be nothing left. You’re just a shell of who you used to be.
You pray for the person you care for to get better. You pray for relief, for help. You pray all the time, and still, you feel empty and alone.
So what do you do when the caregiver needs care? That’s the real question.
Yes, it is great to think you’ll get a massage or sneak away and get your hair or nails done like women on Facebook suggest you do for self-care. Or soak in the tub with a good book, a glass of wine in peace and quiet.
But in the real caregiver world, there might not be the money for massages, the use for nails, or the luxury to actually be alone for 45 minutes to soak in the tub.
I’ve composed this list of helpful small things that you can do for your mental, emotional, and physical well-being. It’s my hope to help myself and others avoid caregiver burnout.
Calm your senses
Being a caregiver is overwhelming, so it’s essential to cut the overwhelm in other areas of your life. If you can give yourself 30 minutes a day to unplug and allow your senses to relax, you’ll be recharging yourself in a beneficial way.
For me, this is meditation. Not everyone has the patience for meditation; however, so unplugging can be helpful as well.
This means unplugging from your phone and television, of course, but also dimming the lights. You can put on some very soothing music. I strongly suggest solfeggio whole tones. This music is created to not only be soothing but healing as well. Just sit still and allow your body to come to a state of homeostasis.
Homeostasis is a point of rest and digest for your body, a state where our bodies can begin to heal itself. For caregivers, who are often in a state of constant stress, this is very important as stress can cause illness.
If you enjoy pleasing smells, light some incense or diffuse essential oils, but otherwise just be. The idea is not to put additional stress on your body but to calm it.
Be Kind to Your Body
I’m re-learning this for myself. Before becoming a caregiver, I went on daily walks, ate healthily, and took daily vitamins. Now, 50 pounds later, I struggle to do anything nice for myself. I’m beginning to make small efforts, though.
You can replace sodas and energy drinks with water. I know it will be rough in the beginning, and you will have withdrawals, but you will feel better for it. I drink lemon-ginger water, and some days it is the only kind thing I do for myself, but at least I have that one small thing.
Replace packaged food with more fruits and veggies. I’m a vegetarian who rarely ate fruits and veggies for years because I got caught up in the junk food cycle during my caregiving. It was easy, and I could eat on the go.
I had special dietary needs, so I would feed my family and then feed myself junk. Keeping your health up is essential when other people are relying on you. So eating better has become a priority for me.
Make one day a meal prep day. Prep healthy snacks and meals for you and the person you are caring for. Healthy bodies can better fight whatever you are up against.
Don’t negate exercise. You don’t have to hit the gym necessarily but move your body. Dance, walk, get a punching bag to take out your frustrations on. It not only helps keep you healthy, but it releases endorphins that will help keep depression at bay.
You have to have some sort of existence outside of your caregiving. Even if it’s a tiny representation of the life you once had, you cannot allow yourself to be consumed by your caregiving activities.
I know it’s difficult, especially when you’re tired and just don’t have the bandwidth for one more thing. But you need something to feed your soul and not drain your energy. Trying to get uninterrupted time alone at home can be impossible, so make time outside of your home life.
Join a Meetup. There is a Meetup for almost anything. Get on Meetup.com and find a group that interests you and then actually show up. Maybe a spouse can take over for a few hours or hire someone to cover your watch. Just get out of the house and meet like-minded individuals.
Have lunch with a friend. Be adventurous. Try new places and make it fun. Don’t go to the same places you always go to and get caught up talking about your problems. Try different restaurants, different ethnic foods, make it an adventure. You’re getting out of the house to get away, don’t talk about life at home. You’re escaping for the time being. Call it a momentary vacation.
Hit up a farmer’s market. Take your time strolling through the various booths and look at all the goodies the vendors are selling. See how you might implement them into your life whether you are buying them for real or imagining their use. Anything to take your mind off the job of caregiving. This gives you a pleasant problem to solve that seems more like play than work.
Get Your Self-Care On
I know how much you love your family, and you would do anything for them. I know the lengths you would go in order to make sure they’re well-cared for, but you’re important too.
And if you’re not at your best, you can’t give your best to your loved ones. The whole “pour from an empty cup” adage. So while others may not be asking what they can do when the caregiver needs care, you can take a moment to assess where you need some serious self-care and make sure it happens.
If you’re taking care of everyone else, who will take care of you if something happens? You must keep yourself happy, healthy, and whole, and self-care is going to help with that.